patterns were a lot of fun, but glasses,
mustaches, and balding patterns were
The project began simply as students were challenged to draw portraits of themselves as they look now.
To encourage truthful drawings, I
showed a selection of portraits by
Alice Neel. We talked about whether
her paintings were beautiful or not.
Did they look like real people? Did
those people look pretty? Bony? Fat?
I explained that it takes some courage to draw people as they really look.
I wondered out loud if my students
could be that brave. For the most part,
this was an effective pep talk. Later,
though, when one of the girls tried to
beautify her self-portrait, she said “I’m
going to have plastic surgery when I’m
a hundred.” How could I argue with
As always, I encourage young artists
to use simple shapes when they draw.
For this project, I marked the first
big shape for them. To do that, I put
each photograph inside a plastic sheet
protector. The students and I used dry-erase markers to discover the many
shapes that make up their faces, and
to draw those simple shapes, one by
one, onto the sheet protector.
As the students finished their contemporary self-portraits, I asked them
to imagine how their faces might
change in one hundred years. Would
they need glasses? What color would
their hair be? Would they be happy or
sad? Students selected a photo of the
centenarian they thought they might
resemble. We placed photos inside
sheet protectors, and used them to
find and draw the shapes of wrinkles,
glasses, and balding patterns.
of the project
very proud of
their self-portraits and were reluctant
to ruin them with wrinkles and facial
hair. More than that, many of the kids
started to think about getting old.
One girl was dismayed. “I look like
my bubbe!” she complained. Another
asked, “Why are we doing this? Are
we even going to be alive in one hun-
I tried to steer their imaginations
toward more hopeful ideas. “What
will your family be like? Will medi-
cine get better in one hundred years?
What will you be able to do in one
hundred years that you can’t do now?”
Some of the kids were intrigued by the
idea that one hundred might not seem
old in one hundred years.
The class colored these self-portraits
with watercolors and colored ink. To
avoid big spills, smudges, and puddles,
I showed students how to blot frequently and test their colors before
they added them to their drawings.
I also instructed them to apply
their colors in three steps. First, stu-
dents shaded their faces. I provided
each artist with light gray, green, blue,
or purple colors. I instructed them to
squint at the photos of their centenar-
ians, and then copy the darkest shad-
ows that they saw there. While those
shadows dried, students colored their
backgrounds with any one of many
We displayed the completed portraits
along with the paragraphs each stu-
dent wrote about his or her future. I
was delighted to
read that many of
them will become
tors with very big
will fly jet packs or drive their own
limousines. One student will have a
Despite the emotional roller coaster,
I consider these aged self-portraits
a perfect project for the artroom. It
challenged the students technically,
intellectually, and emotionally. The
artwork stimulated their imagination and their imagination informed
their artwork. All the students had a
chance to explore who they are and
who they want to be. It was a pleasure,
in fact, to see how thoughtfully these
young artists considered the subject,
and how proud they were of their finished work.
“What will you look like
when you are one hundred?”
I asked as they posed.
Rama Hughes is an art teacher at Yavneh
Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles, California.
Students identify connections
between the visual arts and other disciplines in the curriculum.