Tessellation Self Portraits: 7th Grade

Image“Are we to paint what’s on the face, inside of the face, or what’s behind it?” -Pablo Picasso

I try to teach at least one self-portrait project with each group of children every year. Some people think of the creation of self-portraits as one huge psychology experiment….how do people truly view themselves?  I am more interested in self-portraits from a developmental stand point, though. If I asked a student to paint a still-life of an apple every year from kindergarten until 8th grade, we would be able to witness how that student’s technical skills have grown and how his or her perception of an apple has expanded.  It has little to do with the apple itself.

7th graders started off their self-portrait lesson by learning about Dutch artist, MC Escher. Students tend to enjoy learning about MC Escher because of his mathematical, puzzle-like approach to art that is full of optical illusions.Image

The way Escher’s tessellations fit together are pleasing to the eye and have a sense of ease about them. As 7th grader began forming their own, they quickly realized tessellations are more tedious than they look.

Students made tessellations by folding, measuring, and cutting the edges of a square shaped index card. The began the tessellating process by shifting their little puzzle piece horizontally along the bottom of their page. Once they completed their first row, they moved up and continued their design. If all of their tessellations connected, they knew they were doing a good job.ImageImage

Once their papers were filled with their tessellation designs, each student selected a color scheme of 2-3 colors. Students began painting in their tessellations in a checkerboard like fashion.ImageImage


Students quickly realized they were in for a lot more work if they made their original tessellation template detailed and intricate.  I reminded them that they were the ones who had decided to cut out the intricate designs on their original tessellations, and they laughed. Their hard work paid off, though. The intricate tessellation designs ended up adding a lot of interest to their final pieces!

Once these were painted, students spent a day with the mobile lab. I took a photograph of each student and uploaded it to a website, where students were able to drag their images to the screen and edit in a photo-shop program. I taught students how to alter the exposure in their faces by playing with shadows, highlights, brightness, and contrast. Students edited their photos by using the “Warhol” effect and substituted their natural colors with 2 saturated colors (complementary or tertiary) from the color wheel. They ended up looking like this:

Image 7th graders finished editing and saving their photographs and printed them off in color. Students modge-podged them onto their dried tessellation backgrounds so they were securely attached.


Once students had secured their photoshopped self-portraits onto their backgrounds, I took a moment to discuss the term “integration.” Students had to integrate their self-portraits into their work of art by painting over their pictures and bringing in elements from their background into the foreground.  I told students to use their self portraits as a guide to locating shadows and highlights in their faces. 7th graders mixed saturated colors and painted another level of detail on top of their pictures. Some students outlined features of their face to tie it all together while others painted over areas with a loose impressionist style. Their artwork really started transforming and coming alive.Image



There are a few portraits missing from our group- these were either “almost done” at the time or drying in the drying rack. They are ALL awesome. Great work, 7th Grade!

-Mrs. Heinlein

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