The purpose of this project is to create a self-portrait that expresses some important aspect or aspects of your personality and sense of self. Through this project you will also become more familiar with the ways in which contemporary artists have used non-traditional materials to create meaning in their artworks.

White roll paper
Lead and colored pencils
Oil pastels
Tempera or acrylic paint
Assorted materials brought by students
Computer and printer
Digital camera
Xerox machine

Reference Artists (See also Artists chapter)
Artists who make figurative sculptures with expressive poses:
John Ahearn, Camille Claudel, Duane Hanson, Luis Jiménez, Edmonia Lewis, Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, Loredo Taft

Artists who have made sculptures of non-traditional materials:
Josef Beuys, Andy Goldsworthy, David Hammons, Jeff Koons, Ana Mendieta, Meret Oppenheim, Marc Quinn, Miriam Schapiro, Tony Tasset

Show and Discuss Figurative Sculpture
Show slides of sculptures or bring in actual small sculptures or toy action figures.

What is a sculpture? Can the students name any famous sculptures? Are there any sculptures in the school? Are there any sculptures in the neighborhood? Are there any sculptures downtown in your city?

What is a figurative sculpture? What kinds of poses have students seen in figurative sculpture?

What are some of the reasons artists make figurative sculptures? Describe the emotions and/or narrative meaning conveyed by various poses in figurative sculpture. What materials are sculptures typically made of?

Show and Discuss Sculpture Materials
Show images of artwork by artists who have used non-traditional materials in their sculpting. Discuss the intended meaning of these works.

Create a list of materials not typically used in sculpture. One way to approach this is to ask students to compile a list of things found in a junkyard, a bedroom, a refrigerator, pants pockets, in a lake, at a factory, on a spaceship, on the moon, etc.

Collaborative learning works well for this phase of the project. Give small groups of students worksheets with various categories. Have them add items to the worksheet for 10 or 15 minutes and then have a whole classroom discussion. List items on the chalkboard, on big sheets of paper, or on the overhead. It works well for "Round 1" to have groups create categories. In "Round 2" groups trade papers and attempt to fill in as many items as possible in the stated categories. In "Round 3" pass the papers again and challenge the new groups to come up with at least five more items in each category. (This exercise is a great way to get students to practice free association and creative, non-linear thinking.)

Photograph or Trace
After discussing the tradition of generating meaning through the pose of a human figure have the students experiment with different poses. This can be a good time to teach or reinforce the concept of gesture drawing.

Another interesting activity is to have the students play Living Sculptures. Give individual or small groups of students slips of paper with an emotion or abstract concept (such as hope) written on it. Students form living sculptures and others in the class discuss the meaning and aesthetics of the temporary sculpture.

Each student should choose a personally meaningful pose. Ask them to consider how the pose and the material choice will work together--will they create continuity of meaning or are they creating tension through unlikely juxtapositions?

Take pictures of the students in their chosen poses. You can use a digital camera and download the images into the computer. If this is not an option, you can scan photographs. After the images have been input into the computer, knock out the background and use Postermaker (or a comparable program) to enlarge and print the images in life-size scale. You may have to tile the images. If so, you will have to show the students how to reconstruct the image.

A simpler, less technologically based option is to use a silhouette tracing of the students. Use a strong light and project the student's shadow onto paper mounted on the wall. Trace.

Have each student write two to three paragraphs about his or her fictional sculpture and the materials he or she plans to use in its construction. This will later be developed into an artist statement. Prompt the students with such questions as: What is it made of? How was it made? How large or small is it? Where is it sited? How do these facts create the meaning you intend to convey about yourself? Instead of an essay the students may write a poem.

A few examples of the students' material choices: "I am made of marshmallows and rocks." "I am made of airplane tickets and movie lights."

Make Art
If working with digitally produced images, students will probably need to reassemble and paste their images to a large sheet of paper. Students can now develop their photographic or traced images with adding the actual materials or drawings or xeroxes of the materials to the work. The samples you show the students should incorporate various production methods, such as collage, painting, changing the photographic image with subtle shading, etc.

Artist Statements
Write an artist statement to accompany the piece. Encourage the students to take on the persona of an established artist. Explain to the audience the significance of the artwork. What is it made of? How was it made? How large or small is it? How do these facts create the intended meaning? Write or paste on a typed artist statement at the bottom of the page.

Display the large scale finished works in a long hallway or other gallerylike setting. Mount a typed artist statement next to each work. Consider asking an English class studying metaphor to view and comment on the exhibit.

Let each student present his or her sculpture. Did anyone in the class feel that they learned something new about a person from this project? Ask students to reflect on whether they learned anything new about themselves from working on this project.

Teachers who ask that students share inner thoughts and feelings need to provide a safe and respectful environment in which to do so. Because they are not often asked to bring their full humanity into a classroom, the first time you conduct a more personal discussion, students may begin to act goofy and say rude things. This should never be permitted. Be prepared to stop and establish ground rules in a calm and non-judgmental manner if someone says something inappropriate or unkind. You can create a class with a climate of trust where students feel free to reveal more about themselves.

More Ideas
An interesting extension of the project is to ask each student to imagine that his or her self-portrait sculpture is public art. Where will their sculptures be placed? How will that add to or change the meaning of the work?

Rephotograph students standing in front of and reacting to their same size artwork. Ask students to write about their new double portrait.

Click here to print out Process Plans for Materials-Based Self-Portrait