Let’s Get Started


A sense of self, where does it start? Does it begin in the mirror or the mind? We look into the faces of others each and every day. We identify them by their physicality and recognize someone when we “see” them. A question we must ask though is, do we really “SEE” them? This lesson introduces students to what it means to carefully examine the lines and shapes of faces, and the details that differentiate them through a pencil/charcoal drawing.

Self portraits are sometimes a cause of anxiety, as students know what they “should” look like. Take time to make sure that this lesson is more about fun, detail and line, more than complete accuracy.


Students will be instructed a few days before the planned lesson that they are going to be doing a self-portrait. They will be encouraged to draw from a reflection in mirrors that will be supplied, however, if they do not feel comfortable, they can use a portrait from home. This will allow for time to ensure all students that wish to, have the image for class. As the teacher, a few images from magazines can be brought in just in case and extra mirrors need to be on hand.


Note:  Have the example image of Miller Gore Britain’s painting on display so that a discussion can begin on the concept of portraiture, where a picture of a person is created.

  1. For this particular portraiture lesson, the central focus will be on detail and shapes. Since it is to be done in pencil and charcoal, advise students not to have too many background details. There can be a few, but they should be limited and not done in colour as the related focus is on line and what they show.
  2. The teacher can start by showing the class different ‘lines’ and how they work. Thick lines, thin lines, squiggly ‘happy’ lines, jagged ‘angry’ lines, flowing ‘happy’ lines, etc. As the teacher ask what types of lines they see in Miller Gore Brittain’s painting Jennifer.
  3. Students will be instructed to draw a variety of lines based on the emotions/feelings that the teacher tells them. (For example: Can you show me what a HAPPY line looks like?)
  4. After talking to the class about lines, take this time to hand out paper and pencils to all students. Ask them to wait until everyone has their supplies before they begin.  Explain to the students that they can use pencil or conte; it is up to them. To add variety allow students to switch back and forth so as to try both materials.
  5. Using a pencil, instruct students to quickly sketch out general placement of prominent lines or shapes in their image. (This can be as simple as the placement of their object on the page to give borders and outlines)
  6. Once students have the basic drawings done, tell them to start adding details. Ask them to look at the shapes of their eyes: are they circles? Ovals? Cat eyes? What is the shape of their mouth, round? Slanted up? Slanted down? Is one lip shaped differently then the other? Where are their ears? The middle of their head? Slightly higher? Slightly lower? It’s the details that help us identify others around us and this is their opportunity to show these differences.
  7. For students using the mirror: Try to keep looking back into the mirror at the beginning for 10 seconds trying to look at all the different details.
  8. Ask them while they are looking, what makes them unique/special? Once they have started drawing, tell them to look back into the mirror to make sure that they are drawing the right shapes.
  9. Tell them to keep the mirror and paper for drawing close together for ease of drawing.
  10. For students using a photograph: Before the class begins, tape the photograph to either the desk or the corner of the student’s paper so that they do not have to keep picking it up. This also helps prevent the pictures from getting too dirty. Ask the students to glance back and forth at the picture continually so as to try and get the details.
  11. Students will be encouraged to add as many details as they can possibly can by really looking at their mirror image or picture and focusing on lines in detail. For students who have completed their assignment they can switch images using one the teacher provided, or try to draw a friend who is still in the room.
  12. Students will be encouraged to participate in a sharing circle when everyone has completed their drawings. An informal session will take a certain amount of pressure off students.
  13. This type of activity will produce varied results. There will be some students who draw a circle with two circle eyes, a line for a nose and a line for the mouth. At the same time, there will be students who surprise you with the accuracy and details they add. Be sure to let students know that all of their drawings are just as amazing and unique as they are and to be proud of their work as artists.

Tips and Tricks

Strength – Lines need to be done lightly as the harder they press, the harder it will be to erase. Make sure to tell the students this important part, as younger students tend to press relatively hard when using pencil.

Also advise that have hard lines advance and soft lines recede in an image and they can use this technique the add detail in their image.