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

    Ms. Julie's Place

    March 4, 2009

  2. These are great portraits!

    sara's art house

    March 4, 2009

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

    Katie Gonzalez

    March 5, 2009

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


    March 5, 2009

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

    Patty P

    March 5, 2009

  6. 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!


    March 5, 2009

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

    Patty P

    March 7, 2009

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


    March 7, 2009

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


    April 2, 2009

  10. 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.

    Patty P

    April 3, 2009

  11. 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!


    September 14, 2009

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

    Patty P

    September 15, 2009

  13. 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.


    June 15, 2010

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


    April 27, 2011

    • Hi Erica,
      I usually use the standard 12″ x 18″ drawing paper.


      April 27, 2011

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