Sunday, September 23, 2012

Different Ways to do Self - Portraits

The curriculum we get through our online school (k12) includes a lesson that asks Alice to do a self portrait at least once/year (so far, it has been more like a few times each year).  They suggest right upfront the idea of keeping the self portraits so the child is not only making a record of their advancing artistic skills but also of how they perceive themselves and how they change every year.  I LOVE the idea, but Alice has begun to feel it is a bit tedious to do a self portrait every six months, so I've come up with a list of different media that can be used as well as a couple of "fun" or at least "different" ways to do the self-portraiture and change things up for her a little and thought I'd share those ideas with you. 


Just changing what you are using to make the art can dramatically change how the art turns out.  Of course there are all the usuals like crayon, pencil and the different paints (water color, tempura and oil), but oil pastels, mixed media, torn paper collage (collages in general) and even mosaics can all be pretty cool too.  Some of these require a lot more advanced planning than others, but that's just it, you are introducing your kids to many different ways to see and experience art if you give them all the options over time. 

Sand painting is a nice way to give the kids a little difference in texture as can giving kids a sheet of sand paper and chalk to do their portraits.

Here is an idea I haven't done yet, but plan to do when Alice is eight or nine and a little more able to plan ahead successfully:  Take a hole bunch of seeds, veggies or fruits, stones of a variety of colors or even leaves and have your kids construct their portrait by placing these items as if a mosaic is being made that is a self-portrait.  When completed, take a photo as Andy Goldsworthy would do and then let nature run its course with the original. 

For kids that love working with their Lego's, you could even have them construct a portrait out of Lego's.  This also takes a lot of planning and careful vision.  Alice had a lot of help with "ideas" here.

It is amazing what it can do to give kids a real canvas on which to work.  Although plenty of artwork is done on other materials, kids begin to see paper as nothing special when it is what they always do their work on.  Along those same lines, having different weights of paper with different levels of roughness and/or glossiness can change things up a little too.

Another one that can be fun and switch things up is to give your kids paper that is a different color.  Starting with white all the time means that younger kids with lighter skin tones, don't even think about their skin color in their artwork.  Kids with darker skin are stuck using "chocolate" or some other equally inappropriate color that doesn't really reflect their skin color all the time.  Sometimes, give them paper that does in fact, echo their own skin color along with coloring tools that are designed to give a range of skin color options (Crayola has these in both crayons and markers.  They call it the "multicultural" line).  It can also be really fun to make them think about it and figure out how to represent their skin tones by mixing colors.  Give your kids a green, dark red, blue or other color that would never be the actual color of skin to illustrate themselves on and oil pastels or paints, then see what they do with it. 

Different Views:

Different Views can work really well.  Start simply with front views and then profiles, but as your kids advance there are a variety of ways to "add" to the mix.  Use the work of famous artists as inspiration.  Introduce them to the masters, a little art history and appreciation AND a new way of thinking about their self-portraits all at once.

It can be fun to do a profile painting in the style of "I and the Village" by Chagall.  Have your kids draw their own profile and then add a memory into the background.  Encourage them to use color to depict the mood of the memory.  Bright colors might represent a happy memory, while dark colors with lots of blues might represent a sad memory.

A self-portrait in the style of Picasso where kids mix a front view with a profile can be a great way to introduce one of the greats AND a few giggles while encouraging a new look at themselves and art altogether.

Kids might think it is really fun to do a "Where's Waldo" style self portrait.  They draw themselves small on the page a million times, but always with slight changes and different views.  One of themselves is wearing a scarf, another is not.  One of themselves is holding shopping bags while another one is practicing the fiddle.  Perhaps one is sliding down the back of a dinosaur while another version of oneself flies an airplane overhead.  Maybe the child wants to include some imaginary versions.  What would she look like as a fairy, mermaid and witch?  The child chooses ten versions of themselves to draw again (identically) along one of the margins of the picture.  Then a family member has to find that version of him/herself in the vast and busy selection of a whole bunch of self portraits (This one can get tedious.  You might want to break the paper surface up into six or more smaller squares and then just have them fill in one square each day over the course of a week or two).

Then there is the self portrait that requires thought about perspective Alice did for the article, "A Lesson in Perspective" during the summer months.  In this self portrait, the kids start with a tracing of their hands and feet (which are closest to the viewer).  The kids then, have to figure out how to show their faces and then bodies behind the hans and feet as well as further away.  The picture below was Alice's first attempt at this challenge.

Different Ways to "Compose" the Portrait:

Of course there are different styles of art to try out too.  Pointillism stands out as one that may feel very similar to mosaic for your kids.  I also haven't mentioned any sort of sculpture (except perhaps the Lego's, depending on how one interprets it).  Kids can try to do a very real looking painting and alter that with a much more abstract version of themselves the next time they try. 

Portraits and Self-portraits were also used at times to say something about the person in the portrait.  Take a look at Judith Leyster's self-portrait, 1630.  Ask them to talk about how she shows her love of painting.  Huge tennis player?  Ask your child to use tennis paraphernalia in their art about themselves.  Dancer" Make it Dance paraphernalia instead.

Angelica Kauffman did a self portrait that told the story about how she felt about having to choose between a career in music and a career as an artist.  Show your kids a copy of "Self Portrait, Hesitating Between The Arts of Music and Painting".  Tell them the story behind it and ask them to use their portraits to tell the viewer something important about themselves as Kauffman did.

Caricature can be a great exercise for the teenager - and eye opening for you.  Have your kids decide which features should be the "stand outs".  Encourage your teen to choose two of his or her best features to exaggerate in the caricature

Of course a self - portrait using photography can be a lot of fun too.  Ask them to experiment with lighting, props, colors, poses and even choice of clothing to give you a collage of photos that tell something about who they are at this moment in time.

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