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Realistic Self Portraits

Ahhh self portraits! Some kids love em, some kids absolutely hate em.

I start out by teaching basic cartooning. I feel like this loosens kids up a bit, and it also allows them to consider showing emotions. Cartoons have such exaggerated emotions and I feel like it is great practice for students to consider how to show emotions within their own portraits.

After cartooning, we spend some time focusing on each facial feature. We spent a day on eyes, a day on noses, a day on mouths, and a day on ears/hair. I graded these as progress, so I told students that as long as I saw effort, they would get full points. I took off points if they did not consider value or shading, or if they were misusing their cell phones.

I collected the facial features sketches and we moved on to proportion. To switch things up a bit, I decided to have my students do group drawings. Each group started with a face outline. They set up all of the proportions- we looked at an example on the board of where the lines should be. Where the eyes sit on, the noses, how far apart the eyes go, and where the ears go, etc. These can be found online.

I had students set up the face and then draw one realistic eye. After drawing, they were asked to switch with someone else. The second student drew the second realistic eye. Each time they switched, the student had to consider where each facial feature would go. These ending up looking like really creepy mugshots and my kids absolutely loved them!

This took about two days, because we wanted to make them look realistic and shade well. At the end, we did a critique. Students were asked to go around and identify anything that looked proportionally “off”. Comments included things such as “eyes are too far apart,” “ears are too high”, “mouth is too close to nose” etc. Students got the sketch that they had originally started with and they held onto it for reference.

Lastly, I introduced the final assessment. Students drew a realistic photo of themselves. I asked them to bring in a picture of themselves. I opted to do it this way rather than looking at mirrors because I wanted them to be able to compare and contrast the values and progress of their drawings with the actual picture.

Students had two options for this- they could choose to freehand their portrait or use a grid. We had used a grid earlier in the year for realistic animal eyes, the link for that lesson can be found here.

If students wanted to grid, they could either do an outline first, or go square by square and shade everything completely. As a beginning Drawing & Painting and class, I felt that this approach really helped my students understand and be able to take their time throughout this assignment.

Here are the results!

Realistic Self Portraits High School Lesson Plan

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Shape Vs. Form Legos

One of the questions on my Benchmark exam asks the students to identify the difference between Shape and Form. While this is something that I felt is simple, I noticed many of my kids struggled with it!

I wanted to do a project that focused on shape versus form to really help students understand how the two differ. We had done some observational drawings already but I wanted to do something that allowed them to focus on WHY we were shading. I wanted to focus on the illusion of form that is created when you are shading, using highlights, shadows, etc.

As a sketchbook warmup, I had students create themselves as if they were a lego character. We discussed how legos are three dimensional, they can be picked up, held, etc. So I told them to consider that as they were sketching (I didn’t want to see any flat lego people)! Students personalized them according to their physical features, character traits, interests, hobbies, etc.

I then showed students some examples of lego drawings. We talked about two different approaches to this. The first was for the students to construct a composition that was more structured and orderly. I then demonstrated how to set up a composition using two point perspective techniques to create realistic legos. The second option was for students to create a more hap hazard composition, where the legos were not lined up perfectly and were instead kind of thrown onto the surface. If they chose this, they did not need to use perspective techniques and could free hand the legos, as long as the legos were still three dimensional.

I felt that this project was challenging, but as the drawings were finished, I could tell my students were really proud of the hard work they had put into this. I also had them do an exit slip and nearly everyone was able to distinguish the difference between shape versus form, hooray!

Overall, I found this lesson to be really engaging- the students were definitely concentrated and focused throughout the entire time, and also rewarding- I was able to get my classes to identify shape vs. form, and they also ended up being very proud of themselves for completing this assignment!

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Blackout Poetry

Blackout Poetry is one of those lessons that I’ve always been intrigued by, but I’ve never tried it. I have some pretty cool classes this year and decided to give it a try. I must say, I really enjoyed this lesson. We began this as a sort of introduction to a Unit on Words and Art. Following this lesson, students created Altered Books (blog post on that to follow later on)!

I introduced my classes to the idea of Words and Art and we discussed how words can be used to further get the point across. I showed them examples of both Blackout Poetry and Blackout Poetry with Illustrations. They were required to create a poem or phrase of their choice and then come up with an illustration that fit their idea.

We incorporated a few different concepts into this including:

Emphasis: How can you emphasize your poem and make it stand out from the rest of the words? How can you emphasize your illustration?

Movement: Is your poem easy to read or is it jumbled and somewhat confusing?

Contrast: Is there a strong contrast between your illustrations and words versus the actual page of the book?


I would love to hear some other examples and perhaps how this lesson has been taken a step further! Like I said, I used this as an introduction to a Unit on Words and Art. I am very pleased with these results!




