Lesson Plan: Back of Head Portrait - Technology

Back of Head Portrait

Submitted by: Kathy Barger, Welch Elementary
UNIT: Technology - Identity - Watercolor
Lesson: Head Shots- Reflections - Line
Grade level: Elementary through middle school (these are fifth grade)


Digital photos, texture, Wash, emphasis, grayscale, wet-on-wet


OBJECTIVES: the student will:

  • Use a grayscale digital photo of self and draw the texture of their hair in a linear fashion

  • Create a background which relates to the PTA Reflections contest using the internet as a resource

  • Use a variety of media to add color to their composition in a neat manner

  • When adding color they will focus on the design principle of emphasis

Slide show of portraits Step charts Finished examples Requirement chart


The learner will:
5.1.1     Identify how technology has affected arts forms.
5.2.1     Explore a technique by practicing it, researching it, and basing its artistic merit in
            the work of an artist.
5.2.3 Use one or more arts forms to promote a product or personal idea or view.





Digital Camera
Adobe PhotoDeluxe.
Black Sharpie Fine Point Markers.
11x17 (28 x 43 cm) Copy paper.

Watercolor Paint.
Water dishes
Metallic Artist Pens.
Drawing Pencils.
Light Box


Alternate: Watercolor Pencils., Colored Pencils.. or AquaMarkers.


Prior to first class:
The digital photos are best taken a couple of weeks BEFORE the project starts, generally I take them into Adobe PhotoDeluxe [This software is no longer available. Adobe replaced it with Photoshop. This software can be expensive but there are other more economical avenues and they are listed below], convert them to grayscale, resize to 7x10, and delete the background so that it it white. Next, I print them out, take them and enlarge to 11x 17 on the copier. This saves an enormous amount of class time.


Economical graphics software

Week one:
Introduce students to basic concept of project. Discuss the theme of the PTA Reflections project and have students let the idea percolate.


Next, discuss hair texture and line design. Bring a student forward and show how hair can be duplicated by using what I cal the "clump technique. That is find a hair which starts at the crown and follow it till it ends, repeat several just like it. Find where another hair starts, not necessarily by the crown and repeat the same procedure.


Remember, you are actually drawing on top of the grayscale copy. Generally student should do a few in pencil, get checked and if it appears "they get it" then move on to black sharpie marker.


Week two:
When the hair is complete, outline all other lines, clothing, designs on clothing, ears, etc.

The next step involves creating the background. Brainstorm ideas which relate to the PTA theme. A preliminary sketch is required. Explain to students that the sketch may be realistic or may be a composition of objects that symbolically represent their idea. Some students will be able to draw a sketch immediately, others may need to do research on the internet.

Demo how to use the internet to find pictures only

Week three:
Begin to draw background sketch, students may use the light boxes if they wish. Outline with black sharpies. Demo on how to use the watercolors to make a wash to paint the hair.
Enumerate the variety of media available for the rest of the composition. Discuss the concept of color and the design principle emphasis. Continue to add color in any media desired... the only required media is watercolor for hair, however the student could do the entire picture in watercolor if desired.

Week Four:
Finish adding color


Teacher evaluation:
On The Project Were Students Able To:

  • Complete a linear representation of their hair in black marker

  • Add color to their composition in a manner that added emphasis to their idea

  • Add color in a neat manner

  • Create a background that related to their theme

  • Draw their background at a developmentally appropriate level

In Discussions Were Students Able To:

  • Participate in the brainstorming sessions

  • Able to define the concept of emphasis

  • Explain how to create the texture of hair

  • Relate how to use watercolor to create a wash

Alternate Approach: - suggested by Linda Woods:

It would also be SO cool to have them hold up a pencil, pen, or brush as you photograph them and get their hands into it as if drawing the background. You could have them draw a family pet, a collage of things about their life, etc... or a fantasy... a dream... Have students use the photocopy only as a guide.


From Judy: And what about wearing hats? (Back of the Head Portrait meets "Red Hat Show" -. Have an assortment of hats or students bring in hats. They background could also tell a story about their hat.


The first time I saw a lesson like this was in the 1980's - pre-technology days. I got the idea from Linda Lehman (art teacher at Bath Elementary). Half the class turned around while the other half did the drawing. Once the first set of drawings were done - students switched. When I did it with 4th graders at a Catholic school - we were able to get both drawings done in pencil in one class period. For an added twist - my student designed the back of the shirts - Camp shirts were all the rage at the time. It was an easy stretch for my students since they all were wearing uniform oxford shirts. The camp shirts had to tell something about the person (a place they visited/vacation spot - or wanted to visit - or an interest). We kept the portraits all in black and white line and colored the shirts with watercolors and markers. Colored pencils would be a nice alternative.

See Middle School Drawings:

Woody Duncan (Now retired)- Rosedale Middle School, Kansas (See her gallery [Archive])

Submitted by: Andy DiConti La Canada High School "Head of Hair"




Students were given digital pictures of the backs of their heads. The lesson emphasized the texture of the hair that had to be created by a nib (pen) that was dipped in India ink.. (Andy borrowed this lesson from a fellow art educator, Woody Duncan.) They added our own touch by including a watercolor wash over the Crow Quill Pens. and India ink..



  • Crow Quill Pens. and India ink. hatching technique to create the hair texture.

  • Watercolor washes over the pen and ink, graded, wet-in-wet and/or flat.

For this year... Using a twig, a bottle of India ink and watercolor washes, Andy's students were focusing on the textural quality of their head of hair.


See more on Justin's art department page.



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