GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance

Students use modeling clay to create a self-portrait that communicates something about them and how they feel about graduating from grade 8. (Crayola modeling clay is an easy to shape, wax and oil-based medium that will not harden or dry out.)

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 8 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts



Crayola Modeling Clay - Natural Colours 136 g (4.8 oz) Crayola Modeling Clay - Classic Colours 136 g (4.8 oz) Crayola Modeling Clay - 2 lb Jumbo Pack Canvas Boards - 20 cm x 25.5 cm (8" x 10") - 1 per student Toothpicks Bamboo Skewers Crayola Scissors

Shop Crayola Products


GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step One

Step One

  1. Use your sketchbook to brainstorm ideas.
  2. Think about the composition and what you want to include.
    - text
    - symbols
    - profile, front view, face and shoulders, whole body 
GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Make a plan drawing of the key element in your design.
    - it should be the same size as your design
    - it should have most of the details you want to include
  2. Draw the outline of your key element on the canvas board.
  3. Use your thumb to spread a thin layer of modeling clay on the canvas board for the background of your design.
  4. Leave the area for your key element mostly blank.
GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Mix brown and white together to make a flesh colour that you like.
  2. Roll a thin coil of the flesh colour.
  3. Press it onto the board around the outline of the neck.
GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Use your thumb to spread the flesh colour into the space to fill in the neck.
  2. Repeat this process for each layer.
  3. Build the form by starting with a part that is the furthest away from you and then adding the part that is in front of that until you have completed all the parts. For example, in this picture the neck and ears are further away from the front of the face. 
  4. Add details that communicate your ideas.
GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step Five

Step Five

  1. You may want to use the plan drawing as a pattern for some details.
  2. Cut out the shape you need.
  3. Place the paper shape on a flattened piece of modeling clay.
  4. Cut out the clay shape with scissors.
  5. Add details that communicate your ideas.
GRAD PICTURES – MODELING CLAY – Colour Mixing, Form, Balance - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Once you are satisfied with your grad picture look at it with fresh eyes.
  2. Use the worksheet to write an artist statement about your work. (Downloads - WriteArtistStatement.pdf)

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • use modeling clay to create a bas-relief self-portrait;
  • communicate ideas using symbols and text;
  • mix a variety of tertiary colours;
  • write an artist statement;
  • explain the meaning of a rite of passage;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.


Have students:

  • gather information about their new high school;
  • create a graphic story about how their first day in high school might go. (Graphic Story lesson plan)


  1. Download images of self-portraits from the Internet, for example,
    Walt Whitman
  2. Download and display the Colour, Form, and Balance posters available on this website.
  3. Review or teach how to mix tertiary colours.
  4. Review or teach the proportions of the face. (Downloads - Proportions_Face.pdf)
  5. View Canadian author and illustrator Barbara Reid's Videos - choose ‘Make Nib the mouse’ and view parts 1, 2 and 3 for a thorough demonstration of  how to plan a picture and use basic techniques. 
  6. Gather and make available books by Barbara Reid to use as references as students work on their self-portraits, for example, Watch it Grow; The Perfect Snow; Gifts; Subway Mouse; The Party; and Have You Seen Birds.


  1. Ask students to work with a partner.
  2. Invite them to take turns sharing something they feel is significant about finishing elementary school.
  3. Once students have shared their ideas ask for a few volunteers to share with the class.
  4. Explain that moments of significance in life are called rites of passage. They are:
    - often marked with special ceremonies
    - meant to draw attention to a person's entry into a new stage of life
  5. Ask students to think about their coming graduation as a rite of passage.
    - What special ceremony has been planned for graduation?
    - What artifacts will be part of the special ceremony?
    - How will they and their parents remember the event?
  6. Explain that portraits can be made in many ways, for example, photography, painting and bas-relief sculpture.
  7. Explain that the bas-relief portraits are fairly flat. The shapes stand out slightly from the background and the whole sculpture is meant to be viewed from one side.
  8. View and discuss the images of portraits.
    Ask students to tell what the portraits tell them about the person, and what they see that makes them think that.
  9. Ask students to think about what they would want to communicate about themselves in a graduation self-portrait.
  10. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a bas-relief self-portrait using modeling clay.
  2. Communicate ideas using symbols and text.
  3. Mix a variety of tertiary colours.
  4. Write an artist statement.
  5. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.

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 bas-relief self-portrait
    - communicated something about graduation that is important to me
    - communicated my ideas using symbols and text
    - created a composition that moves the viewer's eye through the picture plane
    - mixed and used tertiary colours
    - kept the artwork 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 self-portraits and artist statements 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 to create movement
    - details - things that add to the overall effectiveness of the work

    - colour - how tertiary colours have been used 
    - feelings the work evokes
    - communication - what the self-portrait tells the viewer about the artist
  5. Ask them to comment on how the self-portrait might be significant as a reminder of their rite of passage from elementary to secondary school.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their self-portraits – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to areas in the self-portrait, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the artwork.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - GradPictures_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads - GradPictures_self-assessment.pdf)