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In this image, Jacob Lawrence painted a portrait of himself as an artist. He is in his studio in Seattle, Washington, where he and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight, moved in 1971. Lawrence showed his own face as mask-like. He is holding brushes that represent his profession as a painter. He is smiling, as though he is welcoming you and inviting you into his space.

In this painting Jacob Lawrence is surrounded by his tools and materials, including tubes and jars of paint, a drill, and a hammer. On the left, one of Lawrence's paintings hangs on the wall. This painting is from Lawrence's narrative series, The Life of Harriet Tubman, 1939-40. It shows Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom. Below a figure dressed in blue climbs a staircase. Perhaps this figure is from another of Lawrence's paintings, or maybe it is an actual person. On the right, other paintings on the wall include Lawrence’s  Tombstones, 1942, and Cabinet Makers, 1946.

A portrait is a picture or image of a person. A portrait usually looks like the person, but it can also be made of objects, signs, or words to stand for the person instead.

A self-portrait is when an artist uses him or herself as the subject for a portrait.

An artist’s studio is a place where an artist makes his or her work.

When you are looking at a flat work of art, the background is the space that appears farthest away from you. Artists often use a background to show the setting or where a scene is taking place.

When you are looking at a flat work of art, the foreground is the space or objects that appear closest to you.

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In this webquest you will:
  • Explore how Jacob Lawrence represented himself in his Self-Portrait.

  • Use the web to examine how other artists and photographers make portraits.

  • Work with a partner to make portraits of each other.

  • Make your own self-portrait.
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Self-Portrait, 1977
Gouache and tempera on paper
23 x 31 in. (58.4 X 78.7 cm)
National Academy of Design, New York
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
  1. Look at Jacob Lawrence's painting,  Self-Portrait, 1977. Move your mouse over the painting and find questions to discuss with your classmates.

  2. With your teacher, use the Portrait web resources below to view and discuss how other artists and photographers have made portraits and self-portraits.

    Who is in this portrait?
    What did the artist or photographer include?
    What can you tell about this person by looking at their portrait?
    Where is the subject?
    What are they doing?

  3. Find a partner. Ask your partner to draw a portrait of you. Use a pencil, crayons, or markers on paper.

    How does your portrait change if you look at the subject from a different angle?
    How do you feel while your partner is drawing you?
    What can you tell about yourself from your partnerís portrait of you?

    Next, switch places! Make a portrait of the person who just made one of you.

    When you have completed one portrait of each other, experiment! Draw some portraits of each other in different ways. For example, use another art material or a camera.

  4. View and discuss your portraits with the class.

  5. If you made a self-portrait, what would you want it to look like?
    How would you represent yourself?
    What would you include to express who you are?

    Use crayons, markers, paint, or a camera to make a self-portrait. Decide how you want to look, where you want to be, and what you want to include in your portrait. Include objects that tell something about who you are. Think about what you like to do, where you live, what you like to wear, and what your personality is like.

    If you need help with drawing, look at the Drawing Portraits web resources below.

  6. Present and discuss your portrait with the class. Explain why you included certain objects in the foreground and background. If you used sounds, explain why you used them.

    How did you represent yourself in your portrait?
    What feelings did you express?
    What objects did you choose to include?
    Why did you include them?
    What do they mean to you?
    What did you learn about yourself while you were making your portrait?
    What does your portrait say about you?
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Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

Portrait by artist Lorna Simpson.

Another portrait by artist Lorna Simpson.

Portrait by artist Alice Neel.

Another portrait by artist Alice Neel.

Peter Paul Reubens’ self-portrait.

Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait.

Andy Warhol's self-portrait.

Portraits by photographer Lewis Hine.

A selection of portraits.


Learn about drawing your own self-portrait.

Draw a portrait of your friend.

Draw a portrait of your family.

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You will be evaluated on your self-portrait. Your teacher may also choose to create art rubrics for evaluation.
  • Was your self-portrait planned carefully? Did you try different methods before deciding upon a method to use for your self portrait (crayons, markers, paint, Kid Pix, camera)?

  • Does it show that you are aware of different kinds of design elements and techniques?

  • Does it convey a personal style?

  • If you made a digital portrait, did you experiment with different tools available to you?

  •  Learning Standards Addressed
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Compare your self-portrait with the drawings that your partner made of you. What is similar or different about them?

Look at your self-portraits together as a class. How did you represent yourselves as individuals? As a group?

Use your pictures and writing to make a self-portrait book or a self-portrait wall in your classroom.

Or scan your portraits into a computer. Make a group portrait presentation in KidPix,  PowerPoint, or other software that can combine images and text. If you can add sound include your voice or some of your favorite music. Combine all of these things to show something special about you or your subject.

Think of a great title for your group project!

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©2001 Whitney Museum of American Art