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Textural Portraits | Arts & Activities
Nov 2018

Textural Portraits

Textural Portraits

Creativity is the fuel that powers our futures; we imagine new worlds and unearth ourselves. Results from my survey of more than 100 art teachers at the NAEA 2018 Convention, reveal that teachers feel the most important thing to teach in art class is creativity.

As art educators, we should reevaluate what we think is important and what we want to gain perspective as to where we are in art education. In response to relatively recent cuts to the visual arts in my district, I’ve become more reflective. This curiosity drove me to create the survey. Some of my findings can be found in the sidebar, “Survey Results”.

Considering that many educators have limited power to grow programs from within, perhaps we could promote art education by running art clubs and prompting partnerships with the community?

That being said, I reached out to investigate what it is that teachers are doing to partner with the community. Most stated that they are exhibiting student work in libraries, galleries, city hall or at school. Others are sharing work on Artsonia, Instagram, publications such as Arts & Activities, Seesaw or communicating with others through Twitter, YouTube, blogs, Skype, Facebook and newsletters. Some of the more original ideas include: a community sewing circle, sidewalk chalk festival, student art on transit buses, parent art lessons, and lobbying legislators.

IS TEACHING CREATIVITY more important than advocacy? In our town, the Waukegan Arts Council is a group dedicated to the enrichment of the city through unrelenting advocacy for the arts. When faced with about 32 empty storefronts in the heart of the city, they saw an opportunity to reach out to the community to revitalize a downtrodden city that had once thrived.

Their project asked the people to create portraits to fill the storefronts and draw attention to the beauty and diversity of Waukegan’s residents. I encouraged my eighth-grade students to participate in this endeavor.

Unfortunately, the building with the majority of those storefront windows was sold, and the new owner was unwilling to participate. The project was sidelined. Undeterred,  I continued to pursue this project with relative success. The project didn’t happen as we had envisioned but I was able to team up with a gallerist eager to exhibit the student work.

THE LESSON BEGAN with a discussion of our role in the community and how our portraits could help celebrate those diverse experiences, as well as the societal impact of the exhibition. Using a basic formula, I demonstrated how to draw both a female and male face. Students practiced formula drawing small faces for the remainder of the first day.

On day two, we propped up mirrors and enjoyed a day of timed sketches. We began by sketching our faces in one-minute, then two- and five-minute intervals, slowly adding time to our sketches. Our focus was on memorizing the formula for accurate proportions so we could see it when we look at a face.

On the third day, we continued with timed sketches. I encouraged students to use a resource packet I provided that contained a step-by-step drawing of a face, a nose, an eye, and self-assessment questions to check work and spark constructive discussion. Day four was a full period of drawing a self-portrait as a final assessment.

The daily sketches allowed for easy checks for understanding and quick interventions. I was looking for students to lay out the formula in one minute, and to spend the remainder of their time measuring and adjusting proportions.

On day five, the final drawings were charcoal-transferred to cardboard and we began to add color. I demonstrated how to color rice and adhere it to a portrait while maintaining the image beneath. To color the rice, students poured a small amount of acrylic paint into a zip-lock bag, added dry white rice, and shook it vigorously. Once coated, the rice was carefully spread onto wax paper and allowed to dry.

Colors and values were then selected and glued over the portrait, as we did our best to both preserve the image and to place light and dark values appropriately.

WHEN FINISHED, THE WORK WAS TAKEN downtown to the Parlor Gallery to be exhibited during “ArtWauk,” a monthly arts experience that draws thousands of visitors. Our goal was to revitalize our town and celebrate its diversity.

The Parlor gallerist, Nicole Romany, was generous enough to revive the Faces of Waukegan Project by offering gallery space to us. She truly played a vital role in not only saving the city, but also advocating for public school arts.

We filled the gallery with plaster relief, fiber, crayon and rice portraits. More than 40 artist portraits were exhibited during the month of March, giving my students a real opportunity to publicly represent themselves in their community. These types of partnerships are vital to building an alliance with the community.

Undeniably, with the sentiments of teachers finding it most important to teach creativity, and the great demand for creativity, it is truly very important to learn to be creative. But with the lack of growth in art programs, it may be time for some to consider advocacy as their top priority.

If your art program is not growing to your satisfaction, advocate for the arts within your community. Build partnerships. Don’t wait for things to change: bring the arts to the people. 


A darker value was used for the neck to keep it from blending into the chin.


Rice is carefully adhered and refined with the use of a pencil.


High contrast keeps the hair from blending into the background.


Here, the chin and nose were outlined to keep them from disappearing.


Students prepare colors and focus on maintaining the image drawn beneath the rice.


The community flyer announcing the exhibit.


Student work on view at the Faces of Waukegan show at The Parlor gallery.


Middle school students will …
accurately record proportions.
collaboratively produce for an exhibition.

CONNECTING: Making art collaboratively to reflect on and reinforce positive aspects of group identity.
PRESENTING: Analyzing why and how an exhibition or collection may influence ideas, beliefs, and experiences.

Cardboard and mirrors
Acrylic paint
Ziploc bags
White glue

Tony Woodman is an art educator at Daniel Webster Middle School in Waukegan, Illinois.


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