Self-Portrait with a Twist

This lesson comes from the Incredible Art Department, where it was submitted by Jeryl Hollingsworth, who also gives credit to Susan on Long Island (a Getty TeacherArtExchange member).  I used some of Jeryl’s suggestions for simplifying the project, as I was working with 22 first-graders and 45 minutes.

Ahead of time, I cut out a cardboard oval template for each child.  Then I played with photos of the children – as Room Parent, I’d had many chances to take photos in the classroom -until I had a closely-cropped head shot of each child that was just a little smaller than the oval template.

Grandma Layton’s story for 1st graders
Elizabeth Layton was sad almost every day.  She was 68-years-old – a grandmother already – when her sister suggested she take an art class.  She drew self-portraits by holding a hand mirror in one hand and drawing with the other.  The sad feelings went through her hand and onto the paper, so her early pictures show a lonely, old, sad-looking woman.  At this point I held up one of Grandma Layton’s earliest works, Void.

But she kept drawing and she started to feel better.  She used basic colored pencils and crayons.  She drew over 1,000 pictures and some of them even ended up in the Smithsonian.  One of her latest works, Untitled, shows her with her husband – they look happy and they’re surrounded by pretty, colorful flowers.

Elizabeth Layton believed that art changed her life.  The next time you feel sad or have a bad day at school, try drawing a picture about it, and see if it will help you feel better.

With a black Sharpie marker, the students drew two ovals – one for the head and one for the mirror.  I really wanted them to be able to look in a mirror to see the backs of their heads, but to save time I told them to turn their backs to a friend and ask:
–Can you see the backs of my ears?
–Can you see the back of my neck?
–If my hair were lines, would they be straight or wavy lines?

They drew the back of their heads, the mirror’s handle and an arm and hand holding the mirror.

Then I introduced them briefly to Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom.  They were familiar with a simple horizon line, so they drew that and then added details from their own bedrooms.

Finished with the Sharpies, they colored in their pictures with basic crayons.  I told them only to make sure that the wall was one color and the floor was another color.  Then they glued their photos to the center of the mirrors.

I thought this project might be too complicated for first grade, but the kids really enjoyed it.  Thank you to both Jeryl Hollingsworth and “Susan,” as well as

Scroll down to see the explanation I taped to the back of each child’s artwork.