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Self-Portrait Unit
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Kentucky Educational Television
Lesson Plan
Self-Portrait Unit, Lesson 4
Painting a Self-Portrait

Unit Overview
Lesson 1: Learning How To Draw Facial Features
Lesson 2: Self-Portrait Drawing with Stick and Ink and Ink Washes
Lesson 3: Learning Color Relationships Through Color Mixing

Activity: Self-Portrait Painting

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


1  00:00-10:19  Open/Gaela Erwin about origins:
In-cue: Start at beginning of video.
Out-cue: “... I was trying to imitate.”
2  16:30-19:28  Gaela Erwin about process:
In-cue: “The material to me is almost second nature ...”
Out-cue: “... the way the painting is holding up.”
3  26:15-30:56  Gaela Erwin about ideas:
In-cue: “What I don’t want to be is ...”
Out-cue: “... and painted myself as this particular saint.”
4  37:22-40:00  Gaela Erwin about Mme. Adelaide Labille-Guiard:
In-cue: “This is a painting of ...”
Out-cue: “... and opened the doors for other women.”

Total Length of Segments: approximately 20 minutes

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

Grade Level: high school

Length of Lesson: 7 class periods

Students should

  1. have the basic skills to paint people.
  2. use color and other design elements to record personal interpretations.
  3. learn to see and record proportions and relationships.

Kentucky Core Content for Assessment:
AH-H-4.1.41, AH-H-4.1.32, AH-H-4.1.33

Critical Vocabulary:
color (value, intensity)

Warm-Up Discussion
Watch the four Gaela Erwin/self-portrait segments and discuss the artist’s process, ideas, and touchstones. Then turn the discussion to how the student artists will go about creating their self-portraits. Ask the following:

  1. How will you choose the colors to represent yourself?
  2. Will you include any personal symbols or special hat or clothing in your painting?
  3. Will you pose with a particular facial expression (for example: frowning or scowling, smiling, surprised, etc.)?

Instructional Strategies and Activities
Find Gaela Erwin’s self-portraits in the web site gallery. Have students examine them closely, discuss how the artist positioned her facial features, and analyze how she used color to depict her image.

Then have the students use very thin paint and brushes to do line drawings of themselves while looking in mirrors. Remind them that they will develop values with thicker paint later, so there is no need to do so at this point.

Have students develop the paintings further, using larger brushes to paint larger planes of the face. For the final touches, have them save the smallest brushes to paint the finer details. They should continue to refer to their reflected image as they develop the work, so that they are relying on careful observation rather than memory.

To determine strengths or weaknesses as the painting is nearing completion, place it on an easel, chalk tray, or other surface and view it from a distance. Then ask the students to look at their work in a different way so they can be objective in their analysis. They could do one or more of the following:

  1. Turn it upside down or on its side.
  2. Squint their eyes when viewing it, especially when they are checking for value contrasts.
  3. Look at the work in a mirror and study the reflection.

paint—tempera or acrylic
heavy drawing paper or canvas
mixing palettes
water containers
rags or paper towels
drawing board with clips or tape (optional)

Brommer, Gerald F. and Nancy K. Kinne. Exploring Painting. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications Inc., 1995.

Katz, Elizabeth L., E. Louis Lankford, and Janice D. Plank. Themes and Foundations of Art. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Co., 2000.

Ragans, Rosalind. Arttalk. Teacher’s wraparound edition. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Looking at Painting Program 1: “Realism”

Web site: Gaela Erwin paintings in the Looking at Painting gallery

Supplemental Ideas
Working from a live model rather than from photographs will give more “life” to the finished painting.

Having students draw with brush and thin paint helps them make the transition from drawing to thinking of the work as a painting. Remind them that this self-portrait is not a drawing to be “colored in” with paint.

Students should carefully consider how they will develop the negative space as well as the positive because it is an important, integral part of the total composition.

If possible, set up the lighting so that it comes from only one direction. That will enable the students to see, and thus to paint, the color values more accurately.

Assessment and Scoring Guide
Distinguished: Student successfully draws the structure of the painting using the lessons learned in the previous ink/wash drawing. Student sees and records proportions and relationships accurately. Student uses good craftsmanship during the painting process. Student successfully completes the self-portrait in the time allotted.
Proficient: Student does the initial drawing in preparation for the painting. Student accurately records facial proportions in the drawing. Student generally uses good craftsmanship during the painting process. Student completes the self-portrait in the time allotted.
Apprentice: Student does the initial drawing but lacks carry-over from the earlier lesson on facial structure. Student displays adequate craftsmanship and effort. Student completes much of the painting.
Novice: Student makes some attempt but does not complete the project. Student lacks minimal craftsmanship and demonstrates little effort.

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