Let’s Get Started


Self-portrait is a difficult subject to portray. It’s hard to get the image to look “just right”. With this activity students create a self-portrait but have the freedom to use mixed media to help with personal expression. Having a variety of paint, pencil, and collage on Mylar instead of Bristol board also gives students the opportunity to work with a new material. Mylar is a type of translucent plastic that comes in sheets and is exciting for students to draw on as it creates unique effects that are not always possible on paper.


The teacher will need to have many different media available for drawing in a selected area. There should be at least 3 of the following materials: paint, ink, pencil, marker, oil pastel, paper (for collage), pen, chalk pastel, conte, vine charcoal. Students will also be told a few days before to bring in a self-portrait so that they have time to collect the necessary photos. The teacher also needs to have a few random photos from magazines available on hand in case some students do not have a self-portrait or forget to bring one in.


Note:  Have the example image of Guy Duguay’s piece 5 portraits d’artiste: Marc Paulin on display for the class.

  1. Students will discuss that in this print the subject is clear and visible, while at the same time is full of colour and bold lines. The teacher can ask the students what they think about the image. Have they seen images similar to that before? Does it remind them of comics? Or cartoons? Another question that can be addressed: who do they think the person in the image is? Are they happy or sad? Why or why not? A good discussion can come from these questions.
  2. Following the short discussion, students will be told that they are going to create their own self-portrait using a range of different materials. They will be told to use an image of themselves as guidance and to refer to it regularly as they attempt to recreate the image, only with heightened colour and line.
  3. Students will be told to do some initial sketching using pencil as it can be erased, while once the paint or pastels are on the Mylar, it will not completely come off.
  4. The teacher will have an area set up before class where all materials are placed. This is where students will go to select their art materials and encourage them to try as many as possible. Try to limit them to 2 different materials at their desk at one specific time, or their desks may become chaotic, but the students will be encouraged to come and exchange those materials at any time.
  5. After the initial discussion period, students will also be allowed to select their drawing materials from the supply table. Students will be told that self-portraits are often about expression of feeling and thought, and for them to try to show feelings on the paper. This may influence their colour choices.
  6. For students who want to use collage materials: these students still need to sketch out the basic lines for their self portrait and fill in some of the main details, including eyes and mouth. Collage material can be used to add detail to the background by simply cutting construction paper into shapes and then using glue to attach it to the Mylar.
  7. For the students who want to work mostly in paint: this is when their paint trays can be handed out with their spectrum of colours (which varies depending on resources). Be sure to not use too much black as it over powers most colours very easily. The Mylar may also be distributed at this time by a student who is waiting to get their paint.
  8. Students will now be instructed to begin working. Students will be told to focus on the different types of marks that the different materials make on the paper. Are there certain marks that they like? Are there any that they don’t?
  9. Once students have completed their artwork they have the choice to display it from either side because the Mylar is slightly transparent. Sometimes the art is displayed uniquely by flipping it over and seeing it through the back of the sheet.
  10. For students who have completed their assignment, they can attempt to create a different self-portrait using materials different from those selected from the first piece.
  11. With this assignment, depending on age, it is very rare that a student will not have at least one painting completed. (Usually students K-2 finish more quickly then students 3-5)
  12. After all the portraits are complete (and dry if they used paint), students will hang up their work in the classroom. There can be a discussion period where other students try to guess the different materials used on the paintings. Students will be encouraged to discuss their peers’ work as it helps develop confidence and pride in their work.

Tips and Tricks

Mylar does not tear and can be bought in larger sheets to save financial resources and then cut into 8½ x 11 sheets for the students.