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Friendship Portraits

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom
Curriculum Home
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Image Bank
About Sculpture in Western Art
4 Basic Sculpture Techniques
Glossary (RTF-147KB)

Lesson Overview

Students will examine the bust, Portrait of Nadine Dumas, and create a portrait bust of a friend to give to the friend as a gift. Students will then discuss the modeling techniques used to communicate likeness and expression in a three-dimensional bust portrait.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• discuss and analyze the subject and compositional elements of a three-dimensional portrait bust.
• use multiple techniques for creating a portrait bust with their hands and simple tools.
• experiment with additive techniques in sculpture.
• create a three-dimensional portrait that communicates the characteristics of a friend, through the position of the head, facial expression, and movement.
• articulate in writing the processes undertook to create a portrait bust.


• Image of Portrait of Nadine Dumas by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
• Air-drying modeling clay, such as Crayola® Model Magic®
• Pencils
• Sculpting tools or simple tools such as toothpicks, straws, or objects that will create texture when pressed into clay

Lesson Steps

1. Show students an image of Portrait of Nadine Dumas by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and discuss the image by asking the "Questions for Teaching" found in the Image Bank, or by clicking on the image in the Materials section above. Explain to students that a bust is a sculpture that depicts the head and shoulders of a person.

2. Ask students what they think makes a good portrait. What would you need to know about a person to create a portrait that communicates who the person is and what they are like? (Discuss likeness, specific characteristics, facial expression, etc.)

3. Students will then each choose a friend to be the subject for a portrait bust. Have students discuss the best way to represent their friend. While they are formulating their ideas for the sculpture, have them think about the following questions:
• How will the sitter's body language, position of the head, facial expression, and dress tell us something about them? How will these details be formed and where will they be placed to create a sense of movement around the bust?
• Have students consider where their busts will stop—at the neck, or just below the shoulders? What kind of socle (pedestal) will they each design?

4. Before students set to work on their sculptures, give them one half hour to play with air-drying sculpting clay. Ask them to pinch, pull, poke, and ball the material to understand its possibilities. Explain to students that, in sculpting a face or a head, the sculptor shapes a character and a personality from a mass of clay. As each feature is pulled from, poked into, or added to the clay, the personality of the head becomes further defined. Have students experiment with pulling and pushing the material to create different dynamic expressions for their portrait busts. Ask students to consider exaggerating the emotions in the clay by manipulating the tilt of the eyebrows, the opening of the eyes, and tightness of the jaw and lips.

5. Students will then set to work to create three-dimensional portrait busts of their friends. Have students begin by balling the clay. Next have them squeeze a neck and pull shoulders from the ball. Next, have them pull out all of the features that protrude, or come out from the face, such as brows, nose, cheeks, chin, and lips. Finally, students should poke and push in all the features that recede into the face, such as nostrils, mouth, eye sockets, and ears. Have students think about how these details; the lines, shadows, and highlights they create give a sense of movement around the work.

6. Have students experiment with adding more features, such as ears, eyebrows, and hair. Students can also use pencils to define details and change the facial expression.

7. Once students have finished their sculptures, have them write a description of the process they undertook to develop their portrait bust. Ask them to answer the following questions in their essays:
• What characteristics or features of your friend did you consider when planning to make his or her portrait?
• How much of your friend's "bust" did you decide to include? Why?
• Describe some of the techniques you used to sculpt your friend's features. Were there any features that proved particularly difficult? Why?

8. Discuss students' finished projects using the following questions in a class critique:
• What were the challenges and successes of working in 3-D?
• What were the challenges and successes of working in clay?
• How successful were the students in conveying something about their friends in the sculptures?
• How did the students' finished sculpture projects differ from what they conceived in their minds initially?

Nadine Dumas / Carpeaux
Portrait of Nadine Dumas, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, 1873–1875


Students will be assessed on their finished three-dimensional portrait bust which should include the position of the head, facial expression, and movement. Written assignments outlining their process should also include all criteria listed in lesson instructions.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Perceive and describe rhythm and movement in works of art and in the environment.
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, space, and value.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.6 Create an original work of art emphasizing rhythm and movement, using a selected printing process.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Identify successful and less successful compositional and expressive qualities of their own works of art and describe what might be done to improve them.

Grade 4
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (e.g., color, shape/form, line, texture, space, value), emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.3 Use additive and subtractive processes in making simple sculptural forms.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Role and Development of the Visual Arts
3.1 Describe how art plays a role in reflecting life (e.g., in photography, quilts, architecture).

Grade 5
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and describe the principles of design in visual compositions, emphasizing unity and harmony.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Develop and use specific criteria as individuals and in groups to assess works of art.
4.4 Assess their own works of art, using specific criteria, and describe what changes they would make for improvement.

Grade 6
2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Create increasingly complex original works of art reflecting personal choices and increased technical skill.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Construct and describe plausible interpretations of what they perceive in works of art.

Grade 7
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Describe the environment and selected works of art, using the elements of art and the principles of design.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Explain the intent of a personal work of art and draw possible parallels between it and the work of a recognized artist.
4.2 Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.
4.5 Identify what was done when a personal work of art was reworked and explain how those changes improved the work.

Grade 8
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.
1.2 Analyze and justify how their artistic choices contribute to the expressive quality of their own works of art.
2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Design and create an expressive figurative sculpture.
2.6 Design and create both additive and subtractive sculptures.

Grades 9–12, proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.
4.4 Articulate the process and rationale for refining and reworking one of their own works of art.

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