Sixth grade students have recently completed a unit on drawing self-portraits. We focused on the use of composition, proportion and five distinct values. To document their growth, I asked students to create a self-portrait at the beginning of our unit, prior to learning how to create guidelines for placement of facial features in proportion. Each student drew a self-portrait using a tabletop mirror and a pencil. I collected the self-portraits and referred to them as the students' rough drafts. I kept the rough drafts from the students until the very end of our unit. Over the next two weeks, students learned a different skill to help them improve each art class. I see my students twice a week, so this was over four 42 minute periods.
On the first day, I showed students how to draw the human eye. We talked about the difference between the iris and the pupil, how to represent light reflected from the eye, and how to shade an eyebrow in the direction the hairs grow. After showing students step-by-step directions on the board, I demonstrated how to draw the eyes in proportion on the human head. I then gave each student a handout with the directions on paper for further practice. Once they had completed two practice eyes, they used the tabletop mirrors to practice drawing their eyes from observation.
On the second day of class, students followed the same procedure with learning the steps to drawing the nose. First we practiced together step-by-step on the board, again with a handout of directions, and finally through observation with the tabletop mirrors. I showed students how to measure and draw guidelines that would place their nose in proportion with their eyes and the rest of the face. I reminded students to think of how they were using different values to show highlights and shadows. The nose was definitely the most challenging for students to learn to draw. Many students chose to practice more to improve their drawings.
On the third day of our self-portrait unit, students learned how to draw the mouth. While we practiced together on the marker board, I demonstrated how to represent the highlight on the bottom lip by using an eraser. Students again practiced with a handout of directions and again with the tabletop mirrors. We identified where the mouth should be placed in proportion. Some students took time to practice drawing all of the facial features again, while others made multiple attempts to improve how they drew the mouth.
On the fourth day of our unit, students used the tabletop mirrors to practice drawing their neck, ears, and hair in proportion with the rest of their face. I presented this class period as a day to review, their last chance to practice and ask for extra help before they would begin their final project. Throughout this unit, I was impressed with the students' focus and work ethic. These two weeks were by far the quietest my classroom has ever been! I enjoyed watching the students grow and helping them along the way. I knew their final projects would be great improvements from their first drafts and I was excited to show them how much they improved.
The next week, day five of our unit, students began drawing their final self-portraits. I asked that during this class period they tried to lightly sketch all of their facial features in proportion, and not to apply any values yet. I gave this instruction for two reasons. One, I wanted them to make sure their self-portrait was in proportion before adding values and making it difficult to erase mistakes. Two, I planned to photocopy each of their self-portraits in this stage for a later project. Most of the students were able to complete this task during our 42 minutes. I made the photocopies before our next class period when the students would begin to add value.
On day six of our unit, students entered the classroom and noticed a change in our lighting. I turned off the overhead fluorescent lights and plugged in one spotlight to create more dramatic lighting. We also used natural light from the windows as an additional light source. The spotlight was placed on the side of the room with the windows. This created highlights and shadows for students to utilize when adding value to their self-portraits. I instructed students to use five distinct values: white, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and black. During this class period I asked students to add their light and medium gray values, and to hold off adding the darker values until the next class period.
On day seven of our unit, students worked on completing their self-portraits with a full range of five distinct values. Most students were able to complete their drawings by the end of class. As they finished, I offered suggestions of correcting proportion or increasing the range of value to help them improve their work. I was extremely proud of how well the students worked on this project.
The next class period, day eight, students were given their final self-portraits as well as their initial rough draft. I asked the students to tape both works side-by-side on black construction paper.
Each student was given a rubric to self-assess their project. I passed out green markers to fill out the rubric and asked students to assess their final project. The rubric featured three categories: Composition, Proportion, and Value. Each category was graded on a 5-point scale, with a written description of requirements for earning each point value. Students were asked to circle the point value they believed they earned with a green marker. Students totaled their points out of 15 at the bottom of the rubric.
Next, I passed out red markers for students to self-assess their rough draft on the same rubric. I wanted students to see their growth beyond the final product, and identify how many points they improved throughout the unit. Students totaled up their red points at the bottom of the rubric and wrote how many points they improved. Many of the students were surprised and thrilled by the progress they had made over these two weeks. I enjoyed their reactions and praised their hard work.
I displayed several of the students' work prominently in our school building.
The display read, "Look How Much We've Grown."
Once the self-portrait drawings were complete, I surprised students with the photocopies I took earlier in the unit. The next assignment was to apply a monochromatic color scheme to their drawings. I made three copies of each student's self-portrait. For this first copy of the series, students used markers. Students were given the choice of any color, and were encouraged to apply their knowledge of value to this self-portrait.
When the monochromatic self-portraits were completed, I asked the students to put up the display in our school. They arranged and posted the artworks in order from red to purple and taped them to a paper background hanging in our school building.
Students were given the option of choosing different color schemes to complete their remaining two self-portrait copies. The choices were warm, cool, primary or secondary. The self-portraits could be colored with crayons, markers, colored pencils, or any combination of the three. At the end of our unit students applied their knowledge of value and different color schemes to a series of four self-portraits.
I really enjoyed teaching this lesson to my sixth grade students, and I think they enjoyed it as well. Many of the students created their best artworks with this unit. As we study other units throughout the year, I believe they will have a stronger understanding of composition, proportion, value and color.
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