Collages and Contour Portraits

 My seventh graders have been struggling to display positive behaviors during Art (and every other subject at my school). Every once in a while, you teach a group of students that is just really, really difficult. I have no explanation for it. . .And, I’m on year two of this particular group. Individually, they are an awesome group of kids (whom I love), but collectively they can really make my eye twitch. Like, a lot. Oh, well, there is also the fact that my seventh grade class sizes are 42 students and 43 students, respectively (think that might contribute?!).

Since there have been so many seventh grade hallway fights and incidences of inappropriate touch (you can only imagine what I can’t write about!), I’ve taken to running a really tight, specific, ship during my seventh grade Art block. It isn’t really my teaching style to be so draconian, but I have to be able to keep everyone safe too. The students come in, sit down, and they do not leave their seats until I dismiss them.  Every material they need is provided to them, and clean-up consists of what they can do from their seat. It makes for a lot more more, planning, and prep for me. . .But, it is soo worth it to have a productive and safe seventh grade block.

As such, I’ve had to change quite a few of the planned lessons for this year. This particular project was a mash up of “what can they do from their seat,” and “what random stuff can I use in the supply closet?” My students have been begging to paint, so I threw together this little project to give them a taste of everything. Also, I wanted them to focus on honing their drawing skills (I like to introduce realism-based drawing skills via the grid-drawing method), but I didn’t want to spend three days on drawing grids (you know it happens). I made up a quick little trick to avoid drawing grids. woot! Oh, also, the beginning collage part of this project is inspired by this project from That Artist Woman (read her blog now!).

Materials required:
-clear overhead transparencies (remember those?)
-permanent markers
-white copy paper
-leftover pieces of matboard that are too small to use for mats
-old magazines
-gesso (I had an old can, but also made a mix of white tempera/glue/water when I ran out)
-4″ x 6″ black and white photos of student faces

The dry materials needed, yo.

Step 1:
Take a picture of each student’s face. Print out 4″ x 6″ on copy paper. Print out a 4″x6″ rectangle 0.5″ grid for each student on white paper (you can get 2 per page, I also lightened the gird a lot for the white paper print-out). Print out a 4″x6″ grid on clear transparency for each student (you can get 2 per page). You will need all of this later.

Step 2:
Students cut out images from magazines that they liked, represented them, and/or spoke to them in some manner and glued them to their board.

Step 3:
Students coated their collaged board with a thin coat of gesso.

Step 4:
Students painted a gradient with cake tempera. I had my choose between yellow-red or blue-purple.

It makes more sense when you see a picture, yes?

Step 5:
Students lined up their clear transparency grid on top of their picture print-out. Students used the “grid-method” to draw their face onto their white grid paper.

Step 6:
Students trace faces with permanent marker.

Step 7:
Students cut out faces.

Step 8.
Students glued faces to dried board.

Step 9:
Students cut out the letters of their first name from magazines, and glued to board.

My students got very serious about their drawings once they realized that 1) they had to draw themselves, and 2) I told them I was going to “hang up every single one!” (but, no, not really).

7 thoughts on “Collages and Contour Portraits”

  1. 42/43 students in one class!?! Yeah, I would say that would be a contributing factor to misbehavior and eye twitching!!! I'm guessing there is no student /teacher ratio limits? I had a 5th grade years ago with 30 students and I thought that was overwhelming! My thoughts go out to you!

  2. Holy crap, 42 7th graders?!?! You are a saint, Amy! This is a great interpretation of the grid method. One question: how exactly did you use the gesso? To adhere the magazine images? If it got painted over the images didn't it block them out? Am I confused?Heck, while I'm here… Another question – curious how you set up the paint with everyone in seats. You had to do all the brush washing, right? How did you keep the kids from getting into the other set of colors?I repeat – you are a saint! And your kids' work is fabulous. I love Cyrus' lovely drawing in particular!

  3. I love how personal all of your projects are. You really have a knack for authenticity and connecting art to student's real-world experiences. I teach a similar population and I am always inspired by your creative projects! Your students are so lucky to have the opportinity to make such meaningful and relative work. 🙂 –Mollie at

  4. Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone. Phyl, I'm sorry I'm so late to respond. I only had “leftover” amount of gesso, so I watered it down. It made for a “milky” application, which is why you are able to still see the magazine images through the gesso application. And, yeah, I'm kinda partial to Cyrus's work too!

  5. How I set up painting in seats:each table had a tray of cake tempera, water cup, brushes, and a small cup of watered gessoAt the end, assigned table captains, brought the watercups to me and I washed all the brushes (you know how fast you get at brush washing, it is so crazy!). I cleaned up the paint and gesso after they were gone. It makes for waay more work for me, but the trade off is worth it.

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