Connecting through Portrait Drawing: A Lesson Plan by Tilly Woodward


Connecting With The World and Its People Through Portrait Drawing

Issue Description:

This lesson for a middle school art class that combines drawing, interviewing, writing, presentation and reflective discussion. These activities allow students to learn how art helps access and gain knowledge about individual people and their concerns. By viewing selected existing portraits from a range of historical, contemporary, western, and non-western artists and then drawing and interviewing a classmate, students will understand portrait drawing as a way to deepen their understanding of an individual and his or her view of the surrounding environment.

Essential Questions:

  • Why are portraits important to our understanding of the world?
  • Who gives meaning to a portrait – the artist or the subject of the portrait or the viewer?
  • What can be conveyed through art that isn’t as easily described with words?
  • How does it feel to have someone looking at you so closely?
  • Do you see physical resemblances to family members in your portrait?
  • Have you ever looked at anyone before as closely as you had to to draw the portrait?

Expected Learnings:

  • Student will verbalize how portraits tell something about both the artist who made them and the person who is the subject of the portrait.
  • Student will gain drawing skills by creating portraits from observation using pencils.
  • Students will learn interviewing skills as part of the portrait making process.
  • By writing a museum label, students will learn to summarize relevant information about the subject of their portrait.

Description of Activity:

  • The lesson is introduced by a power point presentation of five portraits by artists who are historical, contemporary, and represent western and non-western artists representing the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the students.  Discuss briefly how portraits tell something about both the subject and the artist and can be a great way to get to know a person.
  • Pair students in ways they might not choose on their own, mixing up gender, social, racial, religious, and cultural groups.  Give students a sheet of drawing paper, drawing pencils and an eraser and ask them to draw a portrait of their assigned partner in 15 minutes. They may not talk during this time, just look and draw.
  • At the end of the drawing time, give students 15 minutes to interview each other. They may ask the following questions, but are also encouraged to create their own questions:
    • What personal qualities do you hope are shown in your portrait?
    • If you could write a short statement about yourself on your portrait, what would it be?
    • What did you learn about me by drawing my portrait?
  • Students will then create a “museum” label listing important and interesting facts they learned about the partner from drawing and talking to them.
  • Prepare a display space in advance and invite student pairs to come forward and  sharing something they learned about each other.  Create an exhibit of  portraits and labels by attaching them to the display space.
  • When the exhibition is complete, using the essential questions the teacher guides a reflective discussion about what students learned about each other and value of portraits.
  • This lesson plan can also be altered to use digital photography and Photoshop.

Resources to Support Activity:

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