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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.


Self-portraits by artists from various collections throughout the world. This online gallery is a resource for discovering the wide variety of styles that artists use to express themselves in self-portraiture.

Grade Level:

- 3-5. Lessons can be adapted for middle and high school students.

Subject Area:


Curriculum connections: Language Arts (biography, memoirs, letters and correspondence), Social Studies


-To introduce students to a variety of self-portraits

-To encourage students to look closely at artwork and discuss it with one another

- To appreciate the value of self-examination and reflective thought

-To analyze artwork by various artists and to understand that artists use personal symbolism, line, color and composition to communicate ideas

The slide show can be used in many ways depending on your lesson plan. With my elementary school students I find it best to select a few slides per session to examine and discuss so that they can thoroughly analyze the images. I use "Visual Thinking Strategies" to facilitate discussions. When you open the Related Resources section of this Online Educators gallery there is a link to "Visual Thinking Strategies" and to "Artful Thinking". There is also a link to my Website which has an interactive movie featuring Boston portrait artist Ralph Beach. He demonstrates porportional realistic portrait drawing to grade 3 students.

Questions to generate student interaction: I introduce artwork by having the children look silently for a full one to two minutes. They are Picture Detectives!

• Visual Thinking Strategies - What is going on here?
What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?How about others, any different ideas?

• What do you notice?

• What do you wonder?

• What types of lines do you see?

• What type of expressions do you see?
• How is feeling and mood conveyed? What feeling and emotion does the picture give to you?
• Does it look complex? What makes it look that way?
• Can you compare one thing to another? What connections can you make to the other things you know or noticed?
• What do you want to know more about?

My third grade students spend the majority of the year in the art room learning to draw and paint faces and heads. Their long unit consists of many overlapping projects that build upon one another. The initial project is entitled "Faces in a Crowd". In this lesson students learn to examine expressive facial gestures by working with a small group of classmates. They study each other’s eyes, noses, and mouths for emotional response. They also look in a mirror to study their unique expressions. Students learn that emotional facial response is a universal human language. This knowledge helps them to connect with one another.

The second lesson is a "Cubist Portrait". In this lesson students learn to break up pictorial space and reassemble components in a new way. They work with elements of design: line, shape, direction, size, color, texture, and value. For the third lesson entitled "Snap, Crackle, Pop" students use line to create a face inside of a square , then they replicate it 3 more times. They use the color wheel as a tool to establish 4 different personal color combinations; primary, complementary, analogous, split complementary, monotone, high contrast, tints, shades, etc. Paint color is applied to each face differently, thereby establishing mood through color use. This project creates a series and is based on elements of Pop Art. The fourth lesson, "About Face", delves into realism in self-portraiture. In the first part of this lesson students learn about symmetry, scale, and proportion. They kinesthetically measure their faces then learn to draw the shapes that they feel. They also use mirrors. Their self-portraits are done in pencil over the course of 3 class periods. Depiction of forms, shadows, and highlights are introduced to create the effect of 3 dimensional shapes. Students see dramatic improvement in their ability to make realistic representations of themselves. This lesson always starts by having them draw a “before” of their own faces so that they can have a concrete example of their own progress as the lesson unfolds. The culminating lesson, "Night Lights", is a combination of reality and fantasy. Students create larger than life pastel chalk/oil pastel drawings of their faces/heads on black paper. Half of the face is colored in realistically. Students use pastels to mix their own skin tones thereby learning that we may have many unexpected colors in our skin (olive, blue, red, etc.). The other half of the face is colored in to look as if it is lit by a neon light. Students select their own color grouping to work with. By this point students have dramatically increased their looking and drawing skills.

In grade 4 students learn to draw poses of figures in action based on a 16-part figure. Grade 5 students revisit the idea of self-portraiture from yet another point of view. For their final project of the year they create symbolic self-portraits inside their silhouettes. Students fill out a questionnaire to determine their interests, wishes, hopes, and dreams. They use this information to translate their written words into pictures in order to fill their compositions.

This online gallery can be adapted and used for all of these lessons.

The following is the Lesson Plan for "Faces in a Crowd":



Grades: 3rd - 5th

Length of Class: 40 Minutes - 1 hour

Number of Class Periods: 3 to 4

Lesson Topic: In this lesson students will build a composition of abstract portraits that contain several faces showing different emotions. A discussion on abstract portraits, Cubism, and examples from Pablo Picasso will be presented. The students will explore drawing the face with different expressions or emotions. The students use watercolor paper, pencils, black sharpies, oil pastels, and watercolor to create their compositions. This lesson will focus on line, composition, overlapping, and scale.


Stage 1. A: Enduring understandings:

• Art conveys mood and emotion with lines, shapes, and colors.

• Materials, techniques, and resources influence artistic expression.

Stage 1. B: Essential Questions:

• How is a feeling or mood conveyed visually?

• What influences artistic expression?

Stage 1. C: Goals/Standards Massachusetts Frameworks:

Learning Standard 2: Elements and Principle of Design. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the elements of art and the principles of design.

Learning Standard 3: Observation, Abstraction, Invention, and Expression. Students will demonstrate their powers of observation, abstraction, inventions, and expression in a variety of media, materials, and techniques.

