One of my favorite lessons to teach first in the school year is a basic self-portrait from head to toe. This is a great project to work on as a back-to-school assignment because it can serve as an introduction of each student and help to display the school as a community made up of individuals. When I taught at a K-8 school, I would have every grade level work on an adaptation of this project for their first assignment and then display all the portraits in the hallway as a mural. The teachers and students had so much fun trying to find themselves or their peers in the drawings. You can use the following script to help plan your own self-portrait project with your students. Here’s how I teach this lesson.
Step 1: Draw Along
Start your self-portrait with a cartoon skeleton using ovals and circles to form the general shape and pose of the body.
Start with an egg-shaped oval for the head, connected to a small circle for the neck. Add in the shoulders with a baguette oval slightly wider than the head. Continue down to the torso with a large oval. Add an overlapped circle for the hips.
Now draw the arms and legs. Consider what action pose you will want to show through the placement of the limbs. Draw two somewhat long ovals for the thighs, and two small circles for the knees. Repeat the long ovals for the calves and add small circles for the ankles. Finish with two triangles for the feet. For the arms, draw a long oval for the bicep and connect it to a circle for the elbow, just above where the torso meets the hips. Draw another oval for the forearm and a small egg oval for the hand. The bottom of the hand should meet about midway down the thigh.
Step 2: Make It Human
Now consider what clothing you want your portrait to wear. Start to fill in and smooth out the ovals and circles by drawing clothing lines over them. You don’t have to follow along the curves of the ovals if your shape would be better served by straight lines, but use the ovals and circles as a general guideline for width of the body and limbs.
Smooth out other areas like the neck, and add details like hair and facial features.
Step 3: Add Details
Now consider what activity your self-portrait is doing in the picture. What accessories or props should you draw? If you are playing soccer, draw your uniform, shin guards, cleats and a soccer ball. If you are baking, how about an apron, cookie pan and oven mitts?
Think about how the activity and details will tell the viewer something about you that they might not already know. You can think of your self-portrait as an introduction to your appearance and interests.
Step 4: Add Color
Use colored pencils to color in your person, covering all of your details with soft colors. Use the colored pencils at an angle for smoother blending, instead of holding the colored pencil like a pen you would write with. Don’t worry about coloring in the background.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Draw and color any other details that you want to be near your self-portrait. These could be other props like a goal for the soccer player or an oven for the baker. They could also be environmental details like trees or flowers.
To finish off your self-portrait, cut it out, leaving a thin blank space around your drawing to add a little extra support and to avoid having the paper tear in any thin areas. Cut out any extra accessories, props or environmental details separately.
This project looks great when displayed in a large group on a bulletin board or on a hallway wall. Arrange self-portraits by similar activities or similar props and then place environmental details in between to round out the scene. See if you can guess who made each self-portrait by looking at the details and activities displayed.