Self-Portrait Project Ideas

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Self-portraits are a great way to get students thinking about art and about themselves. The project ideas in this article can help you find new ways to get your students engaged with these types of artistic depictions.


Many students benefit from completing a self-portrait not just because of the chance to practice technical artistic skills, but the chance to engage in self-reflection. Art like this creates a statement about identity, personality, and perspective. The following project ideas can help your students explore these ideas and are designed to be adaptable for students of different grades and levels of artistic skill. While the focus of this is on the artwork itself, consider adding a literacy component by asking students to write an artist's statement, a self-reflection poem, or a journal entry.

Self-Portrait Project Ideas

Formal Self-Portraits

For a formal self-portrait, students will begin by conducting several sketches of themselves to examine their features and think about how to capture their own personalities in art. As they are working on these sketches, students will also consider how they want to pose themselves, the clothing they want to wear, and the setting for the self-portrait. Ultimately, students will complete a formal painting that deals with all of these ideas.

As a twist for upper-level students, assign them three different styles (i.e. Renaissance, Impressionist, and Cubist or superhero, anime, and Disney character) and have them create a triptych of three small self-portraits, one in each style.

  • Materials: Canvas or drawing paper, art supplies as needed

Sketch Journal and Collage

Students will create a sketching journal. Every day, for one month, students will look at themselves in a mirror for 30 seconds, then wait one minute, and finally complete a five-minute sketch of themselves from memory. At the end of the month, they will compare the different sketches and arrange them into a collage.

  • Materials: Drawing paper, sketching supplies, mirror

Symbolic Self-Portrait

Students will begin by journaling and free-sketching to reflect on their sense of self, personality, goals, and identities. Ultimately, students will attempt to capture their identity in visual symbols using 1-3 objects (things, animals, plants, etc.) to represent who they are. Students will paint a still life of these objects as a visual metaphor for a self-portrait.

If you prefer, you can also have students pare this down to a single object and create a more minimalist design. To connect to modern arts, consider asking students to create a minimalist or silhouette tattoo design of this object or to create a graffiti-esque stylization of their own name.

  • Materials: Art supplies as needed

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