While developing lessons for my students, not only am I conscious of the elements of art, but I also try to incorporate an element of fun whenever possible!
I wanted my middle-school students to learn the basics of self-portraiture, with an emphasis on correct feature placement. Since I knew they were all pretty much obsessed with cellphones, I decided to use that as a motivation for this lesson. They thoroughly enjoyed using a “device” in school, as well as gazing at themselves for hours!
We started this lesson by examining cellphone case designs on the smart board and discussed principles of design and the element of color. Each student was provided with a blank template of the outline of a cellphone and got right to work “designing” their very own case. They used an assortment of bright neon and metallic markers. I also provided ultra-fine glitter for that added BLING!
When complete, the cases were set aside and work on the portraiture began. We headed back to the smart board and took a look at some famous self-portraits. It was here that I stressed the difference between caricatures and realistic portrayals of themselves. We also viewed numerous “selfies,” and discussed the properties of a candid shot of a person, as opposed to a formal portrait.
Following instruction on drawing the human face, the students were provided with a personal whiteboard, marker and several handouts on the correct placement of the features on the human face. I explained that, although they might be making a “funny face,” it was important to correctly place and proportion the features. They spent one art class practicing the basics of a portrait.
Students were permitted to bring their personal devices into the art room or use the class self-portrait mirrors. Let the posing begin! After settling on a perfect pose, students lightly sketched the faces and background of the selfies. (Yes, photo-bombing was permitted!) Ultra fine-tip permanent black markers were used to define some outlines, then color was added.
At this point, the importance of shading and how to create the illusion of form was demonstrated. The completed self-portraits were then glued onto the cellphone “screens” and laminated. For an added touch, they were allowed to “hashtag” their names on the bulletin-board display.
The results were delightful. Staff, students and visitors enjoyed viewing all the fun, expressive faces!
Middle-school students will …
• understand that self-portraits are a reflection of self.
• learn the correct placement of features on the human face.
• create a cellphone case using principles of design.
National Art Standards
• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Paper template of cellphone case
• Self-portrait mirrors or personal devices
• Cellphone screen sized paper
• Fine-tip markers in assorted colors, permanent black markers
• Ultra-fine glitter
Cynthia Benson is the fifth- and sixth-grade art teacher at Bellingham Memorial Middle School in Bellingham, Mass.