Art Lesson Plan: Funny Faces Self Portrait - Elementary

Funny Faces Self Portrait

Submitted by: Linda Wood, St. John's Lower School, Houston, Texas
Unit: Drawing
Grade Level: 4 through 6 (these are 5th grade)
School Web Site: St. John's Lower School (Click Art Stories - until you see Linda Woods)



Take digital pictures of the kids "making their best silly face, or showing an extreme emotion," while they are finishing up another project. I told them that they were to include their hands near their faces in the photos.


The most hilarious thing is that I never told them what we were going to do with the photos. If I did tell them in advance that they were going to draw themselves, they would have been more inhibited. They really played the fool for these pictures and had a great time doing it.



  • Integrate technology - use digital camera

  • Gain appreciation for the drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci

  • Students will show human emotion

  • Students will draw facial features in correct proportion - studying ratio of eye width to the rest of the facial features

  • Students will create values by varying pencil pressures

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  • Betty Edwards, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.. You can also get the companion workbook, Workbook: Guided Practice in the Five Basic Skills of Drawing..

  • Da Vinci. - Grade 2-5- Venezia introduces children to Leonardo, illustrating his points with a combination of his own cartoons and the artist's work.

  • Leonardo Drawings. - A representative selection of Leonardo's various achievements: drawings of plants, landscapes, human face and figure, etc., as well as studies for The Adoration of the Magi, Sforza monument, and The Last Supper. 60 illustrations.

  • Draw Like Da Vinci. - Susan Dorothea White, an internationally known artist and teacher, helps students gain an understanding of Da Vinci‚Äôs techniques for depicting the human form and dealing with perspective, line weight, light, shade, and character. With hundreds of images to illustrate her points, she discusses the tools he used.

  • Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. - This is a huge book with all of Leonardo's drawings and paintings illustrated. The author also gives the reader history of each painting and drawing. This book is expensive, but it is not surprising because of the book's size, hardbound, and number of illustrations.

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  1. Show and discuss how Leonardo Da Vinci expressed emotions in his drawings (several are available online)

  2. Demonstrate drawing the features step by step, using proportion and ratio, tonal shading, and repeatedly reminded them to use a full range of values. I used the visual perspective techniques from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

  3. Discuss each facial feature in detail as a group before they draw it --I demonstrate observation and drawing of tonal values on each facial feature.

  4. Emphasize proportion and ratio throughout the presentation


All of the initial questions were answered by studying the photo and figuring out proportions on the photo, then transferring the information to their drawings proportionally.

  1. First, students lay their pencils on top of their chosen photo. The pencil should be centered along an axis through the pupils of each eye. They then hold the pencil steady as they move it to their drawing paper. This is the most effective if both the photo and the drawing are vertical on an easel. They then draw a light line that matches the axis of the eyes in the photo.

  2. If the faces are distorted because the face is turned or foreshortened, students did one eye at a time and measured how many eyes widths there were between eyes. Their pencils angled from each corner of the eye through the pupil.

  3. Following the completion of the eyes, a new vertical axis line was lightly drawn from the middle of the space between the eyes, through the middle of the nose and on to the chin. When drawing the nose, students measure how many eyes long it was vertically and made a mark, then they made a light mark where part of the eye the widest part of each nostril fell directly beneath.

  4. When students draw the mouth, they look at the photo again to see how many eye widths it would take to place the middle lip line, lower lip line, and dimples (if any) from their noses.

  5. When one area of the face is complete, they could use larger measuring tools than simply an "eye's" length. This assignment is about proportion and ratio. Once the facial features are completed, students measure to see how many eye widths (or any other measuring stick they selected at that point) the chin is from the mouth, the face width from the mouth and nose, eyes, etc.

  6. Next, the mid-line of the face is measured to see how tall the head needs to be, how wide the shoulders should be, and so on. All lines are still lightly drawn or sketched. Once everything looks good and any adjustments are made, students can darken the contour lines of the components of the face.

  7. Finally, students will shade their drawings using a variety of pencil pressures. More pressure will create shadows. A lighter pressure will create highlights. Students who finish early will draw the background of the picture. If the face is expressive, the background may explain the reason for the facial expression.

Note from Judy:

This year, Linda did the still life shells lesson before they did their portraits. This was a great lead in lesson to learn value shading. Results were amazing. Look how sophisticated this year's Funny Face portraits are (here are just two examples - all were this wonderful).


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Note from Linda:

It's all about proportion and right brain drawing techniques.  Kids see distorted portraits by Leonardo and others, and they pose for their own portrait for a photograph that they work from.  Their faces in the photograph are supposed to be distorted, very emotional, etc.  We start with one eye and then measure to see how many eye widths away their other eye is, make marks for it, then draw the second eye.  Measure the nose on the photo and compare it to the size of the eyes.  Then go to their portrait and make marks for how long and wide their nose will be before they draw it.  All features and lengths and widths of the head are done in this way... measure the next thing they need to figure out on the photo and then compare it to the eyes on the photo.  Other things that help are looking at what is directly above, beside, or below something they are trying to draw, and a technique I call "dry tracing", where they pretend to draw on the photo... looking for shapes, shadows, highlights, small but important detail.  I think this technique actually helps them to key in on specific details better than any other.  I tell them to imagine (while dry tracing) how hard they might have to press on their pencil to obtain the various values they see in the highlights and shadows, and to think about what shape a shadow or highlight is.  We don't use Tracing Paper., rather, they just go over their photos with a pencil point a hair's breadth above the actual photo as they investigate it. Every single kid in my class is blowing my socks off with their portraits this year.  They are loving it!  When they finish their own portrait they are drawing their friends.  I am so excited to have something with so much meat in it at the end of the year that they are so interested in and doing such a great job. See Lower School Gallery - Click on the drop-down menu on the lower right.



  • Did students effectively created a drawing showing human emotion?

  • Did students students draw facial features in correct proportion? Did they use the ratio of the eye length to correctly place other features of the face?

  • Did students use pencil to shade and show values?



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