Put Yourself in the Picture


The elementary school self-portrait project is among our most joyous; it goes straight to the core of Creative Art Works’ mission to equip, connect, and inspire NYC kids through the artistic process.

Above and beyond learning technical drawing skills, our students explore their sense of identity. Literally and figuratively, they investigate, “How do I see myself?” As they learn how to render themselves within a setting of their choosing, they imagine their place in the world and the contributions they will make to it.


And wow, do we love what they see! Their optimism -- their sense of power and possibility for the future -- is all a delight to behold, and fills us with hope. It also reinvigorates our commitment to bringing these vital, life-affirming experiences to NYC youth.

At Creative Art Works, we believe that meaningful arts experience is fundamental to the shared human experience. It should neither be a luxury – the proverbial frosting on the cake – nor should it be something a child does to check off a box, as we tell them to “eat their peas.” The arts are a core ingredient a balanced, holistic education. They are nourishment for the heart, mind and soul, and for many of the young people and under-resourced communities we serve, we provide the only access to visual arts education that they have.

How to Draw Your Own Self-Portrait

CAW Teaching Artist Laura Mychal with 2nd-grade students at PS 192

Dear Friends,

The holidays are a time to come together as a family, as friends, and as a community. At CAW, we believe that art can provide a respite from the stresses of daily life and the emotional roller coaster of the 24-hour news cycle. We know that art-making bridges divides, heals wounds, and creates happy memories. So, we hope you will make some time for an art project with your family and friends at your next get-together. Or bookmark this blog and save it as an activity for the next snow day.

Don’t worry if you don’t know which end of a paintbrush is up – we’ve got you covered. What follows is the third of four DIY projects you can do at home. This one is intended specifically for children in grades one through five, but it can be enjoyed by people of any age or experience level. Follow the step-by-step directions below or simply use them as a jumping off point.

You can do this! (We believe in you!)

A second-grade student at PS 192 shares her self-portrait.

Please share your art with us on InstaGram or Facebook. Send us a snapshot via messenger or tag us in your own posts with:

If you like this project, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to Creative Art Works, so we can bring art-making projects to more kids in our city.


Step 1: Meet Frida

A portrait is a picture of somebody’s face. A self-portrait is a picture of your own face. Say “Hello!” to Frida Khalo, who painted a lot of self-portraits during her life. If you’d like to see one of Frida’s original paintings, click on the drawing to the left. You might want to print out her self-portrait or open it in a new window before reading further.

What do you see in Frida’s self-portrait?
You might notice a lot of bright colors. You might notice that she filled up her canvas from edge to edge. You might also notice that Frida included many of the the things she loved in her self-portraits, like her many pets (she owned cats, parrots, and even spider monkeys), and the plants and insects from her beloved garden.

If you filled up your portraits up with the things that you love, what would you include?
You might choose your own pets or favorite things from around your room. You could choose sporting equipment, or toys. Or you might fill up your self-portrait with things from your imagination, like unicorns, space ships, or dinosaurs. It’s your self-portrait: add anything you want.

Step 2: What You’ll Need

You may already have many of these things on hand. If not you can pick them at your local drugstore, toy store, or craft store. You shouldn’t have to spend more than twenty buck.

Oil Pastels cover large areas and can be blended

Oil Pastels cover large areas and can be blended

  • A mirror (preferably one that stands on its own or you can prop up on a table)

  • Oil pastels or Markers (Alternately, colored pencils or crayons can be used)

  • Construction paper or brown craft paper

  • Number 2 Pencil

  • An eraser

  • Paper towels

  • Print outs of Frida Khalo’s self portraits for inspiration and discussion

Step 3: A Bit of Technique

Before you get started on your self-portrait, take some time to get to know your materials. Set a timer for ten minutes and try to fill up a sheet of scrap paper with as many different marks as you can think up. If you are working with others, and you see somebody doing something interesting with their drawing, go ahead and try it yourself. Artists often borrow techniques from other artists. This is not the same as stealing; in fact, many art students will copy famous paintings as a way of learning the techniques of the masters.

Pastel Techniques

1. Smudge pastels with a paper towel to cover the paper better or create lighter shades.
2. Blend two or more colors together by smudging with a paper towel or your finger tips.
3. Create patterns by drawing over one color with one or more different colors.

Marker Techniques

  1. Create shades of a single color by layering heavy marks to make darker tones or using light strokes to let the paper show through to create lighter tones.

  2. Blend different colors by layering one or more on top of each other.

  3. Experiment with patterns.

Step 4: A Bit of ANATOMY

Where do your eyes and nose and mouth go?

  1. Draw an oval in pencil. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect!)

  2. Draw a horizontal line across the midpoint of the oval. You will erase this later.

  3. Place two small circles so they sit on the horizontal line. Your eyeball are just about in the middle of your face.

  4. Draw two short lines about one third and two thirds of the way down below the horizontal line. One line marks the bottom of your nose; the other marks the position of your mouth.

  5. Add details to your drawing, such as hair, eyebrows, lips, ears. Erase the line across the middle of your face and any other stray lines.

  6. Color your drawing. Surround your self-portrait with images of things you love or are important to you.

Step 5: Share Your Self-Portrait!

Don’t forget to post your drawing to Instagram or Face book and tag @caw4kids and #ArtIsForEverybody2018.

Examples of Self-Portraits by 2nd Grade Students at PS 192