Self-Portraits Inspired by Grant Wood

Grant Wood (1891–1942) was an Amer­i­can artist best known for his paint­ings of rural Amer­i­can life.  My stu­dents were fas­ci­nated by the story of how his father died when Grant was only ten years old, and his mother had to move her fam­ily from their home on the farm to the big city. This was a hard move for Grant, who missed his farm ani­mals and his life in the coun­try.  He felt out of place at his new school, where some kids even made fun of him. But he kept his sense of humor, and along with his tal­ent for draw­ing, he made new friends and things got bet­ter for him.   

Grant Wood’s paint­ing “Amer­i­can Gothic” inspired this spe­cial self-portrait.  I had fun show­ing my 4th grade stu­dents a print of “Amer­i­can Gothic” and hav­ing them guess who it was that Grant Wood painted in that pic­ture.  No one guessed it, but that’s not sur­pris­ing.… it was their fam­ily den­tist and his sis­ter, Nan!  Who would ever guess that??!  He was actu­ally first inspired by the Gothic-style win­dow in a farm house that he saw, and then he looked for the right peo­ple to go with it!

For our project, stu­dents brought in a photo of their house along with a photo of one other fam­ily mem­ber (or their fam­ily den­tist!) to include in their por­trait.  We first drew with pen­cil, then traced our lines with Sharpie before using col­ored pen­cils to add color.  The col­ored pen­cils didn’t work out so well, as you can see by the scratchy lines, but the por­trait con­cept is one I will def­i­nitely do again!  Fol­low my tips for draw­ing suc­cess­ful por­traits here and add just a sec­tion of the house in the back­ground for a new twist on the tra­di­tional self-portrait project!

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2 Responses to Self-Portraits Inspired by Grant Wood

  1. Amy August 1, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    I’m think­ing he would be a great artist to start the school year. I want try doing self por­traits and I love the idea! What medium would you use with new third graders? I think that the pen­cil with sharpie is great but would you stick with col­ored pen­cils? New crayons or pas­tels? Just curi­ous, thank you!!!!!!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge August 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      Hi Amy — Self por­traits are a great project for start­ing off the school year! For begin­ning of 3rd grade, I would prob­a­bly have them use crayons instead of col­ored pen­cils. (It takes some prac­tice to learn how to fill in large areas neatly with col­ored pen­cils.) Make sure you get some of the “flesh tone” packs so you don’t end up with orange or yel­low faces! For skin tones, I like to buy the jumbo crayons, peel the paper off and break them in half. Then stu­dents can use the side edges to fill in large areas with­out leav­ing streaky lines. Sharpie is good… you might want to use the “F” size (instead of “UF”) so they don’t get too caught up in draw­ing tiny details. Have fun with this!!

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