In my art classes, I’ve used this drawing lesson across all levels, adapting it to elementary, middle and high school. The best part about this multi-step lesson is that it usually guarantees success; students are often doubtful at the beginning, but pleasantly surprised by the superior end results of their presidential portraits.
This drawing lesson integrates many cross-curricular subjects, and ties in multiple learning objectives. In your lesson introduction, integrate social studies by discussing American history, the presidency, and how cultures world-wide honor their leaders. View the presidential paintings of Norman Rockwell, the iconic painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, and others. In preparing the drawing grid, integrate math, measurements, division and counting as the students use rulers.
Required art materials:
– white paper (16×20″, 8×10″ or 10×14″)
– standard pencils
– ebony pencils
– grayscale images of U.S. presidents (8×10″ or 5×7″)
– black permanent markers
1. Introduce the lesson by discussing presidential portraiture over the years. Show examples of American presidential portraits, and discuss why they were made. Compare these portraits to images of leaders world-wide. Students then select a grayscale image of a president for their drawing.
2. Discuss techniques artists use to make drawings more realistic – grids for accurate proportions, and shading to make their subject look 3-dimensional. Demonstrate how to draw a grid, and have the students following along. On their president image, the students draw a 1″ grid using their standard pencil and ruler. When finished, they draw over their lines in permanent marker.
3. Discuss the dimensions of their president image, and determine how big their final drawing should be (if 8×10″, could keep a 1:1 ratio, and draw a 1″ grid on their drawing paper; but both 5×7″ and 8×10″ could be doubled to a 2″ grid using 10×14″ or 16×20″ paper). Students then draw their grid, using light pencil lines (because they must be erased later).
4. Demonstrate how to transfer a drawing from a grid. Students must work box-by-box, line-by-line, starting at the top of the grid and working down, drawing only the main lines that are in one box at a time. It may be helpful to use viewfinders or other aids to limit their focus. I have my students fold their grayscale image accordion-style, so they can only view one line at a time. I’ve also shown students the difference between a portrait drawn by a student who didn’t use the grid, versus a student who faithfully followed it (the results are motivating).
4. After students have completed drawing their presidents and erased their grid-lines, set the papers aside to discuss value and shading with ebony pencils. On scrap paper, students practice drawing value scales from black to white. Emphasize that when they begin shading their president, they should show every value possible with their pencil (for younger students, set a number – 3, 4 or 5 values).
5. Students then look at their grayscale image and begin shading their drawing with their ebony pencil. I have students shade the darkest values first, because these are the easiest to spot and provide the most drastic change. These usually consist of backgrounds, hair, eyes and suits. Then, I have students find the dark gray tones, medium gray tones, and so on. For the lightest values, students use erasers to pull out the highlights.
Guaranteed, if the students are encouraged to take their time in this multi-step drawing lesson, their shaded presidential portraits will turn out amazingly successful, and both the students, their parents, and all who view the finished drawings will be impressed by the end results.