Photocopy charcoal self-portraits are the best!!! This is my favorite way to do portraiture with “tweens” who are already a little self-conscious and easily discouraged when they aren’t able to achieve a perfect likeness. (These self-portraits are distorted to begin with, so there’s less perfectionism and the focus isn’t really on likeness, it’s on rendering values.)
To begin, help each student photocopy their faces (with closed eyes to avoid the bright light) and let them have three to four tries to attempt different positions and facial expressions. Encourage students to include their hands, position their hair, jewelry and other accessories in the frame.
Depending on the age of your students, you can use graphite paper and the handle-end of a thin paintbrush to transfer contours to charcoal paper.
Students will use the photocopies as a tonal map for observational charcoal drawings with vine charcoal on toned charcoal paper. Advise students to render SHAPES of shadows blended with their fingers rather than outlining. You can deepen shadows with compressed charcoal in subsequent studio sessions and add highlights with white conte or pastel.
These self-portraits always have a haunting, distorted, and beautiful quality to them and are universally loved by the student artists who make them!