ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity

Students use oil pastels to create an abstract self-portrait that communicates an important aspect of their identity.


Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 9


Language Arts
Visual Arts


abstract art analogous colours highlights midtones movement shadows value


Oil Pastels Black Construction Paper Scissors Sketchbook Glue Sticks


ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step One

Step One

  1. Cut out pictures of mouths, noses and eyes from magazines.
  2. Glue the pictures into your sketchbook.
  3. Leave space beside each picture to make a drawing of it.
  4. Use oil pastels to practice drawing the features.
ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Make a plan drawing in your sketchbook.
  2. Draw the outline of the bottom half of your face, the nose and mouth in the centre of the paper.
  3. Include images to highlight something that is important to you in the top part of the paper.
  4. Leave space at the bottom of the paper to draw your name.
ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Use a pencil to draw the outlines of your composition on black construction paper.
ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Colour the bottom half of the face.
  2. Choose a main colour that represents you in some way.
  3. Make one side of the face darker than the other.
  4. Blend black into the outer edges of the face and features to create shadows.
  5. Use analogous colours to mix with your main colour to create midtones.
    - main colour blue, analogous colours blue-green, blue-violet
  6. Use white to create highlights.
ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Continue colouring the composition making sure you have shadows, midtones and highlights.
ABSTRACT SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Movement, Identity - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Add details and colour to the composition.
  2. Draw your name at the bottom of the page.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • use oil pastel techniques to create an abstract self-portrait;
  • use placement of shapes to create movement;
  • use shadows, midtones and highlights to make their drawings seem 3-dimensional;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • use the lesson plan Spring Birds available on this website to extend their use of oil pastel techniques;
  • use the lesson plan I See Myself available on this website to learn more about drawing the face.


  1. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students use the lesson plan Exploring Oil Pastel available on this website to experiment with oil pastel techniques in their sketchbooks.
  2. Download and display the Colour, Value, and Movement posters available on this website.
    - review or teach the elements of colour and value – analogous colours, highlights, shadows
    - review or teach the principle of movement – placement of shapes
  3. Download the image of the Mona Lisa from the Internet.



  1. Ask students to work with a partner.
  2. Invite them to take turns sharing something they feel is an important part of their identity. 
  3. Provide a short example by telling something about yourself.
  4. Once students have shared their stories ask for a few volunteers to share something they learned about their partner.
  5. Discuss what you could draw to communicate the ideas mentioned, for example, symbols to represent hockey, volleyball or art.
  6. View and discuss the image of the Mona Lisa. Draw attention to the use of shading to create the illusion of depth.
    Point out:
    - shadows - the darkest areas on a surface created when the light is blocked by something
    - midtones - the areas on a surface that are midway between the highlight and the shadow
    - highlights - the brightest areas on a surface created when the light is reflected off the surface
  7. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Use oil pastel techniques to create an abstract self-portrait.
  2. Use placement of shapes to create movement.
  3. Use shadows, midtones and highlights to make your drawing seem 3-dimensional.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students. For example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - created an oil pastel abstract self-portrait
    - communicated something that is important to my identity
    - used shadows, midtones and highlights to make the drawing seem 3-dimensional
    - created a composition that 
    moves the viewer's eye through the picture plane
    - blended colours
    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Encourage students to think about how they can use colours, lines and symbols to communicate their ideas.
  4. Discuss how the placement of objects in a design can create areas of interest and emphasis that move the viewer's eye through the picture plane. 
  5. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  6. Observe students as they work. 
  7. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Display the drawings as a ‘body of work’.
  2. Ask students to gather in front of the display and look at the works thoughtfully.
  3. Ask them to find 3 things they find interesting about any of them.
  4. During the discussion include references to:
    - composition - placement of elements on the paper to create movement
    - details - things that add to the overall effectiveness of the drawing

    colour - how analogous colours have been blended to make the drawing seem 3-dimensional
    - highlights, midtones and shadows - how different values create the illusion of depth 
    feelings the work evokes
    - communication - what the drawing tells the viewer about the artist
    challenges they may have had and how they solved them
  5. Ask them to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the drawings – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - AbstractSelfPortrait_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads - AbstractSelfPortrait_self-assessment.pdf)