Value Shading and Self Portraits

Value, as you all know, is deceptively easy to teach. On the one hands kids “get” that there are shadows and light areas appearing on what see. . . But, trying to get them to illustrate this understanding can be an epic struggle. As I’m now teaching Middle School students full time, I’ve had a very quick reminder of how they feel their art is “unsuccessful” unless there is a positive, cohesive (usually realistic), final product.
I started doing this variation on the value shading project a few years ago. I honestly can’t remember if I devised the idea or if I was inspired from somewhere. . .So, if you’ve been doing it for awhile too, feel free to share a link in the comments!
Students begin with learning about value and completing a value shading worksheet. During this time (or during the studio session for the previous project) I take a picture of their face. I print their faces in black and white on the printer. Each student receives his/her face image and uses a marker to outline all of the various different value areas on their face. Next, they are presented with one paint color cup, one white paint cup, and one black paint cup. Students must paint the values on their faces using only these three paint choices. I keep several copies of their faces on hand, because many of them rush through the first attempt (which ends up a mess) and want to try again.
The results are usually quite beautiful. . .And, because they were painting on top of a photograph (in essence), the end result, at the very least, appears humanoid. Which means, even my most insecure middle school students have a modicum of success. I’m not sure if this is the MOST student creative project. . .But, I have found that it sets an excellent foundation for value and enables me to introduce more complicated and creative painting concepts.
The lesson plan and value shading worksheet can be downloaded below. The worksheet includes images from two online sources, which are cited on the sheet. Please keep this in mind when you use it. You are welcome to use these items in a non-profit manner in your classroom but not for commercial reproduction.

4 thoughts on “Value Shading and Self Portraits”

  1. This seems like a great lesson for middle schoolers to gain confidence and demonstrate an understanding of value. What size do you print the pictures and on what kind of printer and paper? Do you paint directly on the copy? Also (new-ish teacher, sorry) what is the “sandwich method” for critique? Thank you and thanks for sharing your lessons!

  2. Sara- I print the images on regular copy paper on a jet printer. It works great! The sandwich method is when students follow this comment pattern in peer crit: one positive comment, one not-so-positive comment, and then one more positive comment. It is sometimes called the “Oreo” method but that term is a racial slur in some communities, so I prefer “sandwich.” I hope this helps!

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