THIRD GRADE : SELF-PORTRAITS INSPIRED BY MODIGLIANI
I find it not only easy to do, but fun for myself and the students when art history is integrated into a lesson. The students have something to refer back to in the learning process, and it introduces them to the beauty of the artwork from artists that the students may never hear about at any other time in their life besides art class. I introduced the third grade classes to self-portraits, which every student was terrified about when I first introduced the lesson. When the most gifted art student in a class raises his hand and says, "I don't think I'm going to be able to do this, I can't draw my own face," you know this is going to be a challenge. But I told the whole class, "don't worry, I'm going to show you how to make a face using just simple shapes that you all can draw as well, and I'll help you with every step, and EVERYONE is going to be able to do this, I promise." Normally I wouldn't promise hardly anything to a bunch of 8 year olds if I was only half-sure about what their abilities would let them do, but I felt like I knew these kids for 6 weeks, and I knew their gifts and talents and that they hide behind low self-confidence. Once they see what they can do, they'll be sad that they ever doubted themselves. In reality, I was giving a lesson aimed at 5th graders to several groups of 3rd graders. I knew they could take on this challenge. I thought, if they won't have confidence in themselves, I'll have excessive confidence for every single one of them.
I began by hanging up several portraits done by Amedeo Modigliani on the board. Without telling them who did these or why they looked the way they did, I had the class study them briefly, and then we had a group discussion where they identified common traits they noticed within the portraits.
I told them a little bit about Modigliani, and how he would draw up to 100 portraits a day in the later part of his life (I left out parts about the absinthe and the mental disorders). We talked about shapes that we could see him using in each portrait, the difference between a realistic portrait and the techniques that Modigliani used, the difference between a portrait and a self-portrait, and they asked questions and talked about what they thought about these portraits. I love hearing kids talk about art, and all of the things that they notice and see and think that things resemble. It's amazing.
So then I did a demo of the steps of a Modigliani style self portrait. I got a mirror and drew myself for them, and I explained each step and why I was doing what I did. I think this helped make the assignment less intimidating when they knew what they should start with, what shapes they could use, and that it was possible to hold a mirror and draw at the same time. I also talked about elongating and exaggerating. I gave myself a long neck and a long oval face, taking up most of the 12" x 18" paper I was giving them. I told them to look at themselves in the mirror and study what they saw before they began drawing. Notice if you have round eyes or oval shaped eyes, if you have thin lips or lips that are more rounded, add in things like glasses or how your hair sits on your forehead, what color eyes you have, etc. because all of those things make you unique and make your self-portrait stand out and look the most like you. I told them not to aim for hyper-realism, that we were going to have fun, use simple shapes, and do something different.
Everyone began their drawings with pencil. Once they were completed, they would outline in Sharpie marker, and then use colored pencils for their hair, skin, eyes, lips, etc. I told them to leave their clothing blank until the end, because then I pulled out the best art supply ever invented for 8 year olds...color changing markers. I told them they could use these to color their shirts and make cool patterns. They loved it!
This project was definately one of the more difficult concepts for the kids to grasp, but they did a wonderful job, listened well, and really learned something about their own skills and abilities. I told them at the very end when everyone was done, that this project was supposed to be for 5th grade, but that I gave it to them because I knew they could do it, even though they didn't think so themselves at the beginning. I saw them looking at their work after I told them that, then looking at me, then smiling, because I think that was the point they all realized that they are all talented, and that they should never doubt how artistic they are :)
Me with Mr. Russell's third grade class on my last day of elementary school. They all planned to surprise me and group-hug me at the end of class. They did, and Mrs. Clinton was nice enough to photograph this moment. I miss and love these kids so much!