Stage 1. D: Learning Objectives:

• Students will use their knowledge of scale, detail, texture, overlapping, and variety to invent a composition of faces.

• Students will express a variety of emotions by using lines.

• Students will experiment with different line thicknesses.

• Students will focus and create a full composition of faces.


Stage 2. A: Performance Tasks as Evidence (Art product):

• A composition of faces will be created using pencil.

• The faces will be of different sizes and show overlapping.

• The faces will show different expressions with facial details.

• The faces will be traced over with different sizes of black sharpie.

• Oil pastels will be used to enhances details or add color to the faces or background.

• Watercolors will be used to cover the composition.

Stage 2. B: Other Evidence/ Continuum of Assessment Strategies:

• Students will work thoughtfully on all pieces of the project.

• Students will respect classroom materials and help clean up.

• Students will display and share their favorite parts of the composition with the class.

Stage 2. C: Criteria:

• Did the student work diligently?

• Do the faces fill up the page?

• Did the student use overlapping?

• Did the student include small, medium, and large heads?

• Did the student show at least 10 different expressions?

• Do the student’s faces have eyes, nose, mouth, ears, eyebrows, and hair?


Stage 3. A: Materials and equipment

• White water color paper

• Pencils

• Black Sharpies (variety of sizes)

• Oil pastels

• Watercolor paints

• Gloss medium

Stage 3. B: Vocabulary definitions

• Abstraction: The departure from realism when creating art. Depicting real forms in a simplified or reduced way.

• Cubism: Images broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstract way. Depicting objects from multiple viewpoints.

• Composition: The placement or arrangement of visual elements in a work of art. The student’s entire page will be filled with faces.

• Scale: The size of an object seen in relation to other objects, people, or its environment in a composition. Student’s work will contain faces in a variety of sizes (small, medium, and large).

• Line: Be sure to use different sizes of sharpies. This will create a wide variety of lines.

• Variety: The student’s work will display at least ten different emotions, different size faces and a variety in types of lines.

• Overlapping: To extend over or cover part of another object.

• Details and texture: The student’s work will include eyes, eyeballs, nose, mouth, ears, eyebrows, and hair.

Stage 3. C: Learning Activities & Instruction:

a) Teacher directed presentation and demonstration:

• The teacher will begin the lesson with a discussion of abstract art.

• The teacher will display Portrait of a Woman and Portrait of Dora Maar by Picasso.
• National Galleries of Scotland (n.d). Portrait of Dora Maar. from
• Portrait of a Woman in a Chair (n.d). from

• The teacher will use Inquiry Based Strategies to lead the class through a discussion of the works.

• The teacher will ask the class to look specifically at the qualities of the different lines and report on what they see.

• The teacher will ask the class to think about how their face changes when they make different expressions.

• The teacher will tell the class about Pablo Picasso and journey from realism to abstraction and Cubism.

• The teacher will explain that the class will be creating abstract portraits of a crowd.

• The teacher will ask the students for examples of a crowd of people.

• The teacher will hand out an “Emotions Worksheet”. (This is a worksheet that contains images of many emotions.)

• The teacher will inform the class that their portraits need to show emotion.

• The teacher will discuss composition and explain that the entire page is to be filled with heads.

• The teacher will discuss scale and explain that the composition should contain faces in a variety of sizes (small, medium and large).

• The teacher will inform the class to use a variety of lines and to use different sizes of black sharpies.

• The teacher will discuss using at least ten different emotions.

• The teacher will discuss overlapping and explain that the student’s work should have at least three examples of overlapping.

• The teachers will discuss details and texture and that the portraits should include eyes, nose, mouth, ears, eyebrows, and hair.

• The teacher will demonstrate how the class should begin their compositions by making U’s of a variety of sizes and directions all over their paper.

• The teacher will demonstrate drawing one face with details.

• Day two: The teacher will review abstract portraits, Cubism, and Pablo Picasso.

• The teacher will remind the students of the details their compositions should contain.

• The teacher will show the students how to trace over their pencil faces using different sizes of sharpie.

• The teacher will demonstrate using oil pastels to add details and color to their pictures.

• Day three: The teacher will show the students how to add watercolor to their compositions.

• The teacher will demonstrate to the students the application of acrylic gloss medium to the top surface of the final picture.

b) Student interaction in presentation and demonstration:

• The students will share their thoughts on the Picasso portrait examples.

• The students will name the variety of lines they see.

• The students will identify the expressions they see.

• The students will share their ideas and techniques for showing different types of expressions or emotions.

c) Questions to generate student interaction:

• What is going on here? (Picasso pictures)
What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?How about others, any different ideas?

• What do you notice?

• What do you wonder?

• What is a portrait? What is self-portrait?

• What types of lines do you see?

• What type of expressions do you see?

• How can you show different types of expressions?

d) Activity:

• The students will use pencil to draw at least ten faces throughout their paper.

• The students will show overlapping in their composition.

• The students will draw faces with different facial expression.

• The students will trace over the faces with different sizes of black sharpie.

• The students will use oil pastels to add details and color to the composition.

• The students will paint over their picture with watercolors.

• The students will cover their work with gloss medium.

• The students will share their final work with the class.

Created By

deborah kramer

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