March 5, 2017

Heroic Portraits: Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas

Inspired by the large scale portraits by Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley, our pre-Kindergarten students created their own heroic portraits, blending digital and hands-on artmaking techniques.
We began our project by viewing Wiley's paintings featuring street cast black New Yorkers, in familiar Renaissance poses. Turns out, the juxtaposition of contemporary subjects in grandiose postures is intriguing, even to our littlest friends who don't have years of Art History classes on their resume!


Later in the week, we compared his paintings to some (school safe) work of Mickalene Thomas, whose paintings celebrate race and femininity.  
I love to show work that kids might see someday in Philly, and happily these artists both have work in the collection at PAFA. 
Look into either of their work if you want to get inspired to make some impactful portraits!

The first week of our project was photography and digital manipulation. I run a choice based studio, so about six kids at a time were working on this, and it took a week for all the kids to finish each each phase of their portrait (two weeks total).

Wiley's work features complicated patterned backgrounds, so our first task (of many) was to create hand drawn patterns. For this step, kids got to use my special smelly markers, which elevates any basic drawing project into a Special Event. These drawings were photographed and archived into folders (one folder per class). 

Next up was photography. I bought a (cheap, but effective) green screen on Amazon for about $10, and tacked it to a bulletin board wall. The kids used some scarves and minimal props to make heroic poses, and snapped photos using iPads. The portraits were also archived into class folders.

After that, we had to combine the portrait with the background. For this I used the app "Green Screen" by DoInk, which is so simple and a thumbs-up recommendation. Import the background and the portrait, and the kids can resize either image, spin the orientation, and adjust the green screen sensitivity. Finished pictures were saved into their folders as well.

When everyone's pictures were complete, I sent them off to Snapfish. Two weeks (and two projects) later when the printed photos arrived, we started Phase 2.  Working from the heavily bejeweled images by Mickalene Thomas, we created embellished frames to contain our photos.

Students painted the backs of sushi take out containers (I got FIVE HUNDRED for $3.50 from NAEIR. If you're not a member, get a teacher membership today.) The photos were glued on, and then students choose pom-poms, sparkles, glitter, doilies, beads, and more to add to their portrait! They also used fluorescent window markers to decorate the lids of the sushi containers before gluing them on and completing their masterpieces!
To see our process in process check us on YouTube.


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