Students create a portrait of themselves using a wide range of materials.
This project was done in my beginning black-and-white photography class, comprised of students in grades nine through twelve. The first part of the assignment is to shoot a roll of action shots. I wanted the students to look for people of all ages engaged in activities such as running, jumping, biking and skateboarding. Before shooting the assignment, we discussed the use of a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and a slower speed to blur it.
The second part of the assignment is to decide on a background for the action figures. Some students used negatives from previous assignments for their backgrounds, such as line, texture or shape; others used their action shots for their backgrounds.
The backgrounds were printed first and dry mounted onto mat board. Then the action shots were printed. The size of some of the figures was manipulated to add interest to the composition. The figures were then cut out and layers of foam core board were glued to their backs, adding a three-dimensional quality to the photographic collage. Balancing the composition was stressed when the figures were glued to the background.
Two students were interpreting the still-life I had set up into the Cubist style, I overheard one bemoaning “Why can’t we draw realistically?” The other said he enjoyed the abstract style because he couldn’t draw. I decided to make the most of the students’ sense of design rather than their drawing skills.
This lesson forces them to look at arrangement and design in a different way rather than rely on visual accuracy. They learn to mentally distort the lines, textures, shapes, and colors of the objects and visually rearrange them. To help them, review the elements and principles of design and the innovations of Cubism, then I encourage them to incorporate at least three of the Cubist inventions in their sketches.
This is an inexpensive project. The backing comes from mat board scraps, the paper is from magazines and catalogs, I buy the white glue.
Students draw a series of sketches from still-lifes that I set up around the room. They may combine the parts of one sketch with another. A selected sketch is refined by using rulers, templates, and french curves, then enlarged onto cardboard using the graph method. Next, begin tearing or cutting shapes for the paper mosaic.
We discuss the following concepts: Multiple views combining and showing several views of an object at the same time; Transparency when one object is behind another, draw the full view of both so that one is seen through the other; Projection start drawing one object then interrupt or dissect that object by drawing another object, then finish the first elsewhere in the picture; Shifting Planes ‘bend’ an object that normally cannot be bent or shift parts of it around; Part for whole cutting through an object and drawing half of its shape; Marriage of contours the right edge of one shape becomes the left edge of another.
Concept: High School students grapple with questions of identity—Who am I? What will I become? Because of the introspective, identity-seeking nature of the adolescent, self-portraiture is the ideal vehicle for expression.
Goal: To create a portrait through collage using only colored papers and text pages from magazines.
Objectives: To master basic facial proportion and develop confidence in drawing portraits. To expand knowledge of design elements. To use a neutral palette and create subtle, contrasting areas of value. To think about light and shadow.
Procedure: Begin by setting up lights clipped to extra chairs placed at the sides of each student’s worktable. Focus the light on the sitting students to throw their faces into relief. Have students use mirrors propped up on their tables to begin lightly sketching the outline of their faces and features on bristol board, paying careful attention to areas of light and shadow. Next, the clipping and tearing begins! Using glue sticks, have them stick bits of paper down onto their sketches and carefully manipulate their placement so darker paper defines shadows, and lighter tones highlight areas. They delineate features through clipped words placed closely together.
Each student’s solution is unique. Faces might be built entirely of text with darker colored paper defining hair or clothing, or the text might be used for the background with solid or plainer paper for the features. Text printed on subtly tinted papers allows them to implement color into their portraits.
Evaluation: Did the students go beyond thinking of collage as applied color and value into a transforming tool of self-definition?
It all started with an article called “A Sticky Affair,” from the June 1978 issue of SchoolArts. It was about pasting pictures on cardboard, applying glue to areas to be preserved, and wiping the dried composition later with lacquer thinner. The fluid lifted off any ink not covered with a protective layer of hardened glue.
Students will need a sturdy support such as mat board, scissors, and white or clear glue in a squeeze bottle. Have them choose a theme and find pictures in magazines that go with their subject and color scheme. Can they use words and symbols as well as photos? Sure! Can they tear the edges of the pages instead of cutting them? Absolutely! (Sometimes the color of glossy, high-quality pages and covers does not lift off, so avoid them.) As the artists plan their collages, I encourage them to overlap their pieces to fill the background completely. I also suggest they balance their arrangement first and thoroughly glue it down later.
Now for the fun part: Squeeze a variety of lines and shapes of glue onto the collage. Students can outline or fill in existing shapes, or make glue squiggles. I explain the resist concept, but there may be a few students who forget that what they cover up will be saved. The glue will dry clear, like a “window” to what is underneath.
Finally, the best part: Use the resist technique on glued designs that have dried for a day or two. Give artists newspapers to spread over their desks, and pieces of cloth dampened with mineral spirits. Use odorless turpentine or thinner and good ventilation. Have them rub the collage until all the exposed inks are removed or lightened considerably. If they rub too vigorously, glue-pieces may pop off and edges may peel up. The most interesting works are created with interesting glue patterns.
Glue-resist collages are meaningful and memorable to young artists. Not bad for something over thirty years old!
A collage of your own photos of a single object becomes a guide for composing your drawing.
Since photography has been with us for over a hundred and fifty years, it’s surprising that there are still people who feel that it has no place in the making of art. This offers a exercise that uses photography as a tool for seeing and a means to a non-photographic end. This exercise is helpful for students who have never worked subjectively before, and it can ease you into an understanding of nonrepresentational imagery.
Photograph a single object from multiple perspectives. The selected subject might be anything familiar, but some of the most creative results have come photographing the figure. In the course of taking pictures, it is important to vary the scale and perspective as much as possible. After the photographs have been printed, create a collage, cutting and pasting your images into interesting compositions. The collage will be a guide for composing your drawing. Be playful with the distortions the collage will create of the subject.
The next step is to translate the collage into a drawing but not to copy it directly. The drawing should extend the random distortions and compositional dynamics of the collage. Eventually the collage should be put aside so that the drawing may begin to come alive on its own. Translating the photo collage into a drawing is an introduction to the possibilities of creating an image of a single subject with multiple perspectives and fractured spaces that challenge traditional ideas of perception.