Hey there, art lovers! Ya know, art isn't just about paint & paper – it's about expressing feelings, discovering personalities, and having an absolute blast along the way. And what better way to do that than through self-portraits? Now I know that *sometimes* students can moan and groan at the mention of drawing a self portrait for a variety of reasons, but when you are able to find exciting elements to self portraits, suddenly your students will be instantly engaged to create!
These exciting self portraits not only help kids learn about art but also about themselves. So let's dive into 6 fantastic self-portrait lessons tailor-made for elementary students.🎨✨
1. Motivational Mirrors Self Portrait Lesson
This lesson is not only colorful and adorable but the students absolutely love using foil embossing to create their portraits! Students began on a 12 x 18 piece of colored construction paper (Tru Ray is my absolute favorite construction paper). Using sharpie and Crayola Construction paper crayons, have students trace a large circle template as well as 2 other smaller sizes inside. Have students brainstorm words of affirmation that they can practice saying to themselves when they look in the mirror each day! Teach line, shape and pattern to add decorative elements to the rings of the mirror.
Using my Simple Self Portrait Drawing Guide, students drew a simple self portrait inside a circle on a piece of paper. I then taped their drawing to a piece of embossing foil (being sure to tape around all sides as the foil can be sharp!) Students then placed a small stack of newspapers underneath their drawing and used a ballpoint pen to redraw over their pencil drawing. This created an indent in the foil where the drawing was traced. The kids absolutely loved the foil embossing process and the finished pieces were stunning!!
2. The Real Me Self Portrait Lesson
This is such a great lesson to get to know your students at the start of the year. Not only are you teaching them the fundamentals of how to draw a self portrait, how to mix their own unique skin tone, and use a variety of materials, but you get to know who they are on the INSIDE! This is a great lesson to do with students of all ages and one I have kept in my rotation of lessons over the last 15 years! You can grab the full lesson here!
3. Folk Art Self Portraits
Self portraits can be super intimidating at times, so why not try drawing a self portrait that is more stylized with less of a focus on "perfection" and more on capturing the essence of the person! I love showing my students the portraits of artist Heather Galler because her work reminds them that art can come in all different varieties! Her use of thick bold lines, bright colors and extravagant pattern is so approachable to children and shows them that it's fun and easy to make a self portrait! This has been a staple in my art room, whether we are drawing self portraits or portraits of others, it's always a stunner! You can find the full lesson here!
(you can even do a fun marker print technique over your folk art portraits!)
4. Collage Self Portraits
If your kiddos aren't super keen on drawing, this is one of the BEST ways to build confidence in your artists! This project was inspired by the amazing Vanessa Brantley Newton and her fabulous collaging techniques! If you haven't seen this video called "Ready, Set, Draw" she created, you need to check it out now! It was a huge source of inspiration for us in our collaged self portraits.
The magic of collage is that instead of drawing everything out ahead of time, you simply break each step down one at a time, and focus more on shapes than line. You might ask a kid if they can draw an eye and they might say no, but if you ask them to cut out an oval, bam! They can easily do that! All you have to do is first mix your skin tone on one piece of paper (see my real me lesson for step by step of mixing your students skin tones). Then use painted paper, scrap book paper, newspaper, any kind of paper you can find and let the kids go to town! I'd recommend breaking down each step as you go, but once you get them about 1/4 of the way there, suddenly they will just take off in their creativity!
5. Continuous Line Drawing Self Portraits
If you're looking for a more non conventional self portrait project, try doing a continuous contour or blind contour line portrait. Continuous line drawings are when you do a drawing of something in front of you but you can't lift your pencil off the paper! It's a great exercised to practice using your eyes to draw what you see vs what you think you see. It forces students to slooooow down and think where they will start their drawing in order to get as much information in the drawing as possible. A blind contour line drawing is when you aren't allowed to look down at your paper at all! One of my favorite methods for blind contour line drawings is placing a plate with a hole in the center over the marker that students are holding. It creates a blinder for the students and forces them to keep their eyes up on their model. Of course it's important to make sure each student has a standing mirror to observe their face in while they work.
I love doing blind continuous contour line drawings with my fifth graders as a way to help break them of their "but its not perfect" mindset. With these drawing exercises, kids are forced to get out of their comfort zone but in the most fun way. I have done this method in sharpie and painting in the shapes with Jack Richeson tempera cakes, or also, but also have had students quickly paint their papers with Jazz Gloss, and then quickly, use the back of a paint brush to do the continuous contour line drawing in a subtractive method (removing the paint with the brush to do the drawing).
6. Silly Hair Day Art Lesson
This lesson is a perfect one to start off the year with Kindergarten, first or second graders and allows you to not only teach self portraits but also is the perfect and fun introduction to line. In the Silly Hair Day Lesson students discuss different emotions and expressions and how they can be simply illustrated to convey maximum feelings. This is always such a huge hit and such a fun way to get to know the personalities of your students while reviewing important elements of art. You can find the full lesson here!
Well, there you have it! These are just a FEW ways you and your students can have a little fun creating self portraits this year!
Of course self portraits are so important for not only documenting student growth but giving them a safe space to show how they view themselves and the world around them. If you are looking for drawing guides to help build your little artist's confidence check out my Super Simple Self Portrait Guide (perfect for students ages K-3) and my Advanced Portrait Guide for students in grades 4 and above!