At the start of the school year my Drawing and Painting 1 students create these beautiful self- portrait sketchbook covers inspired by Renaissance Artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. I like this project because it has many different points of entry for students at different ability levels. I typically have a very diverse body of learners in my room and so I plan my lessons to accommodate the various levels of language, skills and familiarity with art-making. For this project there are options for advanced students to really push themselves and to analyze the anatomy and forms seen in the profile view of the face and try to replicate those volumes in their collages/drawings. There is also the opportunity to experiment and develop new mixed media techniques. And for beginning students there is a clear step by step path to follow to create a work that is visually compelling and relevant to the student's interests.
Students begin the lesson by analyzing the work of Arcimboldo visually. Some of my students may have seen this work before and others have not. I use many of thinking strategies from Project Zero and VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) in my classes and this very simple close viewing and partner share is the first introduction of this way of visually analyzing images for my students. I keep it very simple this first time to see what students will notice and how to guide the conversation toward the formal elements/strategies we want to identify and focus on in final pieces. Some of the things students will typically notice is that Arcimboldo is choosing particular fruit/veggie forms to stand in for particular facial features because of their visual similarities. For example using wheat for the eyebrow because they have similar textures. Another thing students might pick up on is that the scale of the fruit/veggies are being manipulated to fit the composition and are not appearing to true scale. I like to tell students some fun Art History tid-bits in here to make the artist come alive- about how he was the Hapsburg court painter and that some of his portraits subtly mocked the aristocracy.
After our discussion we look at more slides of his work together and talk about the anatomy of the side of the face - what volumes do we see and how Arcimboldo shows these in his work. We also look at some contemporary artists that use a similar approach to portraiture.
Students have a choice of how they would like to begin the project- they can have a photograph of their profile taken and trace that to begin or they can use a pre-made generic profile outline. I offer this option because it is the first week of school and some students are very shy to have a teacher they don't know take their photo. I find that this option of choice gives students some agency and helps with buy in and it doesn't effect the quality of the finished pieces- there are incredible pieces created by both starting methods.
Once students have their profiles (traced or generic) they use a proportions guide I pass out to help them find the different volumes and features of the face to find images to replace. Some students will use collage methods and use magazines, old calendars, maps, patterned papers, others will work with drawing and some will combine both collage and drawing. This is the part of the project that is a great introduction to artistic problem solving. As students work they must solve visual problems and establish their own process. At the end of studio sessions I have students reflect in pairs about the challenges they faced in their process and how they met those challenges.
Once students have filled their profiles with imagery and textures they cut out the profile and mount it on a piece of cardstock paper. I offer a variety of colors to students. They can then choose to add anything to the background that they want to finish their designs.
The final touch is to laminate the sketchbook cover and punch it with a three holes for binding. I like to bind the sketchbooks with 1/2" book rings so students can add pages and handouts to their sketchbooks throughout the year.
Student Work Examples
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