Portraits of the artists

Giles Hughes tells how his Year 5 class gave themselves a new image by combining photocopiers and computers with traditional materials

Julian Opie is an artist who uses photography to produce many of his works. Digital images are simplified until only the barest details remain, so his portraits are simple line drawings with the nose and eyes represented by dots or small marks. The artist is interested in depicting things by using the minimum information.

I used Opie's work to involve my Year 5 class in an art project based on portraiture. We began by going to an exhibition of his work at the IKON Gallery, Birmingham. The staff explained Opie's ideas and working methods. Then the children spent time in the gallery, using their sketchbooks to record what they saw.

Back at school, they used digital cameras to take photographs of each other. We printed copies of the portraits and the pupils experimented with different media - oil pastels, felt pens and watercolours. I kept our briefing open, letting the pupils change the image, create different moods and atmospheres and find the effects they could make.

Next they worked on their portraits using PhotoSuite software to distort and colour them. The results were strikingly different from the ones they produced using conventional media.

They printed a new photograph and enlarged it on the photocopier. Laying a piece of tracing paper over the print, they traced over the image of the face and shoulders and, like Opie, included only vital information. Shadows and fine details were omitted to create a very simple image. Once traced again on to drawing paper, the image was drawn over using a black fine-liner felt-tip pen. As they drew, we discussed varying the thickness and nature of the lines.

We moved on to making a self-portrait using a combination of the techniques and media experimented with so far. First the pupils produced a simple line-drawing in black fineliner, which was photocopied on two different colours of card. From this, they could make two portraits using media of their choice. The two portraits were then cut into strips and woven together. Because their initial picture was photocopied, the images matched perfectly when woven together. Mixing media created a textured, colourful and broken surface.

As a grand finale, the children embarked on a collage portrait of themselves. I used reproductions of David Mach's "Portrait of the Nation" to introduce the concept. The portraits were to show different aspects of each person. They were asked to use old photographs of themselves, loved ones and family, pets, favourite sport and pop stars and so on. Each child was provided with a disposable camera for a week so they could gather images from all aspects of their life, and the photographs were put together with other materials in each collage. The finished portraits were displayed together to produce a "Portrait of the Class".

David Mach: www.davidmach.com Julian Opie: www.bbc.co.ukartsdigitalguestartistsa-opie.shtml PhotoSuite: www.roxio.comenproductsphotosuiteindex.jhtml

Giles Hughes teaches at Colmore Junior School, Birmingham

Materials and equipment

Reproduction of Opie's work

Reproduction of Mach's work


Digital cameras

Variety of media including watercolours, felt pens and oil pastels

PhotoSuite computer program and colour printer

Enlarged copies of photographs

Tracing paper

Pencils and black fineliners

Various colours of card for photocopier


Variety of media and collage materials

Disposable cameras


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