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Lesson Plans

how does your face compute?

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Larry Cox (L_J_Cox)
Fri, 23 Apr 1999 22:28:46 -0600

Self-portraiture is a staple of any high-school art course. Usually the
media of choice are pen and ink, charcoal, pencils or a variety of mixed
media. For years, I have been approaching this task by routinely hauling
out the usual paraphernalia: individual mirrors, stands, paper, individual's
photographs and/or magazine pictures.

Compound this situation with a classroom of mostly junior and senior non-art
majors taking this course solely for their fine arts requirement, and you
have the ingredients for quite a tedious artistic journey. Even with our
best efforts, art instructors are still used to hearing, "but it doesn't
look like me," whenever this project draws to a conclusion.

Well, got a computer? A digital camera? And a laser printer? Perhaps a
flatbed scanner? Salvation is at hand!

My students and I had played around with our classroom computer enough
to know we surely might be able to use it to aid my not-as-successful--
as-I-wished-project. After my students had completed their traditional
self-portraits, I decided to make use of our Quicktake camera and .see
what we get when we....

I posed each student outside the classroom with the sun shining on their
face so as to produce some definite, dark shadows. We had previously
a project identifying shadows and observing how shadows define objects.
So I was primarily shooting for the shadows.

The students' photos were then opened in the computer using any photo--
enhancing software. (I used Adobe Photoshop@.) Under "Mode," each student
first changed his photo to "grayscale." Then, under "Image," selected
and carefully adjusted the photo to a high-contrast image, eliminating
most gray shadows.

Once the student was satisfied with the "enhancement" and there were
defining shadows, a transparency film was inserted into the laser printer
and the final image was printed out as a high-contrast, blackand-white
photograph. The image need not be larger than 3" x 4".

The transparency was then placed on an overhead projector and projected
onto a large (18" x 24") piece of quality watercolor paper. The shadow
shapes were carefully traced lightly in pencil. I told the students, "every
detail counts." (To make things interesting, plan ahead and have students
wear bold patterns or stripes in their clothing.)

The final step involved darkening in the "shadow" areas. We used black
or dark brown waterproof India ink on the shadows so the watercolor process
that followed would not adversely affect the shadow areas.

Avoiding the natural white highlighted areas, the other negative image
areas were then painted in with wet-on-wet watercolor washes. Students
may also choose to enhance their portrait or the backgrounds with any
of mixed media: crayon-resist, tempera, gold-leaf, wallpaper, and so on.
If a student messes up for one reason or another, he has the transparency
available to simply trace the original over again-- one of the many "perks"
of this technique.

The results were tremendousespecially for my first-year art students. Each
student was thrilled with how "professional" the results were and how much
their self-portrait really looked like themselves. Many more couldn't
that they actually did it!

As for me, I couldn't wait to turn my camera on that floral still-life
draped with a boldly striped cloth...but that's another project.