Lesson 1: Back-to-School Self-Portraits

Grades K–2

In this lesson, students will learn how a common material—craft foam sheets—can create great texture, and they will use this new awareness of styrofoam to create original self-portraits.

Students will learn about portraits, and will consider how they can use color, shape, texture, and background to reveal something about the person in the portrait. Students will review different kinds of portraits—including expressionistic and unconventional portraits—to develop an awareness that portraits don’t have to be realistic to represent the person being portrayed.

A whiteboard, an easel or Post-it® Notes, flat craft foam pieces or sheets (you may use meat trays by cutting away the edges), scissors, brayers, printing ink, pencils, markers, printing paper, wooden spoon, visual examples of portraits such as the ones found on this site: http://www.art-is-fun.com/portrait-painting.html

Students are more likely to attempt a range of expressions, coloring, and backgrounds if they consider all the possibilities before they begin to work. You will begin by demonstrating a range of portraits, then you will guide students to consider the elements of expressive portraits to help support them in the creation of their own self-portraits.

  1. At the beginning of class you may already have some portraits displayed in the classroom or you may have them printed and ready to hold up. Ask students what is different about them this year. As students respond, write the category or trait their answers correspond to. For example, if I student says: "I am taller," write "height" on the board. If a student says: "I can do _____ by myself," write "independence" on the board.
  2. Once students have finished explaining all of the ways they are different this year, explain that they are going to capture who they are today with a self-portrait. Ask students if they know what a portrait is. Explain that a portrait is a work of art that shows a person, animal, or group. A self-portrait is a portrait of yourself.
  3. Tell students that portraits are not photographs. Some portraits are realistic, however there are many portraits that use unconventional colors, irregular shapes, and other expressionistic techniques. Show students a range of portraits and allow them to discuss what they notice about the different portraits. 
  4. Ask students what are some different expressions they see on the portraits that you showed them. Using Post-it® Notes or the board, note the students' answers. Then ask students if they can think of more facial expressions. Keep the list of facial expressions posted in an obvious place so that students can reference it while they are working. Lists may include words such as: happy, sad, angry, laughing, secretive.
  5. Ask students about hobbies, family members, or pets that might be important to include in a portrait to show who someone is. Write down a list of the student's answers.
  6. Continue to ask students questions that will stretch their imaginations in considering elements to include in their portraits. Ask them to consider clothing and elements that may be in the background. Once you have a very full list of portrait elements, tell students it's time to create their portraits.

  1. Choose three portraits to highlight to students, such as the famous self-portraits of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo. Challenge students to use color, shape, texture, and background to create self-portraits that show who they are today.
  2. Explain that students will make their own self-portraits using the method of printing. Explain that students will draw their portraits in craft foam, roll ink onto the surface, then transfer the image to paper. Explain that the areas of the print that have been drawn into will be white, and all the other areas will carry the color of the ink used. Hand out sheets of craft foam and pencils. Warn students not to touch the craft foam too much as the oil on their fingers may prevent the ink from sticking to their craft foam "printing plate." 
  3. Hand out pieces of paper and marker. Explain that students will draw their backgrounds before creating the image of themselves. Encourage them to draw backgrounds that communicate something about how they are different this year. For students who like a challenge or who are advanced artistically, they may create their background using the craft foam.
  4. Once the students have drawn the backgrounds, have them use pencils to draw their self-portraits on the craft foam. Remind them to consciously select a facial expression and clothing.
  5. When students are done, have them bring their paper with the background and their craft foam printing plate to the printing area. Using a brayer, students will roll a thin, even layer of ink on to the plate. They will place their paper over their plate and rub the back of the paper with a wooden spoon. When done, help them pull away the paper to reveal their print and set it aside to dry.
  6. Have students separate into small groups to describe the elements, colors, shapes, and textures they used in their work.

Help | Privacy Policy




(Separate multiple email addresses with commas)

Check this box to send yourself a copy of the email.


Scholastic respects your privacy. We do not retain or distribute lists of email addresses.