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Sgraffito Pots

Sgraffito is such a fun technique to use! For this project, I had students work a little bit smaller than normal, and I had them really focus in on the intricacy and details that they could incorporate into their designs. I had them sketch some sort of design. We also talked about Emphasis, and I encouraged them to use a bright colored glaze for the inside, since the outside was mostly black and white.

I asked students to have a lid, a handle, and if they had time, some sort of foot. Students really enjoyed this technique because it gave them the opportunity to draw freely and easily incorporate some of their favorite designs and ideas into their ceramic artwork.

Included are a few of my favorite examples!


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Watercolor Notans

This project was extremely successful for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious, is that it wasn’t a super tedious project, and it did not require a ton of thought for the students. I purposely organized it so that this project would be worked on the last, short week before winter break. My students were almost mentally checked out anyway, but this really helped to keep them engaged and interested!

We had just begun a watercolor unit and students learned the following watercolor techniques, which were practiced on a strip of paper, with the definitions written on the back:

Wet Onto Wet

Graduated Wash

Dry Brush




Of course, there are many more different techniques to use, but these were the ones I wanted to focus on. We had an EXTREMELY relaxing day that began with me showing them various watercolor examples of work that is both Representational and Non-Representational. We discussed what the differences were and then they were asked to create a non-representational watercolor painting using at least four of the watercolor techniques that we discussed. This was also a great opportunity to discuss layering: we began with wet onto wet and lots of water, and as each new layer dried, they added less and less water and more dry brush techniques.

We then discussed positive and negative space. I showed them various examples until I felt that they had a clear understanding. Then, they went to their sketchbooks, where they created their own notan designs. We talked about designs being symmetrical or asymmetrical, and how each would look when reflected on their notan design. Lastly, students were given black squares to draw, cut, and glue their notan designs onto watercolor paper.

After this lesson, now that students have returned from break, I have them working on a watercolor and ink project, which will be posted in a few weeks. I felt that by doing this, it gave them the ability to add a lot of water and paint, and to not be afraid of messing something up with watercolor. This next project will focus on a more controlled, more detailed composition, and I think it is important that students experience both types!

Have you done anything similar to this?

High School Watercolor Notans Art Lesson
High School Watercolor Notans Art Lesson

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Surrealism Perspective Drawings

In high school, I hated perspective drawing. In college, I still even hated perspective drawing. It wasn’t until I actually became an art teacher and had free range to create a perspective lesson in my own way, that I finally found it interesting. I enjoy teaching it, and overall my kids actually enjoy drawing in perspective.

So how did I accomplish such a feat?

I decided to mix One Point Perspective with Surrealism. Since the two are so different, it makes for a very interesting project! We start out learning basic vocabulary and terms in Perspective. Some words include Perspective, Vanishing Point, Vantage Point, Orthogonal Lines, Horizon Line, etc. I gave the students a quiz on vocabulary before we actually began drawing.

The first actual drawing activity we did was having students create 2D bubble letters. They used their name, quote, lyrics, whatever. I demonstrated how to connect their lines from the letters to the vanishing point. Then, students practiced drawing the backs of their letters, and in turn creating a 3D letter.

Then, we practiced by setting up a room using one point perspective. Students practiced floor boards, ceilings, windows, doors, etc. We then discussed tables, chairs, furniture, and how to successfully add objects (referencing the 3D letter exercise throughout).

After about two weeks of that, I knew my students were getting tired of perspective. (I admit, it can be tedious!) So I wanted to give them a little break by introducing them to Surrealism. We created an Exquisite Corpse exercise, which was so fun! My students loved it and they loved working together to create a drawing.

We also watched a documentary on Salvador Dali! I enjoy the Modern Master’s Documentary on BBC, although I did skip through some parts because it talks about sex and I didn’t want that ish in my classroom!

Then, once students had a strong understanding of Surrealism and what it is, they went to their sketchbooks and began sketching out their ideas. They needed an even mix of Surrealism and One Point Perspective.

Overall, this lesson took about a month. From the vocabulary quiz, perspective worksheets, 3D letters, practice room drawings, and surrealism exercises, to the final product where students practiced blending with colored pencils, I’d say these were a success!

I also had students write a reflection, where I asked them questions such as:

  1. Explain how you created depth in your artwork using words like Perspective, Vanishing Point, Vantage Point, Horizon Line, Orthogonal Line, etc.
  2. Explain what elements of Surrealism you included in your artwork.
  3. What was your favorite part about this assignment? What did you feel most proud of?
  4. What was your least favorite part about this assignment? What challenged you?
  5. If you could make any changes to your final artwork, what would you change?

And ta-da! These are some of my final results. Love them!

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Color Study Composition Still Lifes

This lesson is one of my favorites, why you may ask??

Because there is so much to cover in our curriculum calendar. There is so much that kids need to be learning. I want to have time to teach them extra, because art is so cool and so interesting. But how do I do that if I have no time??

