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Monday, May 18, 2015

Surreal Self Portraits 2015

It's that magical time of year again! My fifth graders have been working very very hard on their watercolor Surreal Self Portraits!! Here are a few that have finished. I'll post more later in the week! Last year I posted, "I have waited SOOOOO long to post this project! My fifth graders have worked SO hard and learned so much! I am pretty sure this is the most successful, difficult, and rewarding project I have ever taught! many students did a wet on wet technique for the background and incorporated any drips that happened along the way. I wanted them to work very loosely and not worry about messing up. Towards the end of the project I saw little artists emerging from their shells! They were trying new things, they were keeping their mistakes, and they were truly in love with their art! we dripped water just to see the spots it created, and and used straws to make drip explosions!  They were lifting paint where they didn't want it, adding paint and taking giant leaps of courage jumping into their backgrounds with huge brushes and bright colors!! "
 I feel the same this year! I have seen all of their personalities emerge in their artwork and I am so proud of every one of them! Enjoy the pièce de résistance of fifth grade!

step by step instructions

last year's portraits

If you are looking at these on your mobile device you can tap the photo for a clearer picture

Ok I have had several people email me asking for the steps. I have posted a link to some of the steps in the painting process. This is how I organized the drawing part.

 1. students spend the first week drawing themselves and their animal and what they will be doing in their photo that is surreal. (larger than life or an action that could not take place in real life)

 Take a picture of the student with your phone. Then let them either bring a photo of a pet from home or choose a picture from the internet. I put the photos in a word document. You can use whatever program for organizing that you choose.

2. Use a smart board or projector to project the images for the students to trace. Tape the paper on the board and Trace face
Eyes-eye lids, iris, pupil, reflection of light)
 nose (no lines on the side, we will paint shadows there) just the nostrils
mouth- lips but no lines in between the teeth
hair- outline the “shinys” and the dark parts 

Then students position their animal on the portrait and trace animal into the composition, making sure to outline shadowed areas, texture, and the parts of the eye.

 2. while the rest of the class finishes their drawings, students begin outlining with a ultra fine tip sharpie and adding texture to animal and hair. Scales, hair, spots, feathers. Draw some follow the leader line hairs that follow a certain direction

skin toness are mixed with mostly brown and water with a drip of red, pink, and yellow (obviously vary the amount of brown and pink per different skin tone) 
3. when everyone has finished 2 start with hair and skin tones painting
Students mix skin tones with water,  squirt of brown, a drip of red, and a drip of yellow, and drip of pink mix with water and test on test paper until the desired color is achieved then paint the face, don’t forget arms, neck, and ears with that color.
Leave teeth, eyes, and shinys white
While paint is wet blot the cheeks, forehead and chin with tissue. The areas that stick out on your face catch the light
When the face is dry, choose the light source right or left and add another layer of skin tone to the shadowed areas (side of nose, under eye brow eye lid, under bottom lip, under chin on neck and side of the face/forehead)

4. Paint the hair, but pay close attention to shadows and shinys (I have to find five shades of brown/blonde/red  on hair it can’t be solid. There HAS to be shineys

5. paint eyes and mouth mix a bit of red/pink to skin tone for lips. Use black sharpie for the pupil, paint iris careful to leave the shiny white. Use tiny tiny brush for eyes, add eyelashes every so softly whisper brush

6. paint clothes and animal, must use value for every part When choosing color for the clothes and the animal they can paint the animal colorful but then they need a neutral background. If the animal is black and white/ brown/ or neutral colors, then make a colorful background. The colored parts will POP and the neutral parts will set back. They can give unity to the composition by tying in colors of the animal in the person’s clothes or accessories

Students are using a wet on wet technique for backgrounds. Drips and Splats are welcome!

Animals can coordinate with clothes and accessories, but not completely match

 fan brush is used on top of a lighter coat of paint to create texture on hair and animal fur/ feathers

we use liquid watercolors for the whole process


  1. Thanks for taking the time to post all of these -- they are just wonderful!!!

  2. I stand in amazement at your talent and beauty-beauty in your love of art and people. Can we have a really long, fun art session together in heaven??

    1. Laura, what a sweet comment! thank you thank you!And Yes of course!! I've got a while till then if you wanna set up something pre-mortam! HEHE

  3. WOW! Both concepts and execution in these works are so impressive! I can't pick a favorite; they're all Fantastic!

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  6. Simply amazing- the colours are so vivid and your kids did such a great job. Can I ask what brand of liquid watercolours you use?

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  8. Amazing work kids ... you could do it more

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  14. I think this artwork is AMAZING.....would love to see the instruction you give for this lesson plan. <3

  15. These are incredible - I love this blog and go back to it again and again. This time Im trying out the self portraits for myself. Could I ask what liquid watercolor brand that you use.

    Thank you for sharing - you are beautiful

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  17. Hellow Natalie! I was wondering if I could have your email to ask you a few questions. I would really like to do this project, but I wont have quite as much time as you guys have. Also, my 5th graders have been taught to draw self portraits from mirrors. I dont have a way for them to all trace from a projector. Is there a way to combine these two techniques? The traced portriats definitely have more of a pop art feel. Any help would be appreciated! I am a new teacher and I love all of your stuff!

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