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Great American Portraits Lesson Plan

Author: Jenny Davis

Year: 2015

Artform: Visual Art

Subjects: Social Studies

Grade: 5th

Duration: 3 - 4 Weeks

Overview: Students will create a gray scale painting of a famous Great American, they will learn and use start up skills, like tracing to start, and blocking in.

Standards and Objectives

Explore a variety of art materials while learning new techniques and processes.

a. Simplify the beginning of a work of art, using start-up skills; e.g., blocking-in, gesture drawing, stick figures.
  • Identify explorers who came to the Americas and the nations they represented.
  • Analyze contributions of American Indian people to the colonial settlements.
  • Profile citizens who rose to greatness as leaders. Identify the key ideas, events, and leaders of the Civil War using primary sources.
  • Identify leaders of social and political movements.
Students will…
  • Identify and research a Great American
  • Create a Gray Scale Portrait of their Great American to be displayed during their singing performance
  • Learn start up drawing skills like using carbon paper to trace and get a good likeness.
  • Learn painting skills like using blocking in to start, and how to create texture



  1. Students will have already selected their Great American to Research and create their portrait in class with their teacher.
  2. Discuss the history of the portrait, and self portrait showing examples by famous artists
  3. Discuss why some students images they will be working from are photographs and others are portraits by artists. Invention of the camera.


  1. Demonstrate different methods of starting a portrait and what start up tricks or skills artist use and why.
  2. Show how to use the carbon paper to being with a tracing.
  3. Demonstrate blocking in the largest spaces first- I recommend working on the face last.
  4. Demonstrate how to choose the appropriate value, starting with darkest places and lightest places, allowing students to make value changes only on background or clothing.
  5. Demonstrate how to block in on a face, all features have a light side and a dark side.
  6. Demonstrate adding texture and finishing off the eyes with a highlight.


  1. Students will begin by taping their large photograph or xerox copy image of their Great American to a heavy weight white paper.
  2. Sandwich in the carbon paper between two papers and start tracing the image on top until you have your transferred image onto the white paper below.
  3. Starting with the darkest or lightest value, begin painting in the large sections of the painting, looking carefully at the photograph for the shapes of shadows and values.
  4. Fill in the other values until the whole painting has the basic values blocked in.
  5. Begin working on the face to add detail and shadow, every feature has a light and a dark side, choose values accordingly.
  6. Finish off portrait by add at least one place with a implied texture, hair or clothing. Don’t forget to add a highlight in the eyes.


Discuss how well we did in creating accurate portraits, follow up questions...

  • When would it be important to make a portrait very accurate?
  • When would it be okay to use your artistic license and interpretation?

Students will fill out Final checklist and reflection paper and place on back of portrait.


Students will display artwork during their singing performance, and follow up with writing a report about their researched Great American.
  • Are Portraits Important?
  • How can I create an Accurate Portrait of a great American?
  • What start up skills can help me be more successful?
Scaffolded demonstration - Teacher aided if needed.
  • Blocking in
  • Tracing start up strategy
  • Implied Texture
  • Gray Scale
  • Portrait/Self portrait
  • How have portrait artists been influential in history?
  • How does your portrait reflect what you know about your Great American?
Informal ongoing assessment checklist and reflection paper to be filled out by student.

Report about Great American to be assigned and assessed by home room teacher.


  • Large Photos of Great Americans (students have already selected who they are researching)
  • Paper
  • Carbon Paper
  • Pencils
  • Acrylic paint (pre-mixed into 6-7 grayscale values)
  • Paper Plates
  • Water Bowls
  • Paper Towels
  • Paintbrushes