Art Lesson Plan: Self Portrait with Personal Symbolism

Split Face Self-Portrait

Submitted by: Caroline Gardner (while student teaching under Deanna Kelly, Sauganash School, Chicago IL)
Unit: Drawing - Self Portrait - Symbolism
Grade Level: Middle School
Time: approximately 4 forty minute periods


I. Learning Objectives (in outcome-based format)

Art Production:

Students will draw half a realistic self-portrait by looking in a mirror and drawing what they see and from learning about how the human face proportions.


Students will draw the other side of their self-portrait abstractly by drawing who they think they are not what they look like, using symbols, shapes, and objects.


Students will make a portrait that shows technical skills using the pencils, color, shading, value and composition by learning about each term and how they look in a work of art.


Art History:

Students will have prior knowledge of historical self-portraits and why artists make them by doing a token response to some historical self-portraits.


Art Criticism:

sample Students will be able to name 3 strengths and 2 areas to work on of a classmate's work by participate in an art critique.


They will explain why they created their portrait as they did by writing an artist statement.



Students will formulate opinions about if art has to be made for others or can it be made for oneself and does that take away from its value or beauty by have a class discussion.


II. Overview of Lesson (Main message)

Self-portraits have been done by many artists. They are records of where the artist has come from and who they were at the time. They should age changing as well as artistic styles developing. They are useful tools to get to know the artist and trace their lives. The students will make a self-portrait that is split down the middle. One side is realistic and one side is abstract showing who they are inside. It is snap-shot in time that will show both what they look like at the time and who they are, their interests, and developmental abilities.


III. Art Concept(s)/Vocabulary:

Abstraction, symbolism, contour line, shading, cross-hatching, value, proportions, Contour, line, highlights, composition, realistic

Art making Processes and Techniques: Sketch, layout, measure

Art Elements/Principles of Design:

Value, shape, line, balance, proportion


IV. Illinois Learning Standards:

A. Understand the sensory elements, organizational principles and expressive qualities of the arts.

25.A.3d Visual Arts: Identify and describe the elements of value, perspective and color schemes; the principles of contrast, emphasis and unity; and the expressive qualities of thematic development and sequence.

25.A.3e Visual Arts: Analyze how the elements and principles can be organized to convey meaning through a variety of media and technology.

STATE GOAL 26: Through creating and performing, understand how works of art are produced.

A. Understand processes and traditional tools and modern technologies used in the arts.


V. Learning Experiences:


Token response art history game with self-portraits (Van Gogh, Close…) You can see instructions on how to make your own game by visiting one of IAD's art games pages.

Discuss each one, focus on their expression and possible motivation for making a self-portrait.



We are going to be drawing our own self-portraits!

Next year you can look back at it and see how you were then and what you liked.

We are going to make a split face portrait, half will be realistic (what you really look like) and half will be abstract (not what you look like but showing what you like, who you are).


Instruction: (Step-by-step)

Day One:

1. Explain that we have to train our brains to observe because our verbal brain is usually dominant. Do color/word test and show double images.

2. Explain right brain/left brain issues with drawing. (See the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain).

3. Do upside down drawing practice.

4. Explain contour drawing, do blind contour of partners face. Explain the purpose

Show overhead about the proportions of the face.


Book: Face Parts. - The author has included tips and techniques on proportion and basic anatomy, as well as insight into understanding how to portray the human face.


Day Two-Three:

1. Show on the board the approximate shape of a head and how much space it should take on the paper. Have them draw a line down the middle with a ruler.

2. Have them make a line across the middle with their rulers to show where the eyes go.

3. Show how an eye is not shaped (football) and show a better eye, explain that all eyes are different shapes and they need to look closely at theirs and draw what they see. Start on the right side.

4. Have them count how many eye lengths across their face is by looking at the mirror and using their pencils. (about 5) Have them mark out the eye lengths on their paper lightly and then lightly draw their eye in the right spot.

5. Teach the nose next. Have them count how many eye lengths down and nose is and how far out it goes by using the eyes as a measuring stick. Show the parts of the nose on the board.

6. Teach the mouth once they start to get close to finishing the nose. Show on the board how a typical one is drawn showing where the dips and shadows are. Have them draw the lines that show how far out the mouth goes and how far below the nose.

7. Add hair, eyebrows, explain eyelashes, and add shadows.

8. Start abstract left side. Keep it looking like a face but with favorite objects (basketball, cell phone), use abstract shapes, can put things in unusual places (eyes uneven). Show personality (happy, energetic = zigzag lines, bold lines) (calm, reserved = smooth, rounded shapes)

9. Only if there is time add color only to abstract side. Color lightly and smoothly!


VI. Modifications (for special needs students)

Epilepsy- for the student in the class with epilepsy the teacher will only make lesson plan accommodations if they have a seizure, blackout, or involuntary movement. If they have to leave class due to the above, the teacher will assign a student to take notes on anything they may miss. To accommodate the involuntary movement that might affect their art the teacher will have them work in pencil so they can erase any mistake. This lesson is very safe so there are few adaptations needed to be made other than notes on what they might miss.


Non-verbal Learning disability- The teacher will write directions in simple one sentences as well as say them out loud. The student does not have to share out loud during the critique but can write simple sentences on paper and turn that in. All steps in the portrait will be explained in a step by step concrete format. The abstract side of the portrait will be explained and modified to be more concrete. The teacher will explain it one on one with the child describing it as a fun side that they can make look however they want. If this is too vague for them to comprehend the teacher will show a list of simple descriptive words to the student and have them circle the word that they think is like them. Then the teacher will show the student what shapes and object will show those things. See the guide at the end of the packet.


VII. Resources (prints, etc.)

  • Overhead color quiz

  • Overhead double pictures

  • Print our of historical Self-portraits

  • Cards for token response

  • Overhead of head proportions

  • Overhead of upside down drawing


Mirrors,.Drawing Paper., Drawing Pencils., Colored Pencils..

VIII. Assessment (aligns with objectives, attach if necessary)

See rubric below.


IX. Rationale (why is this important)

This lesson is important because it combines language arts and art in a unique way. The students are involved in discussion about what is art and do books fall into that idea. The teacher uses a discovery approach where the teacher then shows art books and see how their idea change. The teacher demonstrates the techniques and the students observe and then try on their own. Demonstration in art is very important for students' success.




Split face self-portrait

0- Does not attempt

1- Attempts to meet the requirement but is not successful

2- Meets the requirements

3- Exceeds the requirements

1. Is half the face realistically drawn from the proportions that were taught in class as well as a looking in the mirror? _________

2. Is the other half abstractly drawn showing personality using color, shapes, objects, and line that represent themselves? ___________

3.Does the work show color on the abstract side and is it well used? ________

4. Are there a variety of value tones? _________

5. Is the composition of the abstract side well arranged, does it capture the eye? ________

6. Has the student used shading to show shadows and highlights in the correct places? ________

7. Did the student participate in the discussion of the historical self-portraits? __________

8. Did the student participate in the critique and was he/she able to name 3 strengths and 2 areas to work on of a classmate's work in a helpful and appropriate manner? _________

9. Did the student write a thoughtful artist statement that shows the reasons behind what they drew? __________

10. Did the student participate in the group discussion about aesthetics? _______

Total _________/30




National Standards: (will depend on class discussion and reflective writing)


1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

(connect to language arts)


Students integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in their artworks



Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas

Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks


Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts



Students describe and compare a variety of individual responses to their own artworks and to artworks from various eras and cultures




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