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Where Do Artists Find Inspiration? Looking to the Self (Grades K–2)
This lesson focuses on creating self-portraits based upon the study of one’s own features and personality traits with the idea that a self-portrait reveals not just what you look like on the outside, but who you are on the inside. Looking at the work of artist Pablo Picasso, students will explore how our emotions and interests can be shared through the intentional use of line, color and texture.
Please note: For kindergarten students, each lesson could be divided in half. Pace your lesson according to your students’ needs.
Students will experiment with ways to use line, shape, and color to draw and express physical features and personality.
Students will observe and discuss portraits done by Picasso and explore ways that a person can express his or her own unique self through art making.
- drawing paper 8 ½ x 11, plan on using 3 to 5 sheets per student or more
- mirrors, class set or share
- writing pencils
- crayons or oil pastels
- tempera or water color paints (optional)
- curriculum postcards: Woman With Joined Hands, Paul as Harlequin, Portrait of Dora Maar
- chart paper and easel for demonstration and documentation
- lines: straight, broken, zigzag, curvy, wavy, spiral, corkscrew, etc.
- shapes: circle, square, triangle, oval, rectangle, heart, diamond
- colors: primary (red, yellow, blue), secondary (orange, green, purple)
- feelings/emotions: happy, sad, excited, calm, angry, scared, shy, bold, etc. (children can help generate list, or prepare ahead of time)
Children learn how to draw a face by identifying basic shapes or lines. To help build students familiarity with this concept, lead them in the following drawing warm-ups.
a. Gather the whole class together on the floor in a circle. Have students look at the faces of the classmates on either side of them. They then notice and “air trace” (without actually touching) the shape of the face, eyebrows, eyes, nose and lips of each neighbor.
b. Using a mirror, invite students to study their own faces, using their hands and fingers to feel the roundness of their cheeks, the shape of their eyebrows, eyes, nose and chin. Ask, “How would you show this roundness, these curves, angles, and shapes of a real face on a flat piece of paper?” Write students’ comments and observations on chart paper.
Facing the children, model how to make a large circle in the air, with your arm extended in front of you, using your forefinger and middle finger together as the “pencil.”
a. Have the students mirror you. This warm-up activity will help them to loosen their hands and arms as well as integrate the experience kinesthetically and visually. Saying it aloud together adds a layer of oral language development for ELL students. Continue by going round and round in the air, making the circle larger and smaller. First model, then children mirror the movements.
b. Next, do the same motions (teacher) using a marker and making the circles on the chart paper creating a form that resembles a tornado, spiral, or corkscrew. Use the whole sheet and MAKE IT BIG. Repeat the process with the other shapes: triangle, square, diamond, oval, rectangle, heart, etc. (Depending on your class, you may want to do just a few.) Using the same technique, invite students to practice making different kinds of lines.
After this warm-up, have the children go to their seats, where they should each have paper and a black marker. Using marker instead of pencil will keep them from erasing.
Drawing along with the students —teacher on the chart, students on their own papers—give the following directions:
- Put a small circle in the middle of the paper.
- Put two circles above it (let kids decide what size).
- Put a curved line under the middle circle (kids decide where).
- Draw a big circle around all of it.
- Finish up with some hair on the top using your favorite kind of line.
You have a basic face, a simple foundation for creating any kind of portrait. Take a few minutes for the kids to hold up their pictures and group share.
Write on the chart the students’ observations and reactions to the activity. Note how different and unique each drawing is even though everyone had the same directions.
Collect and set aside these practice sheets.
Connecting to Picasso
Display the three selected postcards of Picasso’s work. Inform the children they will see the originals at the museum.
Direct the students to look closely. While documenting their comments, ask the following:
- What are some things you notice about the faces in these paintings?
- What shapes, lines and colors do you see?
- What do you notice about the features: eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows?
- How are these three works the same, and how are they different?
- How would you describe the expression on each of the faces?
- How does the way Picasso used line, color, shape, and placement form your ideas and feelings to his work?
