self portraits in the studio

Our local art museum is featuring the art of Vincent Van Gogh and many of the teachers have been talking about his life and work in the classrooms and the children have been introduced to a variety of his paintings.  The museum has used Van Gogh’s self portrait with a straw hat to publicize the show.  In the studio we began exploring self portraits at the easel.  Self portraits are a wonderful excercise in observational drawing and a great opportunity for me to model and scaffold the process of looking.


When a child self selects this work, he is first introduced to a series of reproductions of portraits by Van Gogh, including a few self portraits and then we spend some time looking at the face in the mirror.  There is only a 6B pencil and a piece of heavy weight paper available initially.  We spend a lot of time looking at the face.  It’s shape, where the eyes are, their shape, the number of circles in them, how many lips we have, how many ears, where our nose is and what shape it is. The child draws each part as it is fully seen.  Then we add hair and really notice where our hair is and what it looks like.  Is it only on the top of the head of does it fall across the forehead?  Can you see your ears or does your hair cover them.  Next, we look at the neck, where it is and how we might represent it on our drawing.  Where are the shoulders? etc.  Until all the details are in place.  Then I give them the paint.  The paint is a mixture of shaving cream and liquid water color.  It is applied using a modified palette knife to imitate Van Gogh’s impasto technique.  All of this may take up to thirty minutes and the results have been beautiful.

Amy has piggy backed on this exploration and is asking the children if they can express themselves differently through the media of clay.  Her table, covered with a drop cloth, is prepared with several mirrors.  The children are first asked to do a detailed observational drawing of their face and then to interpret what they have seen in clay.

The process is both intriguing and inspiring.  It will be interesting to see where we go from here.  Stay tuned.


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