Teaching Portraits

By The Arty Teacher - May 9, 2023

Teaching portraits is really difficult because if something isn’t quite right, we notice it straight away. It’s an unforgiving subject matter. Since the beginning of time, artists have been captivated by the idea of replicating a likeness of a person, be it themselves or someone else. I believe teaching portraits should be in all good curriculums, but where do you start and how do you build the right skills?

Teaching the Proportions of the Face

A useful first task is to teach students about the proportions of the face and the download below is ideal for this. Yes, of course, we are all different but there are some good techniques in this lesson that can be applied to any face.

Teaching students how to draw faces.

Drawing Features of the Face

Practising drawing features of the face is a good next step and can build confidence. Students have a pre-conceived idea about how an eye, nose and mouth look. Left to their own devices, many students are inclined to draw almost cartoon-like features: perfectly round nostrils, lines up the side of the nose that aren’t there, iris’s floating in space, perfect bow lips.

You need to discuss these easy-to-make mistakes and teach your students that to improve their drawing, they must learn how to look. The skills they learn from drawing features of the face can be transferred to any other drawing.

How to teach portraits.

Culturally Diverse Gridded Art Cards

The gridded faces below have been a great hit with my students. I work in a school, like a lot of us, that has a lot of different faces staring back at me. It gives me great satisfaction to provide inclusive resources. I was interested to see what students would pick and they did pick faces that looked like them.

Portrait Project

Portraiture offers a unique opportunity for students to explore the human experience. By capturing the likeness of a person, artists have the ability to convey their subject’s personality, emotions, and even their inner thoughts and feelings. Through portraiture, students can learn to empathise with others and gain a better understanding of the human condition. This can be especially valuable in today’s world, where issues of identity, diversity, and inclusion are becoming increasingly important.

Portrait Projects – Complete Units of Work

Exploding Thoughts Unit of Work

This large unit of work asks students to create a mixed media artwork that includes drawing and collage. The collage appears to be ‘exploding’ from the person’s mind and represents their interests and thoughts. There are many stages to this project, so click ‘learn more’ to er… learn more.

Portrait Project

Quartered Portrait Project Unit of Work

During this portrait project, students research artists, photograph friends, learn about viewpoints and experiment with different media. So much to learn!

Even More Portrait Art Lessons!

Portraits Starter Activity

If you’re looking for a starter activity to engage your students as soon as they sit down, the download below is ideal. Students have to match six clues to six portraits by famous artists. There are questions for you to ask too.

Teaching Portraits

Portraits Choice Board

If you are an art teacher who follows a choice-based curriculum, the Portrait Choice Board below makes a great starting point.

Teaching Portraits

Portrait Extension Tasks

What do you do with students who finish early? Being organised with an extension task that pushes their learning even further is a good idea. The extension tasks below provide stretch and choice. My students have particularly enjoyed the iris task!

Teaching Portraits

Portraiture is an essential component of any art curriculum. Through studying portraits, students can gain a better understanding of human history, develop their technical skills, and explore the human experience. By including portraiture in an art curriculum, educators can help students develop a deeper appreciation for art and the role it plays in our society.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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2 responses to “Teaching Portraits”

  1. Rhonda Roth says:

    On portrait drawing, you’re absolutely right in that everything has to be exact to get a likeness, else everyone will know something’s off.

    Learning the proportions of the face is a good start. However, I’ve yet to find a good instruction on drawing children’s faces. The proportion cards shown here are fine for adults. Kid’s facial proportions are different.

    The Great Masters of art struggled with children’s portraits as well, rendering a child as a small adult.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      You’re right that children have different proportions. I’ll have to have a think about creating resources for that in the future!

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