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gridded self portrait and beyond


From: knitzber (knitzber_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Dec 25 2003 - 07:35:46 PST

Another subject that worked with high school students was
one that
initially was based Chuck Close and his video on his
portrait paintings
that are based the grid method. I took digital pictures of
my students
that were quite good (digital cameras have come a long way
since they
originally were introduced to the scene), and printed them
out on
regular copy paper. Using acetate from a roll that normally
is used for
protecting art work in a mat, I used a fine point permament
marker to
create a 4 X 5 inch grid (1" squares) for each student to
place over their
printed out self portrait. They then had to blow up their
image 400%, so
that each grid on the final drawing was 4" square (4:1
ratio). The
students had to first draw the outline of their heads
keeping track of
where the line that denoted the resulting shape existed in
each of the
squares that it ran through. Once the outline was done,
they then had
to look for the highlights and the shadows and draw them
lightly as
additional shapes in their compositions. The lightest and
the darkest
areas were noted to provide them with a range of contrast
from light to
dark. As the background in each portrait was dark due to
the lighting
that I used in the initial taking of the pictures, their
backgrounds were
also to be done dark to increase the contrast in the
drawing. The
assignment was done in pencil, working with a range of HB to

The results of this assignment were quite good, but I wanted
students to push the portrait idea further and so a 2nd
assignment was
to be attended to where they had to concentrate on the
aspect more than the likeness in the composition. Rather
than simply
using pencil, they used pastel chalks to work on this
assignment. I
retook their pictures having them express the emotion that
they wished
to convey in their drawings, and then had them work with the
again, but this time they had much more openness in terms of
how they
wished to deal with the images. In preparation for working
on this
assignment, they had to create a collection of portraits
done by other
artists using the Art Collector feature in Artsconnected
(, and see how a variety of
artists used
exaggeration of various elements and principles of art to
feeling. The results of this assignment were extraordinary
as students
used color, line, repetitition and exaggeration of features,
suggestive of other artists' work (most notably Picasso),
and even
collage to create the 2nd portrait. The freedom to express
and create
that was unleashed in this assignment paid off huge
dividends in terms
of the results that were realized. The excitement of the
students from
being able to successfully complete both of these
assignments was
quite tangible.

Kevan Nitzberg