Sunday, January 2, 2011

Self-Portraits in the style of Jean Dubuffet

Earlier this year, I wanted something new to get across the differences in directional LINE (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) for my third graders. In the past, I used the many wonderful works of Mondrian to teach horizontal & vertical lines but as much as I LOVE the results, I was ready for a change.

I was reading through my weekly email from Art Knowledge News when I ran across an example of the work of Jean Dubuffet. His work intrigued me and his self-portrait had just what I needed!

The materials for this project are simple: 12"x18" white drawing paper, pencil and eraser along with colored markers. It's a lengthy project - at least for me as I have 45 min. classes held once a week. But the results were wonderful!

To start the project, I created a Keynote presentation/slideshow of Dubuffet's work. We discussed his use of LINE (straight, curve, angle, broken), SHAPE (organic, geometric) and COLOR (predominately black and white with a few other colors).

Following the intro discussion, we began the self-portrait using pencil. Students were instructed to draw a large oval shape with curve lines to designate neck and shoulders. To ensure that the head size was large enough for the detail work to come, I checked each drawing closely at this stage and had the students make size adjustments where needed. Next up was basic portrait proportions while referring to Dubuffet's style. So the eye, nose, mouth shapes were similar to his while reflecting the student's own facial features. Hairstyles were added along with a personal clothing/shirt choice.

Next up - using line, students divided the open SPACE to show Dubuffet's style once again. Watch closely at this point - most got carried away and needed some time for erasing.

When the pencil drawing has been assessed and corrections made, students traced all pencil lines with a black marker.

FINALLY we got to the best part: COLOR!! Following Dubuffet's example, my kids chose a limited palette - adding only 3 colors to the black (marker) and white (paper). At least that was my direction but, as usual, some got carried away and used just about all the colors in front of them! Next time, I'll eliminate the temptation so they only have their 3 color choices in front of them.

In addition to using those directional lines, they also had to BALANCE the striped areas with both solid and white spaces to show UNITY throughout their work as did Dubuffet. This was the hardest part for 3rd graders - next time we'll slow down and spend some time clarifying and modeling correct balance...

Once the drawing is complete, it's cut out and glued to a black 12"x18" background.
We packed a lot into this project and the kids were quite proud of their work when all was said and done!

As usual, students added their own unique twists to the requirements (in spite of my specific directions to the contrary, in some cases) and I loved the results (in most cases). They've given me some new ideas for next time around...There were enough excellent successes to completely fill our office bulletin board. This project is definitely a keeper!!!


  1. These are awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  2. these look great. a lot of personality comes out in each of them!

  3. Great idea and very different. Thanks for sharing this post. :)

  4. Would you mind sharing your presentation?


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