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Self Portrait on Paper

Grades: 3, 4, 5, 6
Related Subjects: English - Language Arts, Visual & Performing Arts
Medium: Drawing
Class time required: 1 X 90 minute session
Author: MCASD Office of Education

Student Example: Self Portrait on Paper

Student Example: Self Portrait on Paper

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In this one-session lesson, students will be guided into creating their own self-portrait in steps using colored pastels. They will also use their self-portraits as a springboard to write a personal narrative.



Untitled Figure

Untitled Figure
Salomón Huerta

Half Indian/Half Mexican, 1991

Half Indian/Half Mexican, 1991
James Luna

Gabriel and Ramon

Gabriel and Ramon
John Sonsini

Teachers Preparation

  • Color wheels can be purchased online at Dick Blick. You can also make a color wheel for yourself as an example using one of the following worksheets: Blank PDF for black and white printer or Color PDF for color printers.
  • There are also many fun online lesson plans where students can make their own color wheels, such as: Hands on Crafts for Kids, Edible Color Wheels, and Sanford Art Adventures
  • Print the images onto overhead transparencies.
  • Practice drawing a self-portrait to feel comfortable with the example. 

Teaching Tips

  • Mirrors can be purchased at your local dollar store. Larger than palm-sized mirrors with a built-in base works well for younger students.


1. Begin by stating objective of lesson—creating a self-portrait using pencil and chalk.

2. Show the students the transparency images. Use the following questions to guide the discussion: What do you observe in these images? Why do artists make portraits and self-portraits? How are these contemporary portraits different from portraits made over 100 years ago? (see
Simone in Blue Bonnet and Sidki Efendi as examples for comparison)

3. Explain that an important component of portraiture (and art in general) is the colors the artist chooses to use. Begin talking about color: What feelings do colors give us? Where do we see people using color to get our attention (TV, advertisements, etc)? What if you only had red, yellow, and blue? Could you make other colors from these three? Briefly go over the color wheel.

4. Distribute sketchbooks, chalk, rulers, pencils, and mirrors to students.

5. On an overhead projector or chalk board, model basics of self-portraiture as students follow along. Remind them to work with their pencils lightly at first and that this is an interpretation of themselves; not even a photo looks EXACTLY like us.

• Start near the top of your page. Draw an oval shape for the head studying your own face shape in the mirror.

• Next, lightly draw a vertical dashed line, from the top of the head down to the chin. This will cut the face into two equal parts.

• Draw another dashed line a little higher than the midpoint so it divides the face horizontally. Use this line to position the eyes. Study your eye shape in the mirror before you draw. Notice your eyelid and how it affects the shape. There should be an ‘eye’s width’ between the two eyes to achieve correct proportion. Lightly draw the pupils and the eyebrows with pencil.

• Half-way between the eyes and chin is the hardest part to draw for most people—the nose. An easy way to draw the nose is to simplify it. Lightly draw two vertical lines from the outside corners of your eyes down. These are the sides of your nose. To make the outer lines of the nostrils, draw two parentheses and then very lightly draw the nostril holes. If colored in too darkly, they will remind you of a pig’s nose. To finish the nose, join the two nostril holes by making a “u-shaped” line.

• The mouth is connected to the nose and is located ½ way between the nose and the chin. Study your mouth in the mirror and notice your upper lip and bottom lip. Be careful to allow enough space under your nose for your mouth.

• Next, look at your ears. They extend all the way from your eyebrows to the bottom of your nose. Notice their shape in the mirror and draw them now.

• Study your neck in the mirror. Begin by starting from your ears on each side and drawing a line down vertically, making sure it is nice and wide.

• Lastly, look at your hair in the mirror. Notice how it begins more on top of your face than at the top line of your head. Draw the hair, making sure you are also looking in your mirror. Finally, add glasses, earrings, and other details if you are wearing them. Add your shirt and shoulders below your neck.

6. Remind students before they begin to color their drawings to fill the whole page with their self-portrait and background, making sure they mix colors. Also, have the students choose particular colors to help create a mood or feeling to represent themselves better. Do they want to use
warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows), cool colors (blues, purples, greens), or a combination of both? Caution them: blending too much with their fingers will muddy their drawing.

7. Spray the students’ final drawings with hairspray or matte fixative.

8. When finished, students will write a personal narrative about themselves on lined paper. (Some Suggestions: What have you experienced in your life? Talk about your place in your family. What are your likes and dislikes? When you drew your self-portrait, did you sketch yourself as happy or as upset? Why?) This can be an in-school assignment or given as homework.

English-language arts: Students can make narrative presentations.


CA Content Standards
Third Grade Visual Arts
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, space, and value.

2.4 Create a work of art based on the observation of objects and scenes in daily life, emphasizing value changes.

3.1 Compare and describe various works of art that have a similar theme and were created at different time periods.

4.1 Compare and contrast selected works of art and describe them, using appropriate vocabulary of art.

Fourth Grade Visual Arts
1.4 Describe the concept of proportion (in face, figure) as used in works of art.

1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (color, shape/form, line, texture, space and value), emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

2.2 Use the conventions of facial and figure proportions in a figure study.

2.5 Use accurate proportions to create an expressive portrait or a figure drawing or painting.

4.5 Describe how the individual experiences of an artist may influence the development of specific works of art.

Fifth Grade Visual Arts
1.3 Use their knowledge of all the elements of art to describe similarities and differences in works of art and in the environment.

2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

Third Grade English-Language Arts
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Fourth Grade English-Language Arts
2.1 Write narratives.

Fifth Grade English-Language Arts
2.3 Write research reports about important ideas, issues, or events.



Hodge, Susie. How to Draw Portraits: A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners With 10 Projects. London: New Holland, 2000.

Bell, Julian. Five Hundred Self-Portraits. London: Phaidon Press, 2000.

Foundations in Art, University of Delaware
An introduction to the elements of art that includes images of artwork and concise explanations.

Learning to Look at Art
Learn about the elements of art by looking at famous pieces of artwork. This Web site provides background information and descriptions of how each artwork is an example of an art element (line, color, texture, shape, form, space, and value). It also includes interactive and printable activities for students.

National Portrait Gallery Online
Search the collection for self-portraits that span the last 500 years. The E-learning component under the education section has lots of great information and classroom activities.

Retratos: 2,000 years of Latin American Portraiture
Traveling exhibition Web site that shares the history of Latin American portraiture. Includes a teacher’s guide with transparencies.


Brookes, Mona. Drawing for Older Children and Teens. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1991.

Court, Rob. Color. Chanhassen, MN: The Child’s World, 2003.

Roalf, Peggy. Self-Portraits. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1993.

Rodrigue, George. Why is Blue Dog Blue? New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2001.

Rohmer, Harriet (Ed.). Just Like Me: Stories and Self-portraits by Fourteen Artists. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press, 1997.

Woolf, Felicity. Picture this Century: an introduction to 20th century art. New York: Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 1992.

Portrait for Kids, National Gallery of Art
Follow the clues and help solve a make-believe mystery! Using your noggin and a special spyglass tool, you'll uncover hidden layers of the painting and learn fascinating facts about the portrait along the way, from the National Gallery of Art. Let the sleuthing begin!

Sanford’s Carmine’s Introduction to Portraits
Easy introduction to portraits; includes images.


Museum of Photographic Arts
Mingei Museum Timken Museum of Art

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