Patterned & Printed Self-Portraits

By Michael Van Meter, posted on Sep 1, 2018

Recently, I decided to incorporate the art of adinkra cloth into my fourth-grade self-portrait lesson. As we began the unit of study, we looked at printmaking artists from Ghana, West Africa, who use stamps made from gourds to print symbols onto fabric. We also discussed the meaning and importance of the symbols to the people of Ghana.

For a great introductory video on adinkra, see the Web Links at the end of this article.

I asked my students to each draw on paper four different abstract designs that had personal meaning to them. The size can vary, but using paper and foam board pieces cut into 3 x 12" strips from 9 x 12" pieces creates four 3" squares, and is an easy measurement with which to work.


If printmaking is a new process for your students, or for review, you might want to share a how-to video (see Web Links). When students’ drawings were finished, they transferred their designs onto the thin foam board and were ready to print.

Students chose one color of construction paper as the color of their shirt and one color for the printed design. They made multiple prints from the foam board, filling colored papers in the style of the adinkra cloth.

Cut-paper hair styles from two students.

Collage and Chalk Pastels
After the printed papers were completed and dry, students began working on the self-portraits. They used colored paper to make the head, neck, and ears. Their printed papers were then cut and added to the bottom of the neck as the shirt. Extra scraps of printed paper were saved for later use.

Using chalk pastels, students next drew the features of the face onto their heads and added shading to the face and neck. This was the most challenging part for students. If they used the wrong color or pushed too hard with the chalk, the shading on the face was emphasized too much and needed to be lightened with an eraser. Eyes made from cut paper were glued and colored pencil was used for the irises.

Left: Jihoon K., patterned self-portrait. Right: Patterned self-portraits from students Luke M., Caroline T., and Jihoon K

Three-Step Hair
Lastly, the hair was created with cut paper in a three-step process. First, students measured, drew, and cut out the “front” part of their hair, such as sideburns and bangs. Second, students drew and cut the “back” of the hair, which completed the look of their hairstyles. For the third step, students cut out smaller pieces of paper and glued them on to capture the texture of their hair. The more pieces of smaller paper that they cut and pasted, the more realistic the hair became.

Remember the extra paper saved from the stamp-printed designs? This is where that paper comes into play. Students had the option to cut and paste accessories on their self- portraits. This included items such as glasses, earrings, hairbands, and bows. I was super impressed with the final works of art by my student artists. They truly captured themselves through this printmaking/collage art experience.


  • 3 x 12" (8 x 30 cm) sheets of white drawing paper, one per student
  • 3 x 12" pieces of foam board, one per student
  • pencils
  •  masking tape
  • 9 x 12" (23 x 30 cm) colored construction paper 
  • scissors
  • newspaper (to cover tables)
  • water-based paint or ink
  • brayers
  • chalk pastels

Michael Van Meter is an art educator at Bushy Park Elementary School in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.


View this article in the digital edition.