Sunday, August 26, 2012

One of our first provocations in the month of September (usually during the second week of school) is having the students begin to create their own self-portraits.

Here is how we made this possible in our class last year:

1) Have conversations about art as a process, which means that the children can stop when they feel tired and hang their work on the "art work in progress" wall.  Our goal is for them to show us their best work.

2) Allow children to explore their facial features using mirrors and their own photograph (if you cut out only the head it makes it easier for the kids to focus on this rather than their body) before even beginning to draw.

3) Read any books that give the message that we are all unique and special.  

4) Teach sketching from observation techniques, and have children use pencil first.  Some children sketched by looking at themselves in the mirror, while others preferred to use their photo.

5) Once they are happy with their pencil sketch they can go over it with pastel.  (Teach how to work with pastels before this point.)

6) Display their self-portrait in the classroom.  We have ours in frames over their cubby area on top of their coat hook.

The children love to see themselves in the mirror and feel really accomplished when their self-protrait is completed!

I welcome any questions below within the comment section, if anything is unclear.


  1. Great way of introducing themeselves creatively to one another. Sounds like a Large group experience. Would they be able to work on it anytime during the day? Would like to know if the containers in the above cubby was storage? Are their belongings all located below? Sorry for all the questions, just interested in your layout.

  2. I love how the children made such good use of the paper. It looks like many of them filled their page. I was wondering about the language or the messages that you used to encourage large pictures? I could imagine that my students will start with a very small circle. And i was just wondering why pencil first?

    1. Thank you for your reply,... much appreciated

  3. This process fascinates me. I noticed when visiting your classroom that students would use pencil/fine tip marker to draw/outline their pictures before they used paint/pastels. What language do you use to encourage this process? I noticed in the photo that pastels are readily available at the centre. What happens if a student goes directly to the pastel stage without the initial drawing started? What happens if a student starts a portrait and never returns to work on it... is that considered part of the artistic process?
    Heather (Team Jellybean)

  4. Amaizing! Thanks for the tips. Keep up the great work. I love reading your articles. Thanks
    Catalina Stefan

  5. Hi all,

    I'm so pleased to have this dialogue going with all of you!! I'm sorry for the delayed response. I have been working crazy hours to get my classroom ready. Heather, I know you understand what it's like to transport your classroom to G.B.'s and then transport it back!!

    Comment RE 1: Thank you it is a nice way for them to take ownership of their cubby space and pay closer attention to what makes them special. I wouldn't say it is a large group experience, as the children are not working on this all at the same time. They can work on it any time during their school day. The photos are placed in the cubby, and directly behind the photos there is a ziplock bag with the child's extra clothes. Under their cubby bench they keep their indoor shoes. I appreciate your thoughtful questions and that you are interested in the layout of our classroom!

    Comment RE 2: Hi Diane! I showed them a sample of a self-portrait that effectively used the space and only showcased their head. We spoke about why this was important (e.g., It represents their cubby area and we want people to see who's spot it is, etc.). I like to get the children in the process of brainstorming, planning, and sketching their work before they proceed to their final product. This really encourages art as thinking process. See comment 3 for more info. on this.

    Comment RE 3: Heather! It's so lovely to have you visit our blog and leave a comment. I am one of your biggest fans!! I'm so pleased to hear that you are fascinated by our work!! I started to answer part of your question in comment 2. I always tell the children that they are all artists, mathematicians, builders, writers, readers, scientists, etc. and that all of these people are first and foremost "thinkers." When they think about something they talk about it, write about it, plan it, and then slowly achieve their desired goal. We try not to jump to the end goal too quickly, otherwise it doesn't show deep thinking and intentionality on the child's part. When something is completed following this process you can see that they have carefully thought through all of their intentions, and can easily communicate them to you.

    The reason that the pastels are offerred immediately, is to intice them!! When children come to school I find that the new materials really draw them in. I'm okay with them experimenting with pastels even before the pencil, however the photo that is framed is one where they went through the entire process. If a child uses only pastel I use this a jumping off point for a lesson about how more detail can be added when drawing first. I would do this by showing my own example and not theirs.

    You ask a great question, and one that we continue to grapple with ourselves! If a child does not return to the work we invite and encourage them either through whole group and individually that it would be so sad if their cubby didn't have their lovely face on it. This is one of the only tasks in the year that we hope all of our students are able to participate in and experience. Otherwise (for any other task), you're absolutely right in saying that if they choose to stop, it's part of their process. As educators we always try to keep inviting and encouraging them though...

    Thanks for always provoking me to think more deeply about my practice Heather! Happy start to you and your kids!!

    Comment RE 4: Catalina thank you from my heart!! I will keep posting if you keep reading! I appreciate your encouragement!

  6. Oh Joanne, I do remember transporting my classroom to GB. Every year I took razzing from colleagues about the amount I brought, but my goal was to make the experience feel as real and hands on as possible. Congratulations on inspiring so many people this summer.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I love that you always inspire me to think deeper, to question, and to work on slowing down the process (to always think deeply and encourage children in my class to do the same). I have had kids do portraits before but never thought about slowing down the process this way. Am excited to try this and document it along the way to see what happens. Last year I dabbled in slowing the artistic process, inspired by Barbara Reid illustrations. I got some amazing results. I think since we focus on the big idea of "me" and "me being part of a community (a team in my classroom)" that this will be a perfect start to this journey. Thanks for once again inspiring me.

  7. Thank's Heather! I agree bringing in our "stuff" makes the experience an authentic one for the participants.

    I'm so happy to hear that my ramblings make some sense...Can't wait to see your documentation of this process!

    Thank you for inspiring me too!! I'm already working on my first math problem!!


  8. I am curious as to the socioeconomic status of your students. About half of my kindergarteners will be holding a pencil for the first time when school starts. I want to do self-portraits, but I am wondering if I should have them do a second one mid-year when it might actually resemble a face. Opinion? Also, I am on a budget. With no pastels to use, what media would you suggest? I have the basics...crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Thanks!