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Self-Portrait Unit
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Kentucky Educational Television
Lesson Plan
Self-Portrait Unit, Lesson 1
Learning How To Draw Facial Features

Unit Overview
Lesson 2: Self-Portrait Drawing with Stick and Ink and Ink Washes
Lesson 3: Learning Color Relationships Through Color Mixing
Lesson 4: Self-Portrait Painting

Activity: Learning How To Draw Facial Features

Video: Looking at Painting, Program 1: “Realism”

Grade Level: high school

Segment: Gaela Erwin about process (approx. 3 minutes)
Start: 16:30 “The material to me is almost second nature ...”
End: 19:28 “... the way the painting is holding up.”

Web Site Resources: Gaela Erwin biography and five paintings beginning at gallery page 6

Length of Lesson: 3 class periods

Students will learn how to carefully observe and draw the basic shapes of facial features.

Kentucky Core Content for Assessment:
AH-H-4.2.34, AH-H-4.2.36, AH-H-4.1.32

Critical Vocabulary:

Warm-Up Exercise
Have students draw self-portraits. Then ask the following questions:

  1. Did you draw your eyes sort of football-shaped?
  2. Did you draw your mouth with a straight line where the lips meet each other? (Most students do.)
  3. Did you remember to draw the “railroad tracks” that run between your upper lip and the bottom of your nose? (Most students don’t.)
  4. Did you draw your nose to look like Miss Piggy’s? (Most students will.)

Follow-Up: Have students sign and date these drawings and save them for later comparison to their post-instruction drawings.

Now show students the segment listed above from Looking at Painting “Realism” and look through Gaela Erwin“s paintings in the web site gallery. Discuss how she goes about painting her self-portrait as well as why she is interested in self-portraiture.

Instructional Strategies and Activities
Discuss/demonstrate the basic shapes of facial features (Arttalk teacher’s edition, p. 268). Start with a demonstration of how to draw an eye. Use a chalkboard, a marker board, or an overhead projector so all students can see the process. You could also prepare the demonstration ahead of time by making a videotape to show the class. Have students pair off with a partner and practice drawing just eyes. Continue as a homework assignment.

After they do the practice drawings of eyes, do similar demonstration/practice sessions with the nose and mouth. Include the following tips to help the students see how to draw the facial features more accurately:


  1. The upper eyelid is usually slightly longer than the lower lid.
  2. Study the shape of the tear ducts. Note that they are on the sides of the eyes nearest the nose.
  3. The lids slightly cover the eyeball. Therefore, you don’t see the iris as a full circle except when the person being drawn has a completely surprised or frightened look.
  4. The folds of skin on the upper and lower lids allow the lids to slide over the eyeball. The fold should be drawn in so that the eye appears to sit back in the eye socket instead of sitting on top of the cheekbones.
  5. The upper lid casts a slight shadow onto the eyeball; it is important to show these shadows on the whites of the eyes so they don’t look like they are popping out of the head.
  6. The “sparkle” (shiny place) on the eyeball makes it look alive. Make sure to treat the sparkles on each eye the same, matching locations and shapes, so the eyes don’t look like they’re crossed or looking in different directions.
  7. The eyebrows run along the bony ridge just above the eye, with the thickest part toward the center.
  8. Carefully study the eyelashes. They gently curve away from the lid and don’t stick straight out. Don’t overemphasize them, or they’ll look like spiders sitting on the eyes!


  1. The nose is roughly a triangular shape from between the eyes to the tip of the nose.
  2. There is a “ball” of flesh at the end of the nose with nostrils flaring out from there.
  3. Look for a shiny streak or highlight on the bridge of the nose and a rounder shiny place on the tip of the nose. Those highlights will correspond to the direction and intensity of the light source falling on them.
  4. Note that the darkest values are located in the nostrils to make them appear to recede up into the nose.


  1. The upper lip is slightly longer than the lower.
  2. The upper lip often has a slightly pointed place in the center where it meets the lower lip.
  3. In usual lighting situations, the upper lip is darker than the lower.
  4. The lower lip has a shiny area where the light falls on it.
  5. The indentation under the lower lip will be darker than the lower lip itself.
  6. Note the two ridges that run between the upper lip and the bottom of the nose, which create variations in lights and darks.

drawing paper
#2 to 4B or softer drawing pencils
drawing boards
clips or tape to hold paper on boards

Ragans, Rosalind. Arttalk. Teacher’s wraparound edition. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 1995.
Looking at Painting Program 1: “Realism”

Supplemental Idea
Stress to the students that the facial features that were drawn as a demonstration are just illustrations of basic things to look for. The important thing is for them to keenly observe the particular faces they will be drawing and look for the slight variations that make us all look like individuals. They should avoid using simplistic or stylized solutions to the drawing problems.

Assessment and Scoring Guide
Distinguished: Student demonstrates a focused, careful observation of facial features and completes both work in class and homework within the time allotted.
Proficient: Student observes and then draws facial features, making changes to the warm-up idea of what they “should” look like.
Apprentice: Student makes some attempt to observe and then draw actual shapes of facial features.
Novice: Student makes very little or no attempt to closely study and then draw facial features correctly.

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