Select one of the postcards. Using Appendix A: Word Cluster Web, brainstorm with the students to determine two to three personality traits they might attribute to the character in the portrait, as well as two to three of the character’s likes or preferences. Example: Paul as Harlequin: quiet, shy; likes the circus and clowns. Note: Older students can fill in the web organizer on their own, and younger students can dictate their responses to the teacher in a group forum and copy on their own sheet.
At this time, or at a later session, use Appendix B: Word Cluster Web for students to further experiment on their own, creating self-portraits or portraits of family or friends. Include the web activity as well to round out this exploration.
Part 2: Folded Journals for Museum Field Trip to the Picasso Exhibition (one 45-minute class period)
- Appendix C: My Picasso Line & Shape Book (one for each student)
- tape for reinforcement
- hole puncher
- yarn, string or ribbon
- full set of curriculum postcards
Note: For instructions on how to fold Appendix C please visit the Making Books website.
As a whole class, look at the shapes, lines, and marks on the pages of the folded journals. On a board or chart write students’ responses and comments to these questions:
- What can these visual elements be used to create, represent, or express? Elicit and list the possibilities. Examples: nature, emotions, weather, the elements, animals, dreams, time, state of mind, ideas, thoughts, beliefs, people, places.
- How does an artist use line, shape, space, and texture to achieve these effects?
Have students, using pencils, trace over the pre-printed lines and shapes on the pages. Then have students copy the lines and shapes as accurately as they can on the same page at least once, more if there is room.
Older students may then write descriptions and labels for the elements; younger students can dictate words for adults to write.
On drawing paper, students use the shapes, lines, and textures from the booklet to play with creating anything inspired by their imaginations. They can make as many drawings as they want and come up with variations of their own. Note: To conserve paper, students can fold a piece of paper into quarters and try something different in each section.
Using all five curriculum postcards, have students work in groups to compare and contrast their work to that of Picasso. What is similar and what is different about how the students and Picasso used line, shape, space, and texture?
Prepare the students to see these works of art in person. Review the essential vocabulary related to line, shape, color, and self-portraits. Remind students of essential rules and appropriate behaviors when visiting an art museum.
- Explore shape, line, texture, and space using different media and techniques: cut or torn paper, cardboard, collage, printmaking, clay, finger-painting, wax (e.g., Wikki Stix), yarn, string, ribbon, wire, metal, paint, etc.
- Experiment with translating 2D to 3D using various materials as inspired by the work of Picasso.
Part 3: Field Trip to Picasso Exhibition (one 60-minute session at the museum and one 30-minute classroom session)
- Independent Viewing at the Museum (without a guided tour)
Take the booklets with you to the museum; students can wear them around their necks for easy access. As you go through the exhibit, ask students to find and match the shapes, lines, and forms from the booklet to Picasso’s artwork, with particular attention paid to the five curriculum postcard pieces.
At the end of the tour, when you have left the exhibition space, provide students with time to draw or write what they will remember most from Picasso’s work. Was it a particular line, shape, form, motif, image, impression, or idea?
- Reflection in the Classroom
After the field trip, use Appendix D: Picasso Visit Reflection to discuss the following:
- What did you see?
- What did you hear?
- What did you think?
- What did you feel?
Older students can provide responses on individual reflection sheets. Or the whole class may document reflections on a chart divided into four sections, one for each question.
Responses can be written as simple phrases or as one- or two-word impressions and recollections, be they factual, literal, or imaginative.
The reflection piece is an excellent assessment tool. And most important, it is an opportunity for the children to express their thoughts, opinions, ideas, and impressions of their individual and collective experiences of the art of Picasso.
- pop-up books (Click here for ideas and how-tos)
Reading: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
Listening and Speaking: 1.1, 1.2
Speaking Applications: 2.1
Artistic Perception: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
Creative Expression: 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6
Artistic Perception: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
Creative Expression: 2.4
Writing: 1.1, 1.2
Artistic Perception: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
Creative Expression: 2.1, 2.2, 2.4
Historical and Cultural Context: 3.1