What is a self portrait? Why would an artist create one? I think the general conception of a portrait is a ¾ head and shoulders “picture” of a person. A self portrait, therefore, would then be pretty much the same thing, only composed by the actual subject of the “picture”.

A self portrait, however, can be so much more. Creating a self portrait allows the artist    an opportunity to in effect tell a story, let an audience know exactly who he or she is. Conversely, the creation of a self portrait can also be employed for the sole purpose of self identification. I would, therefore, like to divide this discussion in to two categories: Who Am I? And This Is Me.

Who Am I?

As noted earlier, the objective of this type of self portraiture is for the student artist to solve the problem of how to illustrate exactly who he or she is. Is the student able to render the self portrait in such a way that peers will be able to identify the author upon investigation of the piece? Would someone who has no knowledge of the artist be able to draw conclusions about the person who created the piece from information provided? What are the likes and dislikes of the individual in question, what or whom is important to the student, what the artist’s favorite subject is in school, what the student’s favorite season is? I have students create a frame from at least a 2’X3’ piece of cardboard paper mached with colored construction paper. If the student has a favorite color or a color he or she feels is indicative of self, I ask that he or she use this color for the frame. With the frame constructed the student then has a personalized canvas to work upon. I then ask students to choose or bring in from home as well as create from any media objects that show who they are: a favorite food made from clay, a favorite piece of clothing, an object indicative of the work study sight, a favorite instrument created from art media, etc.  These objects are then arranged upon the frame in a way that the artist finds pleasing and glued down. I find this project to have particularly positive results with students who are non-verbal, with little to no ASL skills.





This Is Me

I use this form of self portraiture for student artists with a lesser cognitive ability; with these students, self identification is often problematic. In this version, the same development of the paper mached cardboard frame/canvas is employed. Emphasis may not be on a “favorite” or indicative color, but on: a color chosen verbally from a  visual selection of three, a color chosen visually by pointing to or touching one in the selection,  a verbal list of the color selection may be given by the instructor with student repeating color that “sounds good, etc. following construction of the frame, each student creates three types of handprints to be affixed to the canvas: a handprint made in plaster and then painted, a handprint made in clay and then painted,  a handprint made by applying tempera paint to the palm and fingers and then printed on paper. Next, items that the student identifies with are chosen for the self portrait. Again, it is helpful to provide choices. For instance, if a student is partial to a specific type of juice box, I might give him or her a choice of: a milk carton, the juice box and a water bottle. Inevitably the student will choose the juice box, which is the favorite or the choice the student identifies with. The same choices can be provided in the form of toys, clothing, etc. finally, the artist arranges the handprints and chosen favorite/identifying objects on the frame, in a manner he or she finds pleasing, and glues down.  The student now possesses a self identifying piece of art; handprints and objects that the student “owns”, relates to. Time and again, giving a student a choice of 3 finished self portraits and encouraging the artist to choose his or her own, I have seen amazing results.   With words or without, the student is able to choose the correct piece and say, “this is my hand, this is my juice box, this is me.”

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