Embracing Diversity through Paint

first grade self-portraits after our first painting session

My first grade students are currently painting self-portraits inspired by Frida Kahlo's emotive and symbol-laden self-portraits. We focused on her exploration of identity and gender through costume, hairstyle, and even variations of her own skin color. It's important to point out to students of all ages that successful self-portraits often distort reality to send a message or to investigate something about ourselves. 

When I teach self-portraits with younger students, I spend an entire studio session using only earth tones like umber, sienna, yellow, orange, and tan.  Before touching any materials, we sit in a circle and I share that our skin and our hair are ALL different tones of brown - and then I demonstrate this for students who try to stump me! They point to their hair or their skin and dare me to mix a tone with just the paint colors on my palette... and I can! When the students then approach their workspaces, they see the limited color palette as a laboratory and gaze in a mirror to guide the process.

color choices available to mix hair and skin tones

Through the years, I've noticed many students choose to vastly alter the appearance of their skin and hair.  I encourage everyone to choose the tone that feels right, even if it isn't what they see in the mirror. It's exciting to watch kids really own their skin and hair tones as they proudly display the unique colors they've mixed to their classmates.