First Grade Self Portraits

I love these first grade self portraits. They embodied everything kids art should be…colorful, whimsical and adorable.

I used plain white construction/drawing paper  and good old oil pastels. Trick is not to give the kids a pencil. Instead, we started with a black oil pastel and ended with a black oil pastel. I think this is the secret to ensuring the art will be done in a couple of session. Otherwise, children wielding pencils can become perfectionists very quickly.

Start the portrait by drawing a large letter “U” in the middle of the paper, then add the hair. I spend some time drawing on the white board showing the kids proper hair placement. Do the same for the facial features and before long, the kids will be ready to begin coloring their masterpieces.

Want to make the portraits spectacular? Encourage as much as you can, the importance of coloring in well. Also, add patterns to the background, instead of leaving it blank.

For A complete lesson tutorial, consider my “Fun with Portraits” Art booklet available for download.


  1. Ms. Julie's Place says:

    Patterns?… Did someone say patterns? You know how I much I love those! Great project!
    I know what you mean about those “pencil perfectionists”.

  2. sara's art house says:

    These are great portraits!

  3. Katie Gonzalez says:

    I love these portraits! They are so expressive, and each student’s personality shows through!

  4. Lisa says:

    These portraits are amazing!!! Very individual and special!

  5. Patty P says:

    Thanks guys! I love them as well. You could do the very same activity with tempera paints. Hope you try them!

  6. wenderful says:

    Wow! I’m so excited to have run across your blog! I’m teaching my son’s second grade class art this year. You have some wonderful ideas! We’re doing Eric Carle animals tomorrow. I hope they turn out as wonderful as I’m imagining. I’ll be back!

  7. Patty P says:

    Good luck Wendy! I love Eric Carle and I know your son’s class will too!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Angela says:

    These all look great, what a great idea to fill in the background, we’ll have to try that.

  9. TeachKidsArt says:

    I’m looking for a fixative that works to keep a finished oil pastel painting from smearing so easily… any ideas???

  10. Patty P says:

    Re: Fixative
    You know, I don’t have any problems with oil pastels smearing. As for chalk pastels, well that’s a different story!
    In any case, you can find chalk and oil pastel fixative at any craft store. It says what it is right on the label and can be found in the art supply sections.
    For a less expensive option, use hair spray (the aerosol kind). I find it leaves little dots on chalk pastel but should be fine for oil.

  11. Julie says:

    hello wonderful person!
    I am going to do this lesson with 1st graders this week- any great book recommendations to accompany this lesson?thank you!

  12. Patty P says:

    Hi Julie,
    This project is Matisse Inspired, so I suppose any kids book devoted to him would be good.
    Good luck!

  13. Ryan says:

    It seems to be very childish. I love your work. Kids would love it. I recently saw an excellent design from Brent Bailer Gallery and was quite impressed with it.

  14. [...] ~Self-Portraits because it’s always great to see how children perceive themselves. [...]

  15. Erica says:

    What size? Bigger paper or just regular 8.5×11? Thanks – your fellow art teacher

  16. [...] used oil pastel for portraits a few times before with first grade. Success depends on the children’s fine motor skills. [...]

  17. [...] want to calm things down a bit and do an oil pastel project. There is none cuter than the Oil Pastel Self-Portrait.  Like my Miro project, this lesson has some very appealing benefits: little prep and few [...]

  18. [...] only if I have to. Like, my 1st-2nd graders drew self portraits this week (lesson inspiration from Deep Space Sparkle), and next week we are going to add colorful patterned backgrounds inspired by Henri [...]

  19. [...] used oil pastel for portraits a few times before with first grade. Success depends on the children’s fine motor skills. [...]

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About Patty

I teach art to 400 school children in Goleta, California. My art library contains hundreds of free art lesson ideas. My shop has art lesson plans, videos and resources to help you teach art to kids. It's a whole lot easier with Deep Space Sparkle.

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