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Pose, Paint, Print: Seventh-grade students create Self-Portraits inspired by Kehinde Wiley

Pose, Paint, Print: Seventh-grade students create Self-Portraits inspired by Kehinde Wiley

This semester, Ashley Lupfer’s seventh-grade art class reviewed portraits of historic figures, paying close attention to the meaning of their pose and posture. These portraits, many hundreds of years old, were compared to the models featured in Kehinde Wiley’s portraits. Wiley’s portraiture speaks to representation throughout history. He makes sure his models are a part of his process to ensure their portraits accurately represent and empower them. He is most well known for completing the presidential portrait of Barack Obama that hangs in the National Gallery.

Mrs. Lupfer took inspiration from Wiley’s portrait style to create mixed-media self-portraits with her students, incorporating drawing, paint-mixing, and printmaking.

Each step of the process provided students with the opportunity to showcase their individuality. Students were thoughtful about their poses, referencing portraits throughout history to express something important about themselves. Did they want to be portrayed as thoughtful, kind, compassionate, open-minded, gentle, powerful, or strong?

Their photos were used to determine the contour lines, tracing the most important parts of their image. Mrs. Lupfer explained that drawing can be intimidating and being able to trace helps “build confidence in their drawing.” 

Next, students experimented with mixing paints to achieve their likeness, exploring the science of skin color and color schemes that best represented themselves. Mrs. Lupfer shared that most students found this to be the most challenging part, with “many rounds of wiping off the paint and starting over.”

Wiley’s bold backgrounds often feature Baroque floral patterns. To mimic this style, Mrs. Lupfer had her students create custom prints for the background. The shapes used in their custom prints were another opportunity for self-expression, incorporating icons and symbols with special meaning. While admiring his work on display in the hallway, we ran into one of Mrs. Lupfer's students, Matthew Carchipulla. Matt shared that he wanted his portrait to portray “kindness and make people feel welcomed.” He chose soft blues and pinks for his color scheme and used hearts, a “hi” message, and a smiley face in his print. This viewer wanted to hug the portrait (and the student), so I’d say it was a huge success!