Portrait Collage Lesson Plan
based on I Only Like What I Like and Love Me Later by Julie Baer
A collage portrait of someone student “only likes.”
Students should bring in a photo of someone or something dear to them: a family member, pet, friend, teacher, tree, etc., to use as a reference for their portrait.
- Magazines (pre-cut color swatches and sort into boxes)
- glue stick for every student (make sure it’s moist and complete)
- colored card stock or construction paper
- scissors for every student
Pre-cut color swatches from magazines and sort into separate boxes of each color. Cut the colored swatches out of their original imagery contexts; they should exist solely as colored pieces of paper. If there will be more than one table of students, place a full set of boxes on each work table to save time and aid progress.
- Collage: using cut-up or torn paper (or other materials) instead of paint to make a painting
- Reference: the image students look at and work from to create their portrait
- Subject: the person in the photo
- Profile: sideways view
- Three-quarters view: between a head-on and a profile view.
- Composition: the arrangement of shapes to fill the entire picture plane
- Spatial relationship: “this to this to this,” or how an eye lines up to the top of the ear, etc.
- Negative space: the space around the image extending to the edge of the picture plane
- Memorial, homage: a record of remembering someone with love, paying tribute to someone
- 1. Show students examples of portraits from art history, including the Mona Lisa. (Show collage portraits from I Only Like What I Like.)
- 2. Show simple portrait composition “templates,” explaining about negative space and shape awareness. Show how faces are naturally divided up, both adults’ (1/3, 1/3, 1/3)and children’s (1/2, 1/4, 1/4). Explain different views: head on, three-quarters, profile. Portraits are really very simple, and come in just a few basic formats. For today we are going to make simple compositions, just the head and maybe shoulders and upper chest.
- 3. Students choose background card stock color.
- 4. Students look closely at their reference photograph. Mentally arrange the composition they want to make.
- 5. Students choose a piece of collage paper and cut a big oval shape for the head to begin. The cutting does not have to be perfect. The color does not have to be exact.
- 6. Demonstrate the method of adhering pieces of paper to background: rubbing glue stick directly onto background, slapping the paper down, working quickly. Working quickly helps students get over inhibitions. Make sure the paper is all glued down. (Any excess glue will dry and disappear, so don’t worry about messiness. The glue washes off hands.) The more pieces of paper adhered, the richer and more interesting the product. As portraits develop, new pieces of paper will be adhered on top of other pieces of paper. The goal is to ultimately lose the sense of individual pieces of paper, but for the pieces to build up into a texture. This is called “transcending the medium.”
- 7. Students cut next large basic shape – body, hair, etc. - and adhere it. The basic composition is now set.
- 8. Students squint at photo and see what part of face is lightest in tone. Maybe one side is in the sun and the other is in shadow. Students look for a good color and tone of collage paper and cut it into the basic shape, and before gluing it on, again look closely at their reference. Where exactly does that light shape go on their picture? They should look back and forth between the reference and their picture and figure out how far up, down, right, left, and then glue it on. Next they should look again at reference and see what part is darkest in tone, and cut a piece of paper, go back to the reference, figure out where it should go, and glue it on. Then look at the reference for the in-between light and dark tones, and one by one start hunting for the right colors to cut and glue. This is fast work. They should glue pieces on top of other pieces. Tell students not to ever worry about find the perfect pieces or cutting the perfect shape. The great thing about collage is that there is no right or wrong way, and you can always glue another piece of paper on top.
- 9. Students keep looking at their reference to determine what to cut and paste next, and where the piece should go in relation to the rest of the picture. We are not trying to make an identical image, but we are using the photo as reference to see where the eyes are in relation to the nose, how much space the forehead takes up, where the ears are in relation to the eyes. The more you look at your reference, the more you learn, and the better your portrait will look to you.
- 10. When students have got the basic composition going, they can keep developing it, collaging on top, adding details, adding images, fine-tuning. They can work into the negative space, dividing up the big shape into smaller shapes. They can add details into the body and clothes: stripes on the shirt, buttons, a logo on the t-shirt.
- 11. As a visual exercise, they should use at least four different versions of a color, e.g., if a shirt is blue, have students find different blues to build up a rich blue shirt. They will feel gratified, because it will be very beautiful immediately.
- 12. Encourage the students to be as crazy and “weird” as they want. You might want to show them some Picasso faces; that often works!
- 13. As portraits develop, help students continue to compare reference and portrait: point out relationship of features, e.g. space between hairline and eyebrow in photo and how it compares with that of their work. Help students begin to habitually perceive spatial relationships.
- 14. Ask students to think about their subject. Would it feel meaningful to add words to the picture? Do any words pop into their minds: the punch line of a joke, a line of a song, the subject’s name? Words are powerful reminders of people. They can cut ready made letters from magazine ads or they can cut out their own letters, or hand-write words with paint or marker. They can also add things into their composition that are meaningful to the subject: a butterfly, a bird, a tree, a bicycle.
Note: If a student arrives without a reference picture, a quick interview will produce some favorite things for a subject. Then find a photograph or drawing in a book for the student to “work from.” Students can by all means work from memory, but having a concrete reference sometimes reduces down-time and daydreaming.