Self-Portrait Workshop — Paul Klee

Here is a sam­pling of self-portraits inspired by artist Paul Klee (includ­ing one in progress) from my last teacher work­shop. Paul Klee (1879–1940) was a Swiss artist known for his highly indi­vid­ual, abstract style. His work was influ­enced by many dif­fer­ent art move­ments, includ­ing Expres­sion­ism, Cubism and Sur­re­al­ism. This project uses squares of “bleed­ing tis­sue” for it’s vivid col­ors. If you haven’t tried this tech­nique yet, you really must!! It’s so much fun.… even for adults! I orig­i­nally found this idea on the always inspir­ing blog “Art Projects for Kids”. I changed it a lit­tle to focus more on real­is­tic pro­por­tions, but check out both ways of doing it and see which you like best! Here’s how we did it:


  • 9x12 white con­struc­tion paper
  • Black chisel tip marker OR black crayon
  • Mir­ror (for self-portraits)
  • “Bleed­ing” tis­sue paper in bright col­ors, cut into squares and rectangles
  • Water­color brush
  • Water and containers


  1. After watch­ing you demon­strate, have stu­dents draw a very basic self-portrait (see instruc­tions in pre­vi­ous post). Encour­age the use of styl­ized shapes, sim­ple lines and min­i­mal detail. I like to have Kinder­garten­ers draw directly with their marker or crayon, but older stu­dents may choose to draw with pen­cil first and then trace over their draw­ing. The point is not so much to cre­ate a “real­is­tic” por­trait as it is to cre­ate a sim­ple line draw­ing, so if the pro­por­tions, etc. are a lit­tle off, so much the better!
  2. Place a piece of tis­sue paper on your draw­ing and use a paint brush to paint over it with water. Repeat with con­trast­ing col­ors until the entire paper is cov­ered with pieces of wet tis­sue paper and no white paper is left show­ing.
  3. You may wait for tis­sue to dry before remov­ing it, or sim­ply take it off as soon as it has had a chance to bleed its color onto the paper.


  • Ask stu­dents what makes their self-portrait “abstract”?
  • Have stu­dents com­pare and con­trast their self-portrait with those of other famous artists. Is their self-portrait more abstract or less abstract? Why?

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5 Responses to Self-Portrait Workshop — Paul Klee

  1. Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    This was an awe­some activ­ity! We did this as a fam­ily activ­ity. I had 9x12 stretched can­vas, we drew our own self por­traits in per­ma­nent marker, found actual bleed­ing tis­sue paper (cau­tion here!! not all bleed­ing tis­sue paper bleeds!!! Spec­tra brand is the BEST! I had a sam­ple of mul­ti­ple col­ors that worked great.), made sure we wrapped it around the sides and put it in the sun to dry. We found peb­bles from the beach where we were stay­ing and glued them to the edges. And that was it! They look great on our wall. Kids’ ages: 4 & 7.

    If you get your tis­sue from Michaels test your tis­sue paper before hand as not all the col­ors bleed. I found this out the hard way and I work with spe­cial needs adults — results in behav­iors not pretty!

  2. TeachKidsArt January 6, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    Glad you enjoyed this project! Stretched can­vas is a great idea! I always test my sup­plies before giv­ing them to the kids when I try a new brand of any­thing.… I’ve also expe­ri­enced the dis­ap­point­ment that occurs when a les­son doesn’t work!!

  3. Carrie January 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    I have done this inspired by Modigliani and his elon­gated faces. I have had 2nd graders used pas­tel col­ored tis­sue for the face and bright col­ored tis­sue for the back­ground. Using liq­uid starch as binder if the paper is not bleeding.

    • Cheryl Trowbridge January 23, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      Those are great ideas, Car­rie! Thanks for shar­ing them!!


  1. Session 3: Portraits next week | Kay Bishop's Blog - April 3, 2015

    […] they will glue col­ored tis­sue paper over it for a bright, abstract effect. See the orig­i­nal les­son here. (Preschool­ers will par­tic­i­pate in a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of this les­son.) I held a […]

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