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Watercolor Self-Portraits Lesson Plan

Lesson Plans

Drawing and painting the human face can present challenges to beginning students of art. The proportions are generally the biggest hindrance to successful portraits. This project will allow students to explore facial proportion, practice working in transparent watercolor, and produce a large, colorful, self-expressive portrait of themselves.


Grade Levels

High School/Beginning Art


Time Required

One to two weeks (5 – 10 class sessions)


Lesson Objectives

  • To learn the proper proportions of facial features necessary to create a portrait.
  • To enhance skills in the use of transparent watercolor.
  • To use color to convey expression and emotion.



If using instant photos, tightly frame the student's face as they look straight into the camera. A front facing (full-face) photo will work much better for the following rules of proportion.

  1. Sketch a large, slightly egg-shaped oval with the small side toward the bottom of the page. Leave only enough room below the oval to later add the neck and shoulders. Leave room at the top of the paper for hair.
  2. Draw a vertical line through the center of the oval. This is the center line.
  3. Draw a horizontal line halfway between the top and bottom of the oval. This is the eye line.
  4. Draw a horizontal line halfway between the eye line and the bottom of the oval. This is the nose line.
  5. Draw a horizontal line one-third of the distance below the nose line and the bottom of the oval. This is the mouth line.
  6. The top of the ear on each side of the head is even with the eye line.
  7. The bottom of the ears are even with the nose line.

After examining the photo, the students will begin to draw the lines that will form their self-portrait. Have them include areas where shadows appear. Point out to them that shadows form shapes and that shadows aren't black. Since the portrait will be finished with transparent watercolor, lines should not be too dark.



  1. Each finished portrait should demonstrate facial proportion as described in the lesson.
  2. Watercolor technique should be appropriate to the grade and ability level of the student.
  3. Judge whether the student has attempted to do more than the basic exercise as described in the lesson in areas like color, expression, and composition.


Extended Lesson

The Eyes

  • Carefully study the photo. Concentrate on the shapes formed by the various parts. For example, the eyes do not form horizontal ovals. They are more opposing curves, one defining the top of the eye and the other giving shape to the bottom.
  • The center of the iris is above the corners of the mouth.
  • The iris is half the width of the eye.
  • The tear duct is rounded and does not come to a point.
  • The lower eye lid disappears behind the upper.
  • Wrinkles are created when the eyes are open.
  • The width of the eye is the same as the space between the eyes.
  • Eye lashes usually are not seen until the outside edge of the upper eye lid.


The Nose

  • The bridge of the nose goes to the eye brow.
  • Nostrils are narrower than the tip of the nose.


The Lips

  • The upper lip is usually narrower than the lower.
  • The line separating the lips is never straight.


The Hair

  • The hair never lays flat against the head.
  • Everyone's hair is different. Hair is shiny, straight, curly, long, short, and comes in colors.


The Neck

  • The neck begins at the point where the bottom of the ear joins the side of the head, at the bottom of the ear lobes.
  • The neck may curve slightly as it joins the shoulders.


The Jaw

  • The lower jaw and chin will not always form a perfectly curved line.
  • The jaw line begins slightly below the ear lobes and can be angular or softly curved.
  • The chin line can be smooth, nearly pointed, or it may have a slight negative curve at the bottom.


Self Portraits Lesson Plan




1. 18" × 24" Watercolor Papers or all-purpose white Drawing Papers and Surfaces.

Drawing Paper

2. Watercolor Brushes


3. Transparent Watercolors


4. School photos of each student or "instant" photo portraits produced in class.



Self Portrait



Basic Proportions


Sample Preparatory Sketch

Sample Preparatory Sketch



Info and Ideas  >  2003 Lesson Plans

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