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Elementary Art Self-Portrait Lesson for First Day

Updated on June 20, 2019
iijuan12 profile image

I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Self-Portrait Lesson for Kindergarten, 1st grade, & 2nd grade elementary children for the first day of art class
Self-Portrait Lesson for Kindergarten, 1st grade, & 2nd grade elementary children for the first day of art class

This is the 1st lesson in a series of 26 hands-on art lessons for Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grade. This lesson focuses on self-portraits. I used this plan while teaching a weekly 45 minute art class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes an art concept, introductory book, focus on an artist, and a variety of art techniques to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

"What is a Self-Portrait" by Ruth Thomson
"What is a Self-Portrait" by Ruth Thomson

Introductions & Portraits

1. Welcome the children to the first day of art class! Have each child share their name and something they love or love to do.

2. Ask children to raise their hands if they have ever seen a painting.

  • Ask them to raise their hands if they have ever seen a painting of person.
  • Does anyone know what we call a painting of a person? (portrait)
  • Have the children repeat after you, "A portrait is a painting of a person." Start slowly & then repeat it at regular speed, & then repeat it fast like a silly tongue-twister.
  • Does anyone know what we call a portrait when the artist is painting himself or herself? (self-portrait)

3. Today we're going to paint self-portraits, but first let's learn a little bit more about self-portraits.

  • Read What is a Self-Portrait by Ruth Thomson, stopping after reading the page featuring the self-portrait of Van Gogh.
  • Briefly ask the children what colors Van Gogh used to paint the background, the area behind him, in his self-portrait. Ask them why they think he painted swirls like that behind him, rather than painting something like horses, ballerinas, superheroes, etc. (The background tells us a little bit about how he's feeling and who he is, or what his personality is like.)
  • We're now going to paint self-portraits like Van Gogh. The background you choose can show something about you.

You will need:

  • What is a Self-Portrait by Ruth Thomson or other book on self-portraits

What Is a Self-portrait? (Art's Alive)
What Is a Self-portrait? (Art's Alive)
This is the perfect length for this young age group. It has a short amount of text per page and a variety of different art styles.
Black crayon and watercolor self-portraits
Black crayon and watercolor self-portraits

Draw & paint self-portraits

4. Create self-portraits at the art tables.

  • (Optional) Have children look at themselves in a mirror.
  • Pass out a sheet of watercolor paper (or other heavier paper) and a black crayon to each child.
  • Walk them through how to draw a basic face shape using the black crayon. I modeled for them as we drew the face together. The video below provides a nice explanation of how to walk them through that process.
  • Have them use the black crayon to make stripes, swirls, etc. in the background. Make sure to emphasize that the spaces between the lines should be wide. (About half the children did not follow this step and did not draw the lines in the background with the crayon. Their paintings still looked nice.)
  • Have them pull out their watercolor paints. Pass out bowls of water. Allow them to paint. (I had them use fatter paintbrushes instead of the smaller ones that come in the watercolor paint set.)
  • Emphasize that they should try to color their entire paper and leave nothing white (except for their teeth).
  • If someone finishes early, have them try to go back over with another color to add dimension to their paper. They can also be the first ones to have their pictures taken with their self-portraits!
  • Tip: If not using paper for watercolor, keep an eye on water usage to make sure no one paints a hole through their paper.

You will need per child:

  • paper for watercolor or other thicker paper
  • black crayon
  • watercolor paint set
  • larger paintbrush
  • bowl of water
  • paper towels (to have on hand just in case spills happen)

5. Take a photo of each child with their masterpiece.

Great Tutorial on How to Teach Young Children to Draw a Self-Portrait

A small sampling of the final pieces

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Art With Mati & Dada – VanGogh

Image credit: http://www.berkeleymews .com/?p=359
Image credit: http://www.berkeleymews .com/?p=359

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© 2018 Shannon


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    • iijuan12 profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Florida

      Thank you! Yes, the children do love to paint and draw.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      As a former childminder I could have put this lesson to good use. Craft, painting and drawing were always popular activities.


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