Lesson 1 of 10
The Art of Portraiture
by Debi West
I am excited to have the opportunity to write another yearlong series of lessons for Arts & Activities magazine this year. I believe that the next 10 articles will give teachers wonderful ideas of where to take their Art II students.
I currently teach about 180 visual art students at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga. I teach Intro Art, Art II and AP Art and, I have to say, I really love my Art II students.
They are on their way to building up strong portfolios while continuing to master the technical and creative aspects necessary to reaching the AP level. I think this level of art requires experimenting, playing, creating and makes for authentic learning at its best!
The first lesson I teach these students is my “Art of Portraiture” lesson. This lesson helps my students better understand the difference between drawing from life and drawing from a photograph.
On the first day of school, students are given a mirror, a 4B graphite pencil and a piece of 12″ x 18″ white drawing paper. They fold their papers horizontally, giving them two 9″ x 12″ rectangles to work on. I have them keep one side of the paper folded in and simply tell them to look in the mirror and draw what they see. Well, the moans and groans begin early on and they all realize that Art II is going to be a bit more challenging.
After about 10 minutes of students really concentrating on drawing what they see, I remind them to consider the elements of art, the lines, shapes and values that they are seeing in the mirror. These lines and shapes and values are the elements that make their faces, their faces! My Art II students spend two class periods working on their direct-observation self-portraits.
On day 3, I have them stop and open their paper up to begin drawing on the next rectangle but, this time, I hand them each a high-contrast photograph of themselves that I have taken off of their attendance sheets. They now have a few days to draw their self-portraits by looking at a photograph and they are all amazed at how easy it is. Of course, they are using techniques they were taught in their Intro Art course, but they are seeing the importance of understanding how line, shape and value work together.
After another few days, I have them open up their papers and we conduct a compare/contrast critique of the two drawn self-portraits. Students suddenly understand why most scholarship and award programs (including AP and Scholastic) prefer direct observation works, as they are most challenging and require a bit more skill.
Our conversations continue over the next few days as I give students the opportunity to clean up and complete both works and we then use these pieces to gauge the growth and learning that continues throughout the school year.
This is truly one of my favorite lessons because it pushes students out of their comfort zone, it has them thinking about elements, processes and techniques, and it moves them into the next phase of thinking and working like an Art II artist!
Up next…”Left Brain/Right Brain” Art Works!
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Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.