Layers of Identity: Self-Portraits


Paula Liz

Grade Level:



Drawing & Painting

This is an in-depth self-portrait drawing unit that explores the theme of identity through an ABAR perspective. This lesson provides the vocabulary and tools necessary to instill a sense of power in students to identify, critically analyze, prevent, call out, and stop injustices from occurring.

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This unit is broken down into five parts. Each lesson is approximately 45 minutes. In part one students will discuss what makes us unique and how our identities are layered and complex. An apple is used to illustrate the different layers of our identities and why they are an important part of who we are as individuals. We will then take a look at the artwork of Frida Kahlo and analyze how she was able to visually represent different aspects of her identity. Students will also be introduced to the term intersectionality, reflecting on how it connects to our identities and experiences. Discrimination will also be defined and students will be provided the opportunity to brainstorm actions they can take when they see or experience discrimination. They will conclude by reflecting on the 3 layers of their own identity (a brainstorming worksheet is included to facilitate this portion).

In part two students will begin their self-portrait by drawing themselves from observation. Students will learn how to notice and use a combination of lines, shapes, and proportions (Step by step handout included to guide students).

In part three students will be reminded that there is more to who we are beyond our appearance. They will review the many complex and intersecting pieces that make up who we are and begin to visually represent the inner layers of their identity.

In part four students will begin to add color, texture, value, and form to their self-portraits. This begins with a conversation about skin color (Recommended Read Aloud: ‘All the Colors We Are’ by Katie Kissinger). They will then learn how they can blend together different colors and use value to match their own skin color. In my example I use crayons, but colored pencils, markers, or paint can be used as well.

In part five students will prepare and present their work to one another. Before sharing, the term prejudice is introduced. Students are reminded that our identities are complex and that we can not prejudge others based on any aspect of their identity. Students will then articulate (verbally and/or through writing) how they represented the different layers of their identity within their self-portrait. An artist statement template/handout is included that can be printed and displayed with their self-portraits.

Find This Lesson on my TpT! Download Contains:

  • .PPT, a Google Slides, and .PDF of the presentation

  • Speaker Notes for each slide

  • ‘Layers of Identity’ Brainstorming Worksheet

  • How To Draw a Portrait: Step by Step Guide

  • Artist Statement Template/Handout

Featured Artists Include: Frida Kahlo, Chuck Close, Kehinde Wiley, Angelica Dass, and Byron Kim

Recommended Read Aloud: ‘All the Colors We Are’ by Katie Kissinger