Central Art Gallery

90 Days of Masked Portraits

90 Days of Masked Portraits

Julie Houghton

Preview with the artist: January 13, 5-7 pm, Central Library second floor art gallery
Exhibition: January 14 – March 3


90 Days of Masked Portraits began as a personal challenge to do one drawing each day for 90 days at the beginning of 2021. It was simply a good way to get in some drawing practice while incorporating a piece of our new reality – the humble face mask. Like many people, the pandemic left me with reduced work hours, so I had extra time to devote to my artwork. I had tried resuming work on some small abstract paintings; but with all that was going on in the world, our country, and our state something didn’t feel right. I thought a lot about an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times in which they’re living, and I returned to my sketchbook to help process these thoughts and events.

Idea: One day, I drew a face mask. I put it on and drew myself, and an idea started. After some thought, I decided to send a message to friends on Facebook asking for selfies wearing a favorite mask. In exchange, I would draw their portrait and return a digital copy. Responses came in slowly at first, but eventually they came. Besides friends and family, I received photos from places like the Fire Department in Hartford, Iowa; two long-term care facilities; and a few hospital patients. Each Friday night, I would share the week’s portraits on social media. Eventually, I had a community project going.

Healthcare Workers: When I started receiving photos from front-line health care workers, I wanted to honor them by making their portraits in full color; all others, in general, are in black and white with only the mask in color.

Statistics: I checked key websites daily - John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (coronavirus.jhu.edu) for U.S. cases; Iowa Coronavirus Cases (Coronavirus.iowa.gov) for Iowa - and added the day’s statistics to each portrait as a way to mark a moment in time for myself and the individual.

Stories: Some photos I received included reflections about what had been happening in the person’s life during this time. I was thrilled to receive these stories, and I eventually invited all participants to share a few words to accompany their portrait. As you’ll see, some portrait labels include QR codes. Simply use your phone’s camera to scan the code to read the full story.


All portraits were done using Prismacolor art markers on acid free marker paper.

Julie Houghton | Website

This project received an Iowa Arts and Culture Resilience Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.