Portrait of Dora Maar Art Lesson


After a recent trip to Seattle where Picasso’s “Dora Maar” was on exhibit, I knew my fifth graders would love an art project that would express what Picasso did: express emotion through color and shapes. I love Picasso’s work but not all of it is suitable for elementary, but if you can get your hands on a Picasso calendar and/or book, you can use find a good sampling of colored photographs that demonstrate Picasso’s exciting use of color, line and shape.


The portrait of one of Picasso’s girlfriends, Dora Maar, is by far my favorite piece. I love the hands, painted to resemble flowers (you can see Picasso’s use of flowers in many of his pieces. There are stamens on the front of Dora Maar’s bodice). I love the eyes…they are quintessential Picasso! I love to point out how the eyelashes extend from the eyeball. Kids love this. The hair has streaks of color (so much fun to paint) and the whole portrait is outlined in black.

You’ll need: 12″ x 18″ white paper, black oil pastel, tempera paints, black tempera paint

Time: Approximately 3, 45-minute classes
















Step One: Using the oil pastel, draw a figure of a lady using Picasso’s stylized techniques. I spend alot of time showing the kids his “techniques”. I always begin with the face. I go into more detail with this lesson, but generally tips are as follows:

Start near the top of the page and draw a forehead, nose, mouth and chin. Then draw a line around this for the face. Add hair (sample some fun shapes and ideas) then add features. Add a neck and then big shapes for the arms (really emphasize that anything goes here, except scribbles). Draw a body but don’t worry about proportion. Add hands (think crocuses) then add a chair or background detail.













Step Two: Set out many trays of tempera paint, including white. I have some tempera paint stored in plastic containers and some I put in well palettes so kids can mix their own paints. Paint the lady first and then once those colors are determined, use a contrasting or light color to paint the background.

Step Three: Once the entire piece is painted, its time to bring out the smallest paint brushes you have and some watered down black tempera paint and paint over all original lines. The painting will looked pretty messy up to this point, but once the black lines go on, the kids will really see the transformation. Some kids will embrace this step but others will become bored. I really challenge these kids who just want to get the project over with. I figure they don’t like how their painting looks with all the paint smooshed together, so I asked them to continue with the black lines. Soon they will see how the lines really bring out the color contrasts. I’m a bit proned to proding and encouraging (not nagging) and I think it helps kids get over their own personal art hurdles.

I’m really proud of their work and I can’t stress how successful everyone was. They just love Picasso!

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  • Pam Holderman

    Thanks – just love all your ideas and I have used many of them with my after school art class.

  • ashley

    wow!very impressive results!

  • Cheryl Hancock

    HI Patty, these are just gorgeous!!

  • EspressoErin

    Wow! gorgeous! thanks for the detailed instructions

  • Elementary Art Room

    I love how colorful these are. They really pop out with the black outlines. I can’t wait to try it with my students…they look just impressive as the Rouault Royalty projects! Thanks for the inspiration.
    Elementary Art Room

  • Angie

    I used this lesson and blogged about it. Thanks for the inspiration! http://inartclass.blogspot.com/2012/03/more-picasso-portraits.html

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