Portrait Painting Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teach your students the fundamentals of portrait painting with this lesson plan. After direct instruction and guided practice, students will have a chance to paint a portrait and offer classmates feedback on their work.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • analyze and describe characteristics of portrait painting
  • follow a step-by-step process of painting a portrait
  • participate in a productive peer critique


1 hour for the core lesson, plus additional class time for painting and critique

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.3

Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.4

Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.b

Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.


  • Canvas
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Water
  • Cups to hold water
  • Pallets
  • Portrait painting for observation and analysis, one for each small group
  • Magazines and/or access to technology, the internet, and a printer
  • Paper, the same size as the canvas
  • Rulers
  • Hard 2H (charcoal pencils)

Key Vocabulary

  • Portrait painting
  • Preparatory drawing
  • Under painting
  • Stippling
  • Smudging

Warm-Up and Preparation

  • Start the lesson by dividing students into small groups and giving each a portrait painting.
  • Ask groups to observe, analyze, and discuss. What do they notice about the painting? What do they like? What do they not like?
  • Share ideas as a whole group and explain that they will be learning to paint a portrait. Allow students with previous experiences and background knowledge to share, then discuss:
    • What makes a good portrait painting?
    • What are some areas and elements in portrait painting that you may find challenging (like eyes, nose, etc.)? Why?
  • Give students time to look through magazines or browse the internet to find a head and shoulders picture they'd like to make into a portrait. Allow students to use cameras to snap images of one another, then print, if desired.

Step One - Preparing by Drawing

  • Explain to students that portrait painters first sketch their subject in scale in order to tackle difficult elements, such as eyes, nose, proportion, etc.
  • Give students paper and have them begin their sketches. If desired, show students how to divide the page into sections by using rulers to keep the components in scale.
  • As students work on their sketches, walk around the room to guide and offer suggestions.

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