Selection of leaves, flower petals, moss, bark, and seed pods lie in the shape of a bird approaching a nest

If you could be anything from nature, what would you be? Inspired by artist Thierry de Cordier, create a self-portrait using natural items.

We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.

Time: 15–20 minutes
Skill level: Beginner
Topic: Representation

Painting of the artist’s head on an earthworm’s body lying face-down in the dirt

Thierry de Cordier, Self-Portrait as Earthworm No. 2 (1985-1986), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 1998


What do you see? Describe the lines and colors.
What do you think this is? Use the shape and color to help you figure it out.

If you guessed “worm,” you’re right! Artist Thierry de Cordier created this self-portrait featuring himself as an earthworm. A portrait is an artwork representing a person. A self-portrait is an artwork created to resemble or represent the person who created it. In this case, the artist used a worm to represent himself.

If you could choose anything from nature to represent yourself, what would it be? Talk together. What bug, animal, or plant would best represent you? Why?

Thierry de Cordier, who was born in Belgium in 1954, makes many different kinds of art including painting, sculpture, writing, and drawing. He’s often inspired by things in nature, like this earthworm. Through his art, de Cordier tries to learn more about himself and his relationship with the natural world. For many of his first years as an artist, de Cordier looked to his garden as a way of investigating the larger world. The artwork he makes now almost entirely features dramatic landscapes, mountains, the sky, or the sea.


A selection of leaves, grass, purple and pink flowers, moss, seed pods, and bark on a blank white surface Tuft of moss sits on a piece of bark at the bottom of the composition, a large fern leaf is positioned diagonally across the white surface, pink flower petal rests in the center Selection of leaves, flower petals, moss, bark, and seed pods lie in the shape of a bird approaching a nest

Artist Thierry de Cordier created a realistic representation of an earthworm in his painting. For this project, we take inspiration in how he represented himself and his love of nature by using items found in nature.

  1. Take a nature walk. Step outside and hunt for fallen leaves, twigs, acorns, flower petals, and more. If you can’t get outside, search for photos of plants and animals in a newspaper or magazine.
  2. Choose your materials. Select which found items you’d like to use and gather them together. 
  3. Choose a canvas. We placed our work on a white piece of paper, but you might choose dirt, grass, a walkway, or a sidewalk as your canvas.
  4. How do you want to represent yourself? De Cordier chose to paint himself as an earthworm. What might you choose to represent you? Think of this as your nature alter-ego: the plant or animal that feels the most like you!
  5. Explore your materials and their possibilities. Try out different combinations and placement. What parts do you need for your nature alter-ego’s body? Do you want to include a setting, or a place? In our example, we decided to make a bird, and needed a feather-like body. We placed the bird in a tree above a nest. Note to adults: Your child may have more fun moving different items around and exploring what they can do (such as ripping leaves or crushing seed pods) than following these directions. This is perfectly normal. For this model project, one adult and one child created a self-portrait while the other child happily smashed seed pods and petals. 
  6. Complete your self-portrait. After exploring the possibilities, finalize your portrait. If you like, give it a name! We named ours Mama Bird, which is what one young artist suggested for the adult’s alter ego. 
  7. Take a picture. When complete, snap a few photos to “save” your work and share it with others. Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.