The Results of the Value Self Portrait Project

I have been wanting to get some of these paintings scanned. I did this project with my fifth graders. It took a while…and some of them are still not done…but they turned out so great! I am very proud and we have received so many positive comments from other staff members while they were on display at school. Everybody asks how they did it. So here is the explanation in case you may be interested. By the way, they are fun to do even if you aren’t a fifth grader.

I took digital pictures – close up – of each of my students…no flash.

I took the pictures into Adobe Photoshop 7 and cropped (if needed) adjusted to grayscale, increased the contrast, and applied the “poster edges” effect. Settings for this filter were “Edge Thickness” = 0, “Edge Intensity” = 0, and “Posterization” = 2. Generally, if you do this effect and intend to reproduce the image the way we did, it is best to have as few details as possible – thus the reason for the close-up. And I adjusted the size of the image.

I printed each student’s picture on my laser printer…a full 8.5 x 11 page. (See image above)

With the students, I taught a lesson on value. We did value scales. They were allowed one color (blue, green, purple or red) and white. I demonstrated the process of mixing the paint to get the different steps in the value scale. They cut out the boxes (that they painted the values in) and arranged them in order, gluing them into their sketchbooks.

We began the painting by placing the computer printout on top of a piece of carbon paper, which I picked up at Office Depot, under which layed the paper they would do their painting on. Carefully tracing the contours of every shape, they transfered an outline drawing of the printout image onto their paper.

The students began by painting all the white areas first, then painted anything that was a black value with their color – no mixing. Then starting with the lightest value, they mixed and painted those areas, then mixed the next value and painted and so on…sort of like paint by number, but they had to match the values to their “grayscale” picture. We “blacked” out the background, making it the solid color of the color they chose to use.

I feel like the kids really grasped the concept of value through the process of doing this project. However, it was very difficult for some as it required planning and patience. Some of the kids left values out or mixed up the values, but overall, I think they produced some stunning results. What do you think?

I am not sure I will do this project again…maybe I will keep it in the archives for the years when I know the fifth graders can handle it. My reservations are the result of the reactions of only a few students. But in all my time of teaching art classes, I have never encountered so much resistance on a project as this one. It may have just been the group of kids I have THIS year, but I heard comments like “This is the stupidest project we’ve ever done…I’m not doing it…Why can’t we do something fun…This is boring…This sucks…” It’s always hard to hear those things from any student, no matter who it is…and I generally try hard not to take it personally, but I have to say that I felt really discouraged as a result. I really don’t know how I could have presented it differently to better motivate the students. I really believed in this project, and it was so hard to convince them. I think the kids that finished were pleasantly surprised at the results of their efforts, and I am glad those kids have a fabulous painting to be proud of…because they deserve it!

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