Modigliani-Inspired Self-Portraits

Lesson Title: Modigliani-Inspired Self-Portraits

Concepts:  Art History, Drawing, Self-Portraiture, Distortion for Emotive Effect, Warm & Cool shading in Oil Pastel

Appropriate Grade Levels: 4th - High School

Lesson Rationale/Overview: Students will learn about the life and artwork of Amedeo Modigliani, slideshow available here. Using some of the characteristics of Modigliani's portrait style, students will brainstorm a full page of thumbnail sketches exploring a variety of poses, compositions, and background options. Students will chose the most successful of their sketches to guide a final oil-pastel self-portrait which uses warm and cool shading to create depth and volume.

Goals and Standards: 

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions. 

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas.

Learner Outcomes: Students will reinforce the practice of planning their work through thumbnail sketches, and through distorting facial proportions will become more familiar with abstraction for emotive effect. 

Materials Needed for Lesson:

  • Paper/sketchbooks for thumbnail sketches
  • Pencils
  • Mirrors
  • Reproductions of Modigliani's portraits
  • Black sulfite paper for final self-portraits
  • Oil-pastels

Materials for Students with Special Needs:

  • personal visual organizer of steps 
  • gloves if tactile defensive of oil pastel

Lesson Procedures:

1. Starting the Lesson: Present a variety of portraits from artists who are known for their signature distorted proportion style: Botero, Ingres, Titian, Lucian Freud, John Currin, Francesco Clemente.

Introduce the work of Amedeo Modigliani, presenting his work in chronological order to demonstrate the evolution of his personal style.

2. Behavioral Expectations: Students will be responsible for asking questions and taking notes during the presentation. Students are expected to give informal constructive peer critique through the studio process to guide each other. 

3. Organizer: Break each studio session down into three or four steps and write it on the board, or project it on a screen, so students know the next step in the figure forming process.

4. Lesson Sequence:

  • Students will observe themselves in a mirror and create a page of six thumbnail sketches.
  • Students will use peer critique to determine their most successful two thumbnails, and create larger, more detailed sketches of these options, using color to determine compositional elements. 
  • Students will critique these sketches with their peers and with the teacher to determine the most successful concept.
  • Students will transfer the contours of their chosen design to a 18"x24" piece of black charcoal paper and begin to layer oil pastels for large ares of color.
  • Once large areas of color are complete, students are encouraged to choose a light source and add areas of highlight and shadow with warm and cool tones of oil pastel in their next layer.
  • Students will complete their self-portraits, adding touches that are unique to their own style and personality.
  • Group critique using this method.


  • "Is it Art" Aesthetic Debates

  • Aesthetic Philosopher Timeline
  • Portfolio Websites & Artist Statements
  • Drapery Study
  • Master Painting Studies
  • Textile Design Block Printing
  • Functional Clay Ocarina
  • Photo Essay using Experimental Techniques
  • * This is a year-at-a-glance overview of my sixth grade curriculum. I'll be adding full lesson plans for each topic here in the future.