Learning the Process of Capturing ‘Self’

Year 3, 4 and 5 students discovered and developed a deep understanding of the process of capturing ‘self’ in a painted portrait and the various skills required to accurately portray their features.

By looking at the work and style of portraits by various artists, they began a conversation about the intentional design of artists behind each work and how codes and conventions of portraiture such as lighting, setting, texture, body language and angles, colour and dress are used to create narrative, mood, meaning, cultural values and much more.

This set the tone for the remainder of the project, during which the students firstly utilised drawing skills such as shading techniques, scale and proportion techniques through using a grid system and understanding the influence of light and shadow to create form. With this knowledge as a foundation, the students progressed to then create their own tracing paper, producing a traced sketch of their face on canvas.

Following this, they developed essential painting skills which culminated to result in a collection of remarkable portraits, capturing fantastic likeness of each individual in the class. We learnt how to mix and match skin colours, how to create shades and tones of colours, how to mix hair colour, lip colour, how to paint eyes and the components of the eye such as the whites, the iris, the lashes, the pupil and the use of reflective light to make the eyes “pop”. Students learnt about different brushes and how to utilise their different forms to create flow, movement and figurative likeness. They also learnt sound painting practice, using paints and brushes with care and cleaning them during and after arts sessions with accurate procedure.

During the process of this week by week project development, conversations about elements and principles of Art became highlighted such as balance and contrast and particularly how to use highlights, midtones and shadows to effectively capture the true form and likeness of facial features.

The works that resulted are truly captivating and beautiful, reflecting the children’s engagement in the project and their willingness to absorb every skill learnt. What was most heart-warming and amazing to watch, was their own gratification and thrill in applying the skills they learnt and for some the surprise of actually enjoying the process of painting. We are all sure that these masterpieces will remain a point of conversation in living rooms, be treasured as a joyous memory painting and creating together and hopefully begin a starting point for some children to explore their creativity in a painterly form.


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“A school has the responsibility not only to engage their community in the pursuit of academic skills but to promote an attitude of life-long learning and thus keep the light alive in children’s eyes.”

Gillian McAuliffe

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