Show pupils some photographic images collected from magazines which show people under pressure. You could have asked pupils to collect such images as part of their previous week`s homework. Look for images that show stress in the face, neck and upper arms. For example, look out for images of athletes straining to win a race or stills from films in which actors are simulating fear, pain or grief. Ask pupils to describe what they can see and discuss the contortion and distortion of the features of the face and the stress lines in muscles.

At this point you can introduce a session which looks purely at ways of communicating emotion through the visual elements. Ask pupils to experiment with angry lines (which are likely to be jagged) and contrast these with sad lines (which are likely to undulate). Produce patterns that are abstract yet intended to convey emotion. Consider the role of colour in conveying emotion. Look at colours used by artists to convey emotion. For example, look at the unit 'war and fear'.

This can lead to a session in which certain key artists who have explored this theme are discussed with pupils. For instance, it is worth looking closely at 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch and Picasso's 'Weeping Woman'. The work of El Greco and Goya could also be investigated.

Ask pupils to contort their own face simulating stress. Provide pupils with mirrors and ask them to draw their mouths wide open, concentrating on the lines that are generated in the lower half of the face. Use different graphic materials and consider which has the best effect. Experiment with drawings that rely on lines, and contrast these with drawings that rely on tone.

Set the assignment which could spread over two or three sessions. The theme will be stress and pressure, and pupils will use a combination of their drawings of themselves and the photographs they have collected to produce an image of someone, which may be themselves, experiencing pressure or stress. The background may be developed by producing a combination of images based on the source of the stress. For example, a pupil may wish to put themselves in a desk surrounded by books, or two faces may be depicted in an 'eye ball to eye ball' confrontation.

Combine drawn images with paint and work on a large scale, possibly developing this into a 3-dimensional clay head image.

  • In an issues based project like this it is important to encourage pupils to explore their own ideas and express aspects of their own experiences. The best imagery will be generated from their own lives, rather than that related to experiences they have not had, such as war for example. However, the project may proceed in a number of different directions not anticipated by the teacher.
  • Encourage pupils to use their sketchbooks to write down a simple description of a pressure type situation, or one in which they have experienced stress. Ask them to draw hands and parts of the face in states of tension. This could be a homework exercise as a precursor to the main project.
  • Remember that the role of line, tone and colour in conveying emotion is an important area of visual learning. This project will give you some appropriate opportunities to explore this.
  • There is a range of artists who have explored the idea of emotion, stress and pain. A study of any art history resource will produce examples such as African art, Aboriginal sculpture, Renaissance art, and many recent artists such as Egon Schiele, Picasso, the German expressionists, and some work of the Surrealists, particularly Salvador Dali. Also look out for Emile Nolde, Edvard Munch, Stanley Spencer and Francis Bacon. In you may find the unit 'self-portrait triptych' could suggest another way to present this work. Howard Hodgkin's paintings are often about emotional recations. Look at: 'colour, mood and Howard Hodgkin'.

More ideas about art connections:

  • A good architectural-sculptural example here is Francois Rude's, 'Departure of the Volunteers, in 1792, The Marseillaise' (1833-36) which is a forceful face confronting conflict on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris. A clay model is in the Louvre.
  • Artists who have particularly sought to generate angst through their work include Max Beckmann and Chaim Soutine. Noted for facial distortions are Willem de Kooning (the, 'Woman' series, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Francis Bacon (Tate Gallery, London).
  • Have you thought of getting the pack of German Expressionist slides that are available from the Royal Academy, London?

Resources: Drawing and painting materials, sketchbooks, collection of photos from magazines.