Animal Portraits – Lesson Inspired by Photographer Nick Brandt


This year, I re-imagined a painting unit I do with second grade.  Instead of just doing regular paintings of African animals (because they study Kenya with their classroom teachers), I did some research on the internet, and found lots of inspiration.

First I stumbled upon the work of Nick Brandt, a photographer who started a foundation to bring attention to endangered species in Kenya.  Then, that got me thinking of ways to change the way students create an animal painting.  Instead of painting the animal in the landscape I asked students to create portraits!  I found this lesson as inspiration for the final look I was hoping my students could achieve.

To introduce the lesson, I created this slide deck though Haiku Deck.  We viewed the work and talked about why Nick Brandt might create portraits of the animals he photographs.  I was so impressed that students were able to understand why Nick Brandt would print his work in black and white!  Students created a sketch from observation, using an animal photo I cropped to help students draw their work in a portrait format (Access photos here).  Over a couple of days they completed their drawing, and painted with tempera paint.  Then it was on to the background, which students completed in watercolor paint.  Again, students used reference images of African landscapes to inspire their work (Access photos here)To wrap up their work, students cut out, and glued their animal to their background, and shared with a partner at their table about their brushstroke techniques, over painted details, or mixed colors.


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To wrap up their work, students cut out, and glued their animal to their background, and shared with a partner at their table about their brushstroke techniques, over painted details, or mixed colors.

This whole unit was developed in connection to my districts common unit.  All elementary school art teachers in the district use common units as a starting off point, in this case for our second grade painting lesson.  We have common units for grades k-6 in painting, drawing, and sculpture.




Chatterpix, Professional Development Opportunities, Video Resources, OH MY!


For a number of years, 3rd graders at Conant have completed this collaborative project that connects their work in the classroom and their work in the art room. In class, students choose and learn more about a particular person, through the use of biographies.  They write a report, dress up as their person, and present to their classmates. In art with me they create a portrait drawing of their person, to be displayed with their report.

Not only do they create a lovely drawing to complement their report, they also learn the difference between portrait and self-portrait while relating those two vocabulary words to what they’ve learned about biography and auto-biography. They also learn additional vocabulary words for describing types of portraits (frontal view, profile view, 3/4 view, bust, full-length, and group).

I made a short video that introduces these types of portraits.  Feel free to use it in your class!

This year, I took it a step further, after learning about the Chatterpix app.  When students were finished coloring their self-portraits, they used an iPad to create a talking photo, aka a Chatterpix.

Each classroom teacher had these drawings on display and with them I posted QR codes that linked back to the videos.  This integration of QR codes came from a class I took at Framingham State University.  (Side note, if you need PDP’s or credits to advance your salary scale, check out what Framingham State has to offer.  It’s very very reasonably priced -$179 a credit, AND it’s online.  Super cool, and both classes I’ve taken have been great) I don’t think many people scanned them, but I know the more I include QR codes in my displays, the more familiar everyone will get with them.  There are many websites to make QR codes.  I like, but also use to shorten links and quickly make QR codes.

Initially I hoped the students would be able to make the QR codes themselves using the QR Reader & Scanner app, but I found that with only 6 iPads, that was too slow going for the short amount of time we have in art.  It just took too long to create the chatterpix, export it to the camera roll, upload to dropbox, grab the video link, and use that link to create a QR code.  So instead the students did everything but make the QR code. Perhaps next year when I am a 1:2 iPad classroom this will be possible. (Yes, I’m getting another 6 iPads via a very successful Donors Choose campaign, and some extra money from the Art Department) Certainly in a 1:1 iPad classroom!