Self-Portraits Colour Theory Lesson


Natalie Lorefice

Grade Level:

4th and 5th Grade


Drawing, Painting, & Printmaking

Objective: Students will learn to mix Shades, Tints and Tones (Neutral Colours)

Description: This lesson was inspired this past August when I was shopping in Homesense and came across the amazing book, “Let’s Talk About Race.” Immediately I thought "How can I teach portraits and combine this book?" I decided to use it with my junior grade 4 and 5’s who started in September on an identity unit.

During this unit they were asked- Who are you? What makes you unique? How can you describe your identity and your skin colour? Do you know what colours you can mix to create skin colours? What are neutral colours? Why is brown and black not included in the colour wheel? We defined what racism is and kids generated statements describing what is racist and not racist. We then sorted them in a school wide Venn Diagram. Students then followed portrait guide lines to draw their facial features working towards balance and symmetry. Mirrors were used for reflections (masks were worn due to COVID pandemic).

Students then brainstormed positive affirmation words about what they believe describes them and what makes them unique. We also were working on positive affirmations in dance class as I teach dance school wide too. They wrote Mantra poems and then danced them. Then I taught them to choose 3-5 words from their dance to include as a background of their portraits. These words were drawn on a separate longer sheet of paper. Wavy lines were drawn horizontally across the page to achieve movement and kids were encouraged to write in only capitals and make sure each letter touched the top and bottom of each lines. This word art was inspired the amazing art teacher Casey Stevens.

I incorporated a few art techniques/mediums with these portraits- Perspective words, tie-dye Crayola markers with zip lock bag printmaking for the backgrounds, and portrait drawing. Usually I order the Crayola skin colour paints and watercolours with multi-cultural palette skin tones but this year I challenged my mind. I said "Let’s have them mix their own skin colours based on the mixing guide that an amazing teacher posted on this site." (Source: Francesca Levy)

There was so much problem solving with this trial and error and the cheers when the kids actually made their skin colour made my heart explode. These portraits were placed down the halls of my junior wind and as kids walked to their rooms they were reminded of the importance of their identity and the racism Venn diagram challenged them to remember what is and what is not racist. Kids need to be able to identify what racism is before they can identify it and have a voice and stand up for themselves. We have since started a Choose Action campaign at the school to teach kids to ACT when they hear racist comments and to stand up and remember that their voice matters.

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