Winter Break Assignments – 3 Expressive Portraits

Create 3 expressive Portraits over Winter Break

General Requirements for all 3 portraits:

•You should spend a minimum of 4 hours on each piece. 

•Use a different media on each portrait 

•Each must have some kind of background- DO NOT LEAVE IT EMPTY or just do a simple gradient/fade; that’s so Advanced Art… Instead, fill the area around the head/body with something that enhances the portrait: a texture (like wood grain or marble) or patterns (like zentangles), symbols (like birds or insects), architectural elements (like a doorway or a bridge), or anything else that helps the piece be more interesting

•All must be from chest up with the face being the focal point with an emphasis on expression. More or less body showing is risky for a variety of reasons so if you want to crop in tight or show more of the figure, check with me first.

•Minimum size: 9”x12”, Maximum size 18” x 24”, but each can be a different size

•Only one can be black & white (either charcoal, graphite, pen & ink)

 •One portrait should be monochromatic (one color mixed with black and white but be careful not to mix the color with grey!).

Portrait #1- The Artist’s Selfie:  


-Set up a large Mirror so that you can see yourself as you draw.  

-You can include the edge of the mirror in the drawing, as well as your drawing board, pencil in your hand, etc.

 -When you draw your face, be sure to “make a face” as you draw it, so that it is expressive- not static!

Here are some examples by my AP Studio Art students:  

Here are some examples by other AP artists and old masters:

Portrait #2-  Over 60 or under 6:  

-Use friends or family member(s) as models

Here are some examples of the very young drawn by my AP Studio Art students: 

Because kids can be so difficult to draw, here’s a few tutorials on drawing children:

Here are some examples of older people drawn by my AP Studio Art students:

Portrait #3- Free Choice!

The last portrait is your choice.  Here are several options but feel free to come up with your own ideas!

• Through the Looking Glass: A reflective self-portrait (NEW FOR 2013!)

-Draw a person reflected in a mirror or other reflective object or through glass.

-Consider representing how others might perceive that person.

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students (It’s a new option so I’ve only got 1 so far, thanks Nate!)

•Divided or Fragmented Face:

 -Divide a face into different sections and render each in a different style, color scheme, technique, etc. 

-Consider using Exaggeration/ Distortion/ Overlapping/ Fragmentation

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students:

•Personality Mask(s):  

 -One portrait that portrays the “you” that you present to authority figures such as parents or teachers

 -One portrait that represents the “real you”; the person that only a few of your closest friends may see

 -One portrait that show’s who you wish to be in the future, or that shows a different side of your personality


*If all three faces are included in one piece, it only counts as 1 portrait- you’d still have 2 more to make.

 Some Examples of Personality Masks created by my AP Studio Art students:

More examples of options & requirements (see requirements list at top):

• I strongly recommend using exaggerated lighting with high contrast shadows and highlights. Have the light coming from below or the side.

Some Examples of Extreme lighting by my AP Studio Art students:

•Consider using objects as symbols or incorporating props or accessories such as headphones, hats, books, umbrellas, etc.

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students:



•Consider WHERE the person is, choose an interesting physical environment or you could create an environment to fill up the negative space. Consider adding elements in the background that reflect the mood or personality of the model.

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students:


•Consider using clothing or makeup to help express personal identity.

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students (the first 11 pieces are all by my student, Michelle, of her sister who wore a variety of costumes and makeup applications):

•Consider using an unusual point of view or angle. There is NOTHING more boring than a symmetrical view of some one looking blankly into the camera. Get CREATIVE with angle that your shoot from, especially if your model isn’t very expressive.

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students:

•Try to show an extreme emotion through exaggerated facial expression. This isn’t easy but if you take lots of photos, you might catch the perfect expression.

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students:



• Be creative with your drawing surface by using something other than paper or canvas. Combine found materials, newspaper, cardboard, or whatever (Chelsea used playing cards and puzzle pieces!) to invent  a surface on which to draw or paint. Or use a non-traditional medium such as coffee or tea.

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students:


•Consider using unnatural colors, contrasting colors or exaggerated colors. Draw on colored paper (or black paper) and use the craziest colors at your disposal. However, remember that color has VALUE so use it to create contrast or it’ll just look weird.

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students:

•Remember only ONE of your three portraits can be in Black & white. I know many of you like working in black and white and sometimes use it too often. I’m setting  a limit here because you NEED color in the breadth section of your portfolio. You don’t have to have a black and white portrait at all if you don’t want to do so but if you love black and white, you’re limited to only 1. sorry…

Here are some Black & White examples by my AP Studio Art students:




•One of your three portraits MUST be Monochromatic. Why? You need to learn how to use color and how color has value. This means more than just using black and white media on a piece of colored pastel paper (not acceptable, btw…). I want you to experience how tints and shades of just color can create a portrait with a full range of values. The results can be stunning and will ultimately give you a great understanding of how to use color in future pieces. So, chose a color then find or mix 3 darker than shades of that color and another 3 lighter tints of that color and get to it! Oh, and you can use some black & white too, but don’t over do it.

Some Monochromatic Examples by my AP Studio Art students:


Varsity Option:

Be creative and go crazy… But be sure it’s still a “portrait’ but the rest is up to you. 

Some examples by my AP Studio Art students:



Drawing a hand in the portrait will be considered for extra credit IF the hand is well drawn. Awkward looking hands will not help you.

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students:



You may choose to have more than one person, but this will still only count as 1 piece- you’d still have 2 more pieces to make. However, extra credit will be considered IF both people are well rendered.

Some Examples by my AP Studio Art students:


Need more help?

Here are some tutorials that break down how to draw portraits:

Great portraiture video:

Conan O’ Brien as seen by artist John Kascht

In this film “Funny Bones” artist John Kascht gives us a behind the scenes look at the creation of his portrait of Conan O’ Brien, explaining his artistic process and approach to caricature.