In order to make time, I created a lesson that focuses in on A TON of things that are listed in the curriculum calendar. This lesson covers the following topics:

We discussed Composition- Students learned about Rule of Thirds, Grouping, Emphasis with Color, etc. Students were asked to create a composition from their still life objects, using either three, four, or five boxes.

We discussed Color Theory. Before doing this project, I had students do a lot of worksheets and exercises to learn about Primary, Secondary, Analogous, Complementary, Monochromatic, Warm and Cool Colors.

We discussed shading and use of value. Before doing this project, students had created Value Animal Eye Drawings (which is also posted on my blog), to practice shading with just black and white. Adding color in the next step, in my opinion.

So there are a ton of different ways to present this lesson, and a ton of ways to alter it.

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Personalized Mandalas

After finishing Contour & Blind Contour Line Drawings, I wanted my students to take a different approach to our focus on Line, Shape, and Color. I wanted to do something completely different from the contour and blind contour lines… something more focused, intricate, neat, organized, etc. I decided to do Mandalas!

This was my first time teaching this lesson and I really love the results! I typically have sketchbook prompts posted on the board when students come in. They begin drawing for the first ten minutes or so of class. The week before starting mandalas, I had students draw symbols or designs that were simple, yet described themselves. I had students draw bows, flowers, bikes, ice cream, pizza, basketballs, baseball, just to name a few. Students built up many small symbols in their sketchbooks.

We then took a look at Mandalas. Students were guided through setting up a circular grid using compasses. I asked students to personalize their mandalas into an original composition. Again, they were asked to choose a color scheme or a color combination of some sort.

Students were focused and really enjoyed this project. At the end, I had a google classroom assignment that was essentially an Exit Slip. It asked students to Compare and Contrast the difference between the Contour and Blind Contour Line Drawing Vs. Mandalas. I also asked students questions that were personal to their work, to offer them a reflection opportunity to discuss what they did or did not like.

This was hands down one of my favorite lessons I have taught! Pictures below!


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Blind Contour Line Drawings

Soon since last time I’ve blogged… I accepted a new position! I went from K-8, back to high schoolers. I now teach three sections of Drawing & Painting and two sections of Ceramics.

One huge difference I noticed at the beginning of this year was how quiet my high schoolers were! Middle schoolers could care less what people think about them- they came in those first few days loud and crazy. My high schoolers really took (and are still) taking time to warm up in the classroom setting.

We began the year by focusing on three Elements of Art: Line, Shape, and Color. We discussed Contour Lines & Blind Contour Lines. I also gave my students a run through on basic color theory. They learned about Primary, Secondary, Monochromatic, Warm & Cool, Analogous & Complimentary Color Schemes.

To get my students a little out of their comfort zone, I had them partner up and draw their partner using blind contour lines. This means that they were not allowed to look at their paper, but were only allowed to look at their partner. This really got them laughing and interested about the project. I emphasized the importance of taking their time and focusing on all details, because the more detailed the drawing, the more interesting it would be!

Once finished, we discussed composition briefly. We talked about how to arrange things in an interesting way. Students used a light box to trace their new compositions. Lastly, they selected a color scheme of their choice. They added details, colors, patterns, and decorations to their drawings.

As a first project for an Art I class, I am very happy with these results! This was a very fun project, that the students enjoyed, and the results came out very nice!


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8th Grade End Of Year Collaboration

As the school year comes to a close, it is sometimes difficult to come up with a lesson that will be effective, while still holding the interests of the students. This was my first time doing a “Forced Proximity” project. Before I explain, I want to first say that this is a lesson taken from John Zilewicz. John attended MCAD’s Art Educator workshop for Experimental Drawing and this is one of the lessons that was taught.

Forced Proximity is a collaborative art lesson. Students work together using a variety of different mediums and a variety of different techniques. Some mediums include pencils, graphite, charcoal, oil pastels, chalk pastels, gesso, and paint. Different techniques include still life drawing, abstract expressive drawing, group work, individual work, creating subtle background images and pulling images into the foreground, etc.

I did this project with a class of 24 eighth grade girls. I split the class into two different groups. We started out with blank canvas and a still life set up.

Students were asked to sit around the canvas and draw; some students were drawing realistically with still life drawings, while other students were standing and drawing loosely and more abstractly with charcoal. I had students get up every fifteen minutes or so to switch where they were drawing, etc.

It was really interesting to me to see the different directions that each of these went in. Some students went incredibly realistically while others were looser and more subtle. On another day, I also had students add color into their compositions with oil and chalk pastels. Students were asked to consider a variety of different color, to have some art going off the page, to make sure there is an even composition and that there are no “dead zones”.

The next step was to incorporate gesso and block out or to push back images that should not be as vibrant. As some students were blocking things out, others were now working in groups to build off of already created drawings.

I took a picture of the finished product (don’t worry, the duct tape was only temporary! ha!)¬†Good luck and hang in there to all you teachers out there! Happy end of the year!