25 April, 2011

Impressionist Self Portraits

As our class embarks upon this year's study of Impressionism and specifically upon the works of Claude Monet, I am reminded of a project my students completed last year, before I had a blog on which to share it.  I thought I'd share it now as it worked out very well, and was quite well received by the children and parents.  I hope you find it interesting and useful.

As you read this, please keep in mind that over the years, I have had students do self portraits in all sorts of different ways.  We have used pencils and mirrors, magazines for collage work, body outlines, and body painting and printing (although this I did only with my own children).  We have used paints, markers, chalk,  spray bottles, rolled up paper, fabric, and lots of other materials too. 

Last year, I thought we would try something a little bit different.  Instead of focusing on the children's specific facial features and body parts, we rather worked on the very general shapes of the children's bodies or shapes of the parts of their bodies.  This tied in with our study of Impressionism as the children had been noticing that Impressionist painters did not focus on details, but rather on the overall shape and mood of whatever they were painting.   

Let me use some visuals, for clarification.  We had learned for example, that in his work, Claude Monet's water lilies don't look exactly like real water lilies.  They do not show each petal of the blossom and each vein of the lily pad, but rather show the idea of a water lily, its "mood", and its overall shape.  

So, Monet painted this

instead of this.

With this in mind, I prepared the children to make self portraits by telling them we were going to focus on the overall mood and shape of their bodies, not specific features or characteristics.  

Because this was a Mother's Day gift, I wanted the portraits to be somewhat recognizable as each child.  I feared that if the children were given free rein, the results would have been interesting and a good learning experience, but might not have looked much like self portraits.  I debated and debated about this problem, but ultimately decided that the children had completed many open ended art projects during the year, and this could be a more specifically directed work.  So we began this project with photographs.  

I chose one of each child, and used iphoto to blur it as much as possible.  I printed the blurred image, covered it with a piece of tracing paper, and taped both to our light table.  Each child was given a cotton swabs and paint tray to which I added the colors the child requested.  You can see this child requested green, blue, and yellow.
The child was then to paint the general shapes in the picture, filling in her face, clothing, and background if she wished.  
Check out some more of our portraits, completed! 

The mothers were given the tracing paper with the Impressionist self portrait in a colored mat (which each child chose) along with a copy of the original photo.  The children were very proud to show what they had done, and explain why it looked the way it did.

I hope that explains how and why we made our Impressionist self portraits.  If you decide to make some the same way or in a different way, please let me know.  I'd love to see your work too!



  1. Kids did such a great work! And - of course I'm gonna steal this idea :)

  2. What wonderful and inspiring Monet ideas! Your blog is a joy to read. I'm in a co-op art class of 3-5 year olds where we learn about an artist. I'm teaching Monet this week and wish I had 4 weeks to do more of your wonderful ideas. Thank you for sharing in the bloggy world!


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