Teacher Workshop: Self-Portraits!


I just fin­ished the 4th work­shop in my “Teach­ing Teach­ers to Teach Art” series. This work­shop focused on teach­ing Self-Portraits and we had a blast! We learned the basic “rules” for draw­ing por­traits (see below) and did three self-portrait projects inspired by famous artists Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo and Amedeo Modigliani. I’ll be shar­ing those lessons here on my blog over the next few days.

It’s been encour­ag­ing to see not only class­room teach­ers, but also home school teach­ers, stu­dent teach­ers just fin­ish­ing their cre­den­tial pro­grams, pro­fes­sional artists who want to learn to teach art to kids and even grand­par­ents look­ing for new ways to spend qual­ity time with their grand­kids — all inter­ested in learn­ing to Teach Kids Art!!! Art truly is alive and well, despite all the bud­get cuts we keep hear­ing about!!

Just a note to my a.m. work­shop stu­dents.… we ran out of time to make the paper “frames” I had planned for our Paul Klee project, but my after­noon stu­dents got to do it.… So, to be fair, here’s the link to my post “Fun Paper Frames” from a cou­ple of months ago where I shared how to do this!

Read on for my “Tips for Teach­ing Por­traits and Self-Portraits”.…

These instruc­tions will help you with the basic place­ment of facial fea­tures and their pro­por­tions, whether you are cre­at­ing a self-portrait or a por­trait of some­one else. Each of our faces will vary in shape and pro­por­tion because we are all unique individuals!


• Show exam­ples of por­traits and self-portraits by famous artists such as Vin­cent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Amadeo Modigliani and oth­ers. Explain to younger stu­dents that a por­trait is a pic­ture of some­one else and a self-portrait is a pic­ture of your self.

• Dis­cuss the loca­tion and shape of each fea­ture as you demon­strate, explain­ing that your instruc­tions are for the “aver­age” face and that each of our faces will vary slightly from these basic guide­lines. (Stu­dents will retain more and more of these “rules of por­trai­ture” as they con­tinue to hear them repeated each year!)

• Pass out small mir­rors and encour­age stu­dents to look closely at the shapes of their facial fea­tures and the shape that their hair makes against their face as well as its out­side shape. (Inex­pen­sive mir­rors can usu­ally be found at the Dol­lar Store. A less break­able option for Kinder­garten is “mir­rored poster board” cut to 5”x7” and mounted onto foam core board to make it rigid.) Keep your mir­ror handy and refer to it often, com­par­ing the shapes and lines you are draw­ing (and their rela­tion­ships to each other) with what you see in the mirror!

• Have stu­dents draw with pen­cil first, remind­ing them to press lightly so they can erase when they need to!

How to Draw a Self-Portrait:


1. Begin by draw­ing the head shape as a large oval in the cen­ter of your paper. Make your oval slightly larger at the top. It may be help­ful to use the pink eraser on the end of your pen­cil to sketch basic shapes like this before draw­ing them with pen­cil.
2. The eyes are almond shaped and are halfway down the head, five widths across, with the width of one eye in between. Add the upper eye­lid by draw­ing a sec­ond line just above the top of the eye, match­ing that curve. If you choose to add eye­lashes, they curve up and out, away from the mid­dle of the face. The iris of each eye is par­tially cut off at the top and the bot­tom. Darken in the pupil, but leave a small speck of white to rep­re­sent reflected light. (Have stu­dents take a minute to look for this tiny reflec­tion in each other’s eyes.)
3. Eye­brows gen­er­ally fol­low the curve of the eye shape and are made up of tiny hairs, not a solid line.
4. The tip of the nose is halfway between the eyes and the chin. The bot­tom of the nose is the width of the space between the eyes. For K and 1st grade, I sug­gest draw­ing the nose as a slightly curved “L” shape. For 2nd grade and up, you can teach them to draw the tip of the nose like a tiny “smile” line with the ends curv­ing down­ward, and the sides of the nos­trils like a paren­the­sis on either side of it.
5. The bot­tom of the mouth is halfway between the bot­tom of the nose and the chin with the width being the space between the pupils. First draw a slight curve to rep­re­sent the space between the upper and lower lips. Add a curved line below this for the lower lip and two curved lines that meet in the mid­dle above it for the upper lip.
6. Form a front view of the ears with a sim­ple curved line along the side of the head, run­ning from the top of the eyes to the tip of the nose.
7. The width of the neck is equal to the space between the out­side edges of the eyes.
8. For K and 1st grade, draw a curved line from the lower left to the lower right side of your paper to rep­re­sent the shoul­ders. For 2nd grade and up, you can curve the neck into the shoul­ders in a more real­is­tic way.
9. Draw the hair as a solid shape, focus­ing on the shape it makes against your face and also against the back­ground. You may add a few indi­vid­ual hairs to indi­cate the direc­tion the hair is grow­ing, but don’t overdo it! Erase any part of the ears that the hair covers.

Impor­tant!! Draw­ing the hair as a sin­gle shape is prob­a­bly the best piece of advice you can share with your stu­dents to help them achieve more suc­cess with their por­traits. Point out that the hair takes up space on the top and sides of the head. Have them study their own hair in a mir­ror so they can observe this first hand. Stu­dents have a ten­dency to draw hair as indi­vid­ual hairs grow­ing out of the head. When you help them to see the dif­fer­ence and start draw­ing the hair as a shape, you’ll con­vince them to break this habit, and their work will imme­di­ately improve 100%!

• If you choose to trace your pen­cil draw­ing with another medium (such as Sharpie), trace care­fully over your draw­ing and then use a Magic Rub eraser to remove any pen­cil lines that are still show­ing afterward.

• When paint­ing your por­trait, be care­ful to leave the whites of the eyes unpainted! It’s usu­ally a good idea to paint the iris first as a reminder.

• If using water­color, a tiny amount of red or orange may be added to well-diluted brown paint to get a good skin tone. Be sure to add enough water to your paint! You may want to have stu­dents “try out” their skin color on a sep­a­rate paper first.

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4 Responses to Teacher Workshop: Self-Portraits!

  1. alejandra May 7, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Great idea! It seems you all had a great time.

  2. Mr. MintArt March 6, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    thanks for shar­ing this won­der­ful project. You did a great job.

  3. Catherine November 16, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Thanks! The kids love these guide­lines — I had some of these but also I’ve added your tips to my les­son plans which come under the theme of ‘look­ing closely’ OBSERVATION stage. I also use the cen­tral cross in an oval shape from ‘The new Draw­ing on the right side of the brain.’ Using char­coal with the older stu­dents also helps them to make a quick first impres­sion of character/ per­son­al­ity. They tease each other about the size of their noses, ears or spots but then get teased back when the artist swaps roles with the model :-))

    • Cheryl Trowbridge November 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      Quick sketches with char­coal is a great idea! Thanks for shar­ing that!

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