POP Portraits: Athletes in High Contrast

Earlier this year the PE instructor at my school requested that my class make portraits of Athletes to put up in his room, I knew that this could be a challenging assignment, and that I wanted to give my students every advantage possible. When thinking about what this assignment could be, I remembered the simplicity and subject matter of Pop Art. Andy Warhol’s 1964 self portrait is recognizable, yet paired down to the essential shadows, it is also reminiscent of an athlete’s trading card. I decided to model the assignment on this one image.


I begin the assignment with a brief history of Pop Art and slideshow of Andy Warhol’s works, I then ask each student to choose an athlete that inspires them in some way. In the computer lab students search for photographic images that are appropriate for a portrait and will translate well into a high-contrast image. When students choose a photo they import to a Google Drawing doc to edit it; they crop the image, change it to black and white, adjust the contrast and brightness to create an image with only blacks and whites, and finally add an 8×10 grid of over the top of the image. I print these for the students and they begin to translate the image to a large paper with similar grid lines. Students receive a color theory lesson and begin mixing tempera paint to create an accurate skin tone for their athlete, and one other color that represents the athlete. Student paint the portraits with thin layers so that they can achieve flat, opaque colors, to get the poster effect. I am very pleased with the way these painting turned out, and the students are too, I will absolutely use this process again in the future.

Lesson Objective: Use value to create volume and depth.
Key Vocabulary: opaque, tempera, brightness, contrast, scale,
Project Requirements:

  1. Accurate drawing.
  2. Three opaque colors.
  3. Accurate skin tone.


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