Amazing Self-Portraits on Acetate

Thomas T (Yr 3)

I found this fantastic idea using a painted paper background and black marker drawings on acetate at Field Elementary Art Blog through Pinterest, and have seen it a number of times since. I just love the way it allows young kids to create a self portrait (that really does look a little bit like them!) while also exploring the concept of semi-abstract art.

Before beginning we looked at examples and discussed the difference between realism (life-like) and semi-abstract (altered, but the original subject is still recognizable). We visualized a realism-abstract continuum - on one end is art as realistic as we can make it, on the far end is the abstract - so changed or totally divorced from the original inspiration that it is no longer recognizable. And in between are infinite levels of the semi-abstract.

This week we are using photos of ourselves as the starting point for a semi-abstract self portrait.

The kids had an absolutely free hand in how they designed and painted their backgrounds, using a metallic glitter paint. This paint is quite translucent, with a subtle glittery finish which is bright and colorful, but still allows the drawing overlay to stand out. 

After completing the backgrounds we laid a sheet of acetate over photographs (taken a week or two ago, which I photo-shopped to remove the background) and traced over them with black permanent markers. The process of eliminating shading and reducing the photograph to a purely linear drawing creates enough changes to subtly alter the picture to the semi-abstract, while still maintaining the essence and personality of the original.

We put our photos at the realistic end of the realism-abstract continuum. The photo-shopped images came next, close to the realistic end of the continuum, and our line tracings a little further along the line leading towards abstract. 

I love these pictures, they are so full of life and interesting line work!

Next week we are going to use the same photos to create a completely different self portrait .... these pictures will go much further along the continuum towards abstract, although they will still be recognizably based on the human face.

Don't you just love digital technology? The creative possibilities are endless!


  1. I am so excited that you did this lesson! Thank you for referencing my blog!!

    1. My pleasure, it's a great lesson... thanks for putting it out there!! As you can see, I didn't change it at all, and the results were stunning! :)


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