Amy Sherald Inspired Portraits

Amy Sherald is an artist from Baltimore, Maryland (my place of origin, too) and she is known for her achromatic portraits of African-Americans with colorful backgrounds and clothing. I introduced some of her work to my students and then should them her portrait of the former First Lady Michelle Obama. The colors she chooses for her backgrounds, and her emphasis on the outfits of her models are a way of explaining the identity of her subject. Similarly, I asked my students to choose a background color that fit the personality of their subjects. Students were asked to partner up with another student, photograph them and then grid their portraits so that they could scale them up to twice the original photographs size. This gridding technique also helped my students maintain proportions. We used charcoal and chalk pastels to do our work, because we have already painted this year I wanted to maximize my students experiences with different medias this year.

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SHE ALWAYS BELIEVED THE GOOD ABOUT THOSE SHE LOVED, 2018, 54 x 43 inches, Oil on Canvas, amysherald.com .

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The finished works turned out beautifully and will surely be a hug hit at the Spring Arts Festival at our school.

Finally, to finish up and reflect on the project I decided to try something other than our traditional critique format. Instead, students left “constructive compliments” on post-it notes on each of their fellow students artwork. Similar to what they would have done during a critique, but in a very efficient way. I have larger class sizes this year, and while it is really important to me that my students learn to have a traditional critique, I also want to maximize the amount of feedback each student gets and this felt like a nice way to do it.

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Facing Faces

This March we spent the entire month exploring the art of a self portrait and the value technique called grisaille. The Oxford Dictionary defines as, “Grisaille (/ɡrˈz/ or /ɡrˈzl/; French: gris [ɡʁizaj] ‘grey’) is a term for a painting executed entirely in shades of grey or of another neutral greyish colour.” I think we all know what a self portrait is. 

Anyways my idea was that in order to teach about painting with more emphasis on value and less on color matching we would begin with a grisaille painting and finish it in color.

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I also took photographs of each girl in a pose she was comfortable with, with raking light moving across her face. This gave them more depth in the values they were working with. You can see them holding the photos as they work for reference. Unfortunately there is a lot of natural light in my room. Unfortunately? Well anyways it is near impossible to recreate lighting arrangements because the skylights fill the room with light i a myriad number of ways on any given day, and due to the nature of our rotating block schedule we meet at a different time each day of the week. So I made the executive decision that instead of working from mirrors (like we had with our sketches and drawings in previous lessons) we would work from photographs.

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Only once they had finished their gray could they move on to color. This was an prodigious success, because it prevented them from flattening their faces and making them one solid shade of beige or brown, like I had seen in previous models of this lesson. I would highly recommend this technique for teaching value to an advanced high school art class.

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