How To Make A Self Portrait Drawing Assignments

Expressive Self Portraits

Submitted by:Speelman, Melissa
Sycamore Junior High Cincinnati, Ohio
Unit: Portrait - Math Integration
Lesson: Expressive self portrait paintings
Grade Level: Middle School (suitable for grade five through twelve)



Combine the Grid Lesson and the Digital Self Portrait Lesson plans. Students enlarged a high contrast digital photo using the grid technique. Instructions on how to do a high contrast photo are on the Cut Paper Lesson Plan. Over lay a six inch photo with a transparent one inch grid (or draw grid onto photocopy of image). Draw 2" (5 cm) square grid onto good 12" (30.5 cm) square drawing paper (or any desired size) - or poster board - or tag board (Note from Judy: I purchased a flat white poster board that was real nice for painting). Paint in expressive colors (use tempera or acrylics -- oil pastels work well, too). Select colors for emotional impact. Develop some high contrast to enhance mood. Focus down on an interesting part of photograph as in middle example. Cut a 16" (40.6 cm) square mat for each student. Students paint mat to compliment the portrait. Add collage materials to express "self". Collage materials can be brought in from home - found in magazines - newspapers - or the Internet. Discarded puzzle pieces are always good to have around the art room. So many possibilities. See how nice the display looks.



Click on the images for full size



This is what Melissa has to say:

"The best part of this project is that the students are so impressed with themselves. We put up the display today and quite a few kids just starred at their work and said, 'I just love it.' That's a huge part of what makes a project successful to me.

Helpful Links for Portrait Drawing and Proportion

From Sue Galos -This is a good site for anyone teaching portraiture right from the beginning

Arty Factory - the third section is on drawing pencil portraits (good for younger students) (has tips on proportion).

Here is a handout to give you an idea - You will want to make your own:

Sanford can help with how-to's - but again, you will want to do your own drawings to go with the text:

Some standard proportions - you'll want to do a drawing:

Think Quest site:

Brenda has two free tutorials in pdf format (intermediate): She used to have these free on her site I see now you have to pay for most of them.

How do Draw a Face


How to Draw the Female Face




Drawing Portraits - Douglas Graves, a professional portraitist describes portraiture as an evolving process: observing the basic surface shapes, discovering how these features deviate from the symmetrical ideal, envisioning the underlying human anatomy, interpreting the sitter's personality, then conveying all this with a direct medium in a tonal drawing.

How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs - A manual on drawing portraits from photographs, using the author's blended-pencil drawing technique, and offering advice on how to suggest three dimensions on simple shapes.

Portrait Drawing: A Step-by-Step Art Instruction Book - Author Wendon Blake covers all the basics, from papers and pencils to drawing eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and head from every angle.


On Drawing the Face - From Marvin Bartel - A Getty TeacherArtExchange Post:

Give a hungry person a fish and the person eats for a day begs again tomorrow. Teach the person to fish and the person eats for life. Learning to formulate is better than following other peoples formulas. Education is better than training. Teach a formula for a face and you get one solution. Learn to measure and to formulate and you can create any and every face. When they learn to see contour and tone and ways to render it in addition to skills in measuring proportions they will need no formula to follow.


Learning to draw by learning to see goes beyond knowing what certain things look like. Learning the specific techniques of seeing better helps us find out what everything looks like. There are good methods to teach seeing and drawing without resorting to other people's formulas. Teach students how to observe/express and students can draw/express anything - not only those things for which they have memorized a formula.


This is a list of six eye/brain/hand skills to learn in order to learn to draw everything. Sighting devices and aides such as viewfinders, blinders, and sighting with pencil or ruler can help us learn the first three of these. Assignment limitations and changing habits of learning can teach the second three. Most of this list comes from a talk by Betty Edwards. (See her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain)

Eye/brain/hand skills

1.  edges and contours (including shapes)
2.  size relationships and proportions (including perspective)
3.  angles and inclines (including perspective)
4.  tone changes (shading) (including form and perspective)
5.  negative space (inclusive vision)
6.  pattern, texture, color (the rest of it)
See elaboration and illustrations here.

For the third sketchbook assignment, students worked on self-portraits from life, in which they were to work from a mirror to try their best to render a portrait of themselves in their sketchbooks. This assignment was meant to do a couple of different things for each student: challenge them to work from real life (and not a photograph), to take risks and push through mistakes, and to try to create a likeness between themselves and their work. Here are a few of the finished portraits!

From the AP class (Aaron, Cady, Aleigha, and Justin):

From the Art I courses (Madison, Tristin, and Sophia):

Like this:



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