One of my favorite projects . . . Chuck Close

I have always loved Chuck Close.  In fact, if I could meet any artist living or dead I’m pretty sure I would choose him (by the way, he’s only 72 and lives in NYC).  I also love that students can relate to him.  He overcame many obstacles in his life including learning disabilities, the death of his father at a young age and a spinal cord collapse that ultimately left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down.  Chuck Close remains in a wheelchair, but he is not “known” because of his handicap.  He was a well known (and phenomenal) artist before he was in a wheelchair.  One of the things that make him so amazing is the way he took every one of his hardships in life and turned it into something positively positive.

I’m sharing this project once again and adding a few details about how it’s done.  After introducing Chuck Close with this DVD, this book and some healthy discussion about his life and work, we start out with a lesson on Portraiture and facial proportions.  I take about two days going through the anatomy and proportions of the human face while students draw along with me.  Once the practice portraits are complete students are given a large sheet of 18×24″ paper and a mirror.  They use the anatomy and proportions we went over to create a portrait that looks like them.  Chuck Close created many “fingerprint” portraits so I borrowed that technique to create double self-portraits- not only are the portraits of the students, they also use their unique fingerprint to complete the shading.  We do some value exercises including a fingerprint value scale + partial portrait (pictured above).  This helps students to practice using their fingerprints for shading (it’s tricky).  After practicing students add shaded fingerprints to their portrait.  For the background we use another piece of 18×24″ paper divided into 3″ squares.  We duplicate Chuck Close’s abstract painted squares.  Students must included at least three mixed colors in each square (they are not allowed to use color straight out of the paint bottle- mixed colors only!).  Once both works are complete, student cut out the portraits and glue them onto the painted background.

One thing I love about this project is that EVERYONE can be successful at it.  I have a pretty large group of Special Ed students who absolutely rocked this project.  You may be able to spot a few of their projects, but I bet you can’t pick them all out!

I think that covers it.  If you have any other questions feel free to ask!

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October 29, 2012 - 9:06 pm

Gail Dahn - I only wish I could be a student in your art class.

October 29, 2012 - 10:16 pm

Jani - These are absolutely WONDERFUL, AWESOME and BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE.

October 29, 2012 - 10:20 pm

Dana Darbyshire - I love that you gave the history of Chuck Close and the explanation of how the kids created their masterpieces. Another reason I wish I was in your art class.

October 29, 2012 - 11:37 pm

Jani - OK so when is the grown-up art camp happening? We all want to participate 🙂

March 2, 2013 - 6:04 pm

Lainey Bodenburg - Hi Mrs.Speelman! I loved all the projects we did last semester! Thanks forn being a great art teacher! 🙂

March 3, 2013 - 7:01 pm

Melissa - Awww, thanks Lainey!! I loved having you in class . . . I sure hope you have Art on your schedule for next year!!

March 3, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Lisa - What grade did you do this with?

August 6, 2013 - 7:31 am

Elizabeth - Really love this project – might use it for my year 5 class next term. 🙂

August 26, 2013 - 10:12 pm

Carla - Did all the students have the same portrait on the fingerprint shading sheet?

September 2, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Melissa - Carla- Yes they did.

September 30, 2013 - 7:46 pm

Heidi - What medium was used for the fingerprints? Awesome project!

October 4, 2013 - 11:56 pm

Melissa - Heidi- We just used acrylic paint and blotted it on paper towels. I think ink pads would work much better, but they are a little too pricey for me to get for all my classes.

September 20, 2016 - 2:47 pm

lori - I am an Art Specialist at a private school for 1st-8th grade. My lessons are 2 hours per classroom. How long did this project take? And do you think it could be modified to my primary students? Thanks so much! Love the lesson!

February 2, 2019 - 1:21 pm

Malena - I absolutely love this! I have a couple questions. What did they use to outline their drawing…would Sharpie work? Oops…maybe just one…I now see you used acrylic paint for the fingertips. 🙂 Thank you for any information. Are you able and willing to share the fingerprint shading sheet?? Thanks for the inspiration…just what I was looking for this week.

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