Emotive Self Portrait Ideation Process - Planning Backwards

Name of Project:  Emotive Self Portraits Ideation

Grade Level or Age of Participant: 9th – 12th Grade

School, Teacher and Classroom: Kevan Nitzberg, Anoka High School, MN

MCAD Teaching Artist:  Kacey Medenwaldt, Graphic Design Major

Overview of Project

This project focuses on the emotive self-portrait. Prior to choosing a focus for their paintings students will experiment with different emotions in four thumbnail sketches on a 12” x 12” Strathmore sketch paper using a variety of materials to investigate the effects of color, line, shape, texture, value and the ability of these elements of design to create emotion or feeling in a sketch.  

“Big Ideas”/ Essential QUESTION (s)

How do artists express a variety of emotions using elements and principles of art and design? 

How does application of a material or technique affect the emotional reading of an image?

What gives a portrait emotion or a window into psychological attitude of the subject? 

Curricular Link / Standards - Grade 9-12 

  1. Artistic Foundations 2.1. – Demonstrate knowledge of the foundations of the arts area – Analyze how the elements of visual art including color, line, shape, value, form, texture and space; and principles such as repetition, pattern, emphasis, contrast and balance are combined to communicate meaning in the creation of, presentation of, or response to visual artworks.

  2. Artistic Foundations 2.1. – Demonstrate knowledge and use of the technical skills of the art form, integrating technology when necessary – Integrate the characteristics of the tools, materials and techniques of a selected media in original artworks to support artistic purposes.

  3. Artistic Process: Create or Make – 1. Create or make in a variety of contexts in the arts area using the artistic foundations – 1. Create a single, complex artwork or multiple artworks to express ideas.2. Revise artworks based on artistic intent and using multiple sources of critique and feedback.

Student Outcome Objectives, students will:

  1. Express emotions in their artwork through visual language.

  2. Use thumbnails sketches to brainstorm a variety of idea, concepts and techniques.

  3. Experiment with alternative medium

Prior Knowledge

Students must have had experience creating a self-portrait.

Lesson Preparation Timeline

Write Planning Backward Lesson Plan and submit to LMI for response. Review edits and revise as necessary.

Prepare materials

Teach Class

Evaluate presentation

Examples of Artwork for Student Image Presentation

Francesca Woodman, Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch, Adrian Piper, Pablo Picasso, Kehinde Wiley, Ellen Gallagher, Zeng Fanzhi, and Alice Neal.

Additional Resources











Students will 

  1. complete four thumbnails sketches

  2. investigated four different ways to create emotion in a self-portrait

  3. experimented with four different methods and, or materials

  4. create ideation thumbnails that will prepare them to move forward with ideas, techniques and materials for an Emotive Self Portrait assignment.


Colored Pencils




Sketch Paper 12” x 12”





Learning Activities and Timing

1. Prep Time – setting up the slideshow (5 mn)

2. Example Slideshow  - Slideshow with present images from famous artists and their will be discussion about the emotion in their self-portraits. (10-15 mn)

3. Directions – Explanation on what the thumbnails should consist and experiment (5 mn)

4. Work Time (25 mn)

5. Share / present – Students will then lay out their thumbnails out on the tables, then everyone will walk around and observe. Students point out the thumbnails that feel emotive and discuss why. We will only get through two or three.

Teaching Artist Reflection

Students may have a hard time thinking of four emotions that they would like to experiment with and may need prompts.

Some students may not find this beneficial to them and their project. The benefit to the ideation process will need to be explained before starting.

This project is a good transition into Emotive Self Portrait painting projects.

Selected should be allowed to give permission for their portraits or ideation to be shared outside of the classroom.

During the sharing process at the end of the class lesson students discuss  images that they were uncertain of when they began the thumbnail sketches.