First ask children to collect the shapes of eyes, noses, mouths and ears in their sketchbooks (or use a clipboard and single sheets of paper.) They could first concentrate on eyes. For example, they might draw five different eyes by looking at five different friends in the class. Then they might move on to the ears, noses and mouths. Another approach would be to pick one person and collect examples of the four features before moving on to someone else in the classroom. You might add hairstyles to the list of shapes to collect. More advanced children could also look more closely at features such as nostrils, eyelids, ear lobes and shapes associated with clothing around the head and shoulders. This exercise helps children to focus on drawing shapes; it is this focus which allows them to draw more of what they see. The children could go on to draw a portrait. Try this method especially if this is the first time that children have attempted making a considered portrait drawing.

Each child should have a partner. Give one child from each pair a drawing board and the appropriate drawing media. The children should sit opposite each other. One child will be the model and the other child the artist. Before they start drawing, ask them to identify the middle of the drawing paper and also decide which way around to have the rectangle. Although it is not a rule you might suggest that the paper should be in the portrait format (with the long side vertical). The model must look straight ahead.

"Artists, look carefully at the head of your model. What shape do you think would be good to start with? Pick a shape in the middle of the head. The nose? Begin your portrait by drawing the shape of the nose in the middle of the paper.

Look out for the next shape to draw. How about the shapes that make up the eyes? Draw those in next. Then try the mouth. Keep on looking and drawing until you have drawn all the most important shapes from the head. Don't forget to try and put them in the right position.

Now look carefully at the shape of the whole head, the hairstyle, the chin and some other details such as eyebrows, eyelids and nostrils. Draw these shapes in.

Think about the neck and the shape that the top of the shoulders makes. You could draw in the collar or 'top' your model is wearing. Are there any patterns or other pictures on the clothes you could draw?"

Complete this unit by asking children to draw their own portrait in the style of the artist they have been looking at. For example, in Modigliani's portraits the models have characteristically long necks. The portrait drawings, the artist's poster and children's imaginary 'in the style of' portraits could be shown together in an exhibition or display.

  • Adapted and expanded from page 23 of 'Teaching Art at Key Stage 1', Nigel Meager, 1993, NSEAD. Also pages 61-66 of 'Teaching Art at Key Stage 2', Nigel Meager, 1995, NSEAD.
  • Use drawing media that make good, clear graphic outlines, for example, fibre-tipped pens. The children could draw with larger black marker pens on large sheets of paper. These can be dramatic and powerful portraits.
  • Children ask what to do if they make a mistake. This is question is a vital part of learning in art. We have included a unit all about 'drawing and making mistakes'
  • If you teach younger or less experienced children link this unit with some of the other introductory shape work in For example look at the units 'drawing shapes by looking' and 'drawing around shapes'.
  • You could extend this project by portraits using prints or collages. But keep the focus on shape.
  • This drawing method is a foundation process and can be used to underpin a way of helping children draw many different subjects.
  • Look at other drawing strategies linked to visual elements. For example, use the search engine to find ways of drawing by starting with texture, tone, line and space.
  • Show the children examples of heads and faces from different cultures from across the world. Other units focus on portraiture in different ways. For example, look at 'identity' and 'pressure, stress and emotional reaction'.

More ideas about art connections:

Have you thought of showing the children some faces painted by artists and asking them various questions about them? Some good examples are: Paula Modersohn-Becker, 'Head of a Girl' (1907, Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt); Cosimo Rosselli, 'Portrait of a Young Man' (tempera on panel c.1480); Anonymous Benin Artist, 'Queen Mother' (bronze 16thC, Museum fur Volkerkunde, West Berlin) and Gustave Courbet, 'Old Man with a Glass of Wine' (c.1860, Mayor Gallery, London).

Paper, drawing boards, drawing media, masking tape.