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Every September, art students kick off the year by creating self-portraits. We look at Da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt for inspiration. We talk about symmetry, eye placement, and how to draw noses. The youngest students will start with a circle shape and jab dots in for eyes. Sometimes this circle will grow two stick legs instead of a neck. They enjoy using turquoise, fuchsia and yellow to color in their hair or mouth. They like to tell stories about the shapes they add all around themselves.

Older students look at each other’s work often. They giggle, erase, and experiment with mixing just the right amount of pink and orange to color their cheeks. They may even draw up crazy hairstyles to make their friends laugh. Some artists get lost in drawing their eyes perfectly and never find time to draw any other feature.

When May comes around, it is time to make our second self-portrait. Seasoned students take this project very seriously. They know it will hang side by side with the portrait they haven’t seen since the fall. They want to outdo themselves. We are always astounded when we finally see the difference between the old and new versions. What the artists have learned about proportions, color mixing, symmetry, and shadow are clear. They have added detail into their shirt collars, remembered their eyebrows, or made a profile of themselves as an extra challenge. Some things remain the same, like preferred colors, techniques for drawing ears, or how the smiles are so big.

It is exciting to witness the students’ creativity as it grows. We see how much they have learned about themselves, and how closely they have learned to study the details of their world. Every May, there is a new opportunity to demonstrate how they have improved and refined their presentation of those details. They become passionate in showing us how much they have grown.

Author: Jane Bleakley, Art Teacher

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