One lesson that really pushes students out of their comfort zones is finger-painted portraits. It’s a fun way for students to get loose and relax because they have to get a little messy and don’t have to worry too much about being precise since they aren’t using paintbrushes. My students are usually excited by the challenge of only using black paint (or a stamp pad) and their fingers to produce their self-portraits. They are intimidated at first when they learn about the limited materials, but when I tell them they will use the grid enlargement technique, they feel more confident that they can do it.
Megan R., grade twelve.Left: Katherine S., grade eleven. Right: Jani W., grade ten.Left: Alyssa S., grade ten. Right: Josie B., grade eleven.Left: Judy D., grade eleven. Right: Aliza Q., grade eleven.
I begin with a slideshow presentation about American painter Chuck Close. CBS has a fantastic segment about Close, “Note to Self,” that you can share with students (see Resources). Students are always impressed by his large-scale photorealistic paintings, but when I share his fingerprint paintings, they are blown away. Additional artists who could be highlighted for this lesson include mixed-media installation artist Red Hong Yi and sculptor Judith Braun (see Resources).
My students are usually excited by the challenge of only using black paint (or a stamp pad) and their fingers to produce their self-portraits. They are intimidated at first when they learn about the limited materials, but when I tell them they will use the grid enlargement technique, they feel more confident that they can do it.
No rough draft is needed for this project—grid enlargements are very effective in producing an image that looks similar to a photograph. Students take photos of themselves and print them as 4 x 6" (10 x 15 cm) images in black and white so we can see a wide range of values. They draw 1 x 1" (2.5 x 2.5 cm) squares on their photographs and 4 x 4" (10 x 10 cm) squares on their large 16 x 24" (40.5 x 61 cm) paper.
I remind students to flip their photos and draw upside down and compare square to square instead of thinking of their drawing as a whole image.
Once I approve their work, students each grab a white sheet of scrap paper to get a feel for the amount of paint they need on their fingers and the right amount of pressure to use for their fingerprint marks. They experiment with getting a wide range of tones to achieve light, medium, and dark values in their paintings. I remind them not to go too dark too quickly because they can't erase their work once they've begun. I also encourage them to periodically hang their works on a wall or a board and take a few steps back so they can assess their progress from afar.
Students loved this project. This is a great lesson to do in the middle of the semester because it gives students a break from the traditional painting or drawing lesson. This lesson is challenging but fun, and it's interesting to see how students execute the same theme in a variety of ways.
I have done this as a major project that takes a couple of weeks, as a fun one-day activity, and as a break from the current class project when we have a pep rally or a short class. When we do this for one day, I usually just have students finger paint (no grids). They love to take short breaks and mess with different techniques. When we do this for a short class period, I usually have a collection of brown grocery bags that I cut for students to use as their canvases.
I’ve also given students white and black paint to produce varying grays. If students are feeling bold, I offer the primary colors to mix and paint with. Students love the challenge of revisiting this traditional technique.
When we do this as a one-day exercise, I have students stop mid-painting and observe each other’s work. We do a short critique and discussion, and it’s fun to see how students are all interpreting the same challenge. At the end of the class, I have students observe everyone’s paintings again. We discuss who did the best job rendering a realistic portrait. Students start to develop their voices in this project and love the marks they make.
Art teachers offer studio lessons that utilize unexpected mark-making materials. Young students draw large-scale insects with sidewalk chalk, elementary students and adults collaborate in a virtual drawing activity to celebrate Black historical figures, middle-school students discover upcycled Haitian metal art and create ink-embellished designs on metal tooling, high-school students combine digital photography and illustration to render thought-provoking compositions, and more.