Description of the Unit – Students will create fantastical, energetic self-portraits inspired by the portraits of George Littlechild. Students will use a mix of sharpie markers, colored pencils, watercolor and acrylic paint for their portraits.
Activity statement – George Littlechild describes himself as an artist “committed to righting the wrongs that First Nations peoples have endured by creating art that focuses on cultural, social and political injustices.” Says Littlechild of his portrait paintings: “my art is charged with energy and color, (are) vibrant, magical and enable the soul to travel…they tell stories,” (https://georgelittlechild.com/about-george/). While observing his dynamic paintings, I initiate class discussion using this very quote. What does Littlechild mean by enabling the soul to travel? How do you do that in a painting? How can a portrait be magical?
We observe Littlechild’s imagery—such as feathers, trees, houses, stars—what could each image symbolize? We observe his use of bold, pure and often unrealistic color. What could a specific color symbolize? Could colors and images have different meanings for different people? I ask students, what colors could represent you? What objects?
What if students could tell their own stories through magical, colorful and vibrant self-portraits? Using George Littlechild’s work as inspiration, students will try to do just that. Since the objective of this unit is to consider imagery, color and symbolism, I don’t want my students to stress about how to draw their faces. Instead, we use a strategy whereby we take a photograph of each student, and students trace these photographs onto transparency paper. Even something as simple as this builds skills: I teach students how to control the pressure of their pens so as to lightly express the texture of hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. I teach them how to approach teeth, braces, ears and noses in a way that excludes using every line and rather suggests the presence of each for a more natural look.
What they paint onto their faces, necks and torsos should be personal and symbolic. The colors they choose for themselves should be thoughtful and deliberate. The mixed media background can be filled with whatever has some relevance or meaning to their understanding of themselves and the world around them.
At the end of the project we are always amazed by how unique and interesting each student’s self-portrait turns out. We all feel like we know each other a little better just looking at them. Hopefully George Littlechild would feel proud at what the students have created through his inspirational art.
PLEASE visit George Littlechild’s site. It is exciting and thought-provoking: https://georgelittlechild.com/. As an artist and art teacher, I am grateful that we have George Littlechild in the world creating his thought-provoking, brilliant portraits.
Goals – Students should (both as regards viewing other ads and creating their own)…
- How imagery and color can be used as symbols to express a narrative about oneself
- How colors can convey mood or feeling
- How to render texture and patterns onto paint
- How to naturally express features of the face
Be able to:
- Recognize a George Littlechild painting
- Create a self-portrait that expresses aspects of themselves via the colors, textures and images they use
Objectives – Students will:
- Explore symbols, imagery and colors that have a personal meaning or connection to them, which they will use in a self-portrait mixed media composition
Resources and materials –
- Presentation of George Littlechild’s work
- Headshots of each student
- Tag or Bristol board (white) in various sizes
- Multicolored sharpies (fine and thick point)
- Paint (acrylic or tempera)
- Tools to make texture
- What can you infer from the symbols in (each) Littlechild painting?
- What do the kinds of colors use express about the person featured in each portrait?
- What do you think of this style of painting?
- What kinds of colors would you use for your portrait?
- What symbols might you use that have meaning for you?
Evaluation – Did students:
- Understand how symbols can be used to express meaning or stories in art?
- How colors can be symbolic?
- Choose thoughtful colors and symbols for their own portraits?
- Create rich, interesting textures within their painted portions of their portraits?
- Student questions
- Group discussions
- Oral responses to essential questions
- Elaboration and risk-taking