Saturday, May 12, 2012

5th Grade Self-Portraits: Lichtenstein

So I'm thinking I'll never attempt this project again with 5th grade. Maybe 7th, or even 8th next time. It took much MUCH longer than I'd planned (about 7 classes, which is 7 weeks), but once we started, we couldn't just stop. I try to instill persistence and commitment in my young artists, so we had to see it through to the end. What took so long? All those DOTS! Combine the level of patience required for that task with the precision and attention to detail required to achieve successful results, and I'd have to say that this was not a lesson with a high success rate for all students.

Having said that, some students (those with a hefty dose of patience and excellent fine motor skills) turned out beautiful results. And for all my protesting, when I look at the results overall, they really are impressive. Maybe it's just this age. Some of them are ready for this level of concentration, and some just aren't.

Here's what we did:

Prior to beginning the drawing/painting:

1. We watched "Who is the Artist?: Artists of Pop Art", which takes students through the work of Andy Warhol, Wayne Thiebaud, and Roy Lichtenstein in order to familiarize them with the characteristics of Pop Art and these artists in particular. (They really enjoy the video, by the way. I love this series. It quizzes students as they watch, and they really come away being able to recognize the work of the aritsts discussed.

2. Take individual photos of students and print out as large as possible on 8.5x11 paper. I had students choose a pose/expression that would later become inspiration for their speech/thought bubble. 

Class 1:
Show examples of Lichtenstein's comic panel paintings and discuss lines, colors, etc. (as well as noticing where he used dots and where he used solid color). I gave students their printed photos (oh my, the commotion and giggles), a piece of 9x12 drawing paper, a 9x6 sheet of Seral transfer paper (I cut it down from a roll I've had for a while), and a couple of pieces of tape. We taped their photos to the drawing paper, centered as best they could, and used the transfer paper to trace the contours of their portrait. Hair was the trickiest part for most of them. The girls in particular wanted to draw every tiny strand of hair, so we talked about the shape of their hair, the curls, etc, and how to suggest hair without drawing each single strand (which basically turns into scribbles).

Class 2:
Students continued transferring their photos, then traced the lines in Sharpie. We used rulers to draw a frame around the portrait (so the drawing looks more like a comic panel), following the natural border created by the printed edge of the image.

Classes 3, 4, 5, 137, etc.:
This is what took so long. We used watercolor palettes and pencil erasers to mimic Lichtenstein's dot technique. This is what I told students to do:
  • Create HORIZONTAL lines of dots (don't follow the contours of the lines in your drawing). Start with a clear area across which you can make a straight horizontal line (forehead, for example). Then begin adding additional lines above and below the first one. Stagger the dotted line so that each new dot is between the dots above/below it. (I don't have a photo of this step, but if you look at the first painting in this post, the student did a really nice job with this on her face.)
  • To create lighter skin tones, add more water to the paint. The first dot is always darkest, so make one dot on newspaper or scrap paper first, then move to your painting. Each dip in the paint will make 3 or 4 dots. Some students decided just to be orange or yellow since the only skin tone we had was brown. :) A few of them did try to mix colors and dilute the paint for a fairer peachy complexion.  (See more paintings below.)
  • Apply the dot technique to skin, clothing, and background. Apply a solid wash of color to hair, eyes, and other small detail areas (fingernails, lips, etc.).
  • One of the reasons the painting portion was so tricky was that students had to be careful not to create holes in the watercolor wells. The paint becomes gummy with so much use and water, so it was vital to dip the eraser just in the surface of the paint and not push down into the thicker paint. Some students used way too much paint, so their portraits were sticking to everything, even when "dry." A layer of parchment paper on top of portraits solved this problem. If I ever have a classroom again I'll do this project with acrylic paint and let the students mix their skin colors. This would make this particular issue much easier to handle.
Classes 6 and 7:
After the third class of bringing in and setting up the watercolor paints and handing out (and cleaning up! ugh) all the materials necessary (I'm on a cart), I decided we were DONE with painting.
  • Students who weren't finished, due either to absences, slow progress, or lack of using time wisely finished their "paintings" in watercolor marker. I actually really like the greater contrast of doing the backgrounds in solid color, so maybe I'll go this route automatically next time. We had issues with neon lips, so I also gave students colored pencils if they wanted softer pink/brown lips.
  • Students cut out speech or thought bubbles and glued these to their self-portrait. I created three templates that students could use if they wanted. Some made their own, and some used the ones I copied onto drawing paper. I don't like to use templates as a matter or course, but we really needed the time saver.
  • Students wrote their phrase in pencil, then traced in Sharpie.
Here are a few more of our 5th grade Lichtenstein self-portraits:

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