Teacher: Leigh Kermizian

Title: Abstract Expressionist Self-Portraits

Grade Level: 10th-11th

Brief History: Abstract Expressionism is a movement in which artists typically applied paint rapidly, and with force to their huge canvases in an effort to show feelings and emotions, painting gesturally, non-geometrically, sometimes applying paint with large brushes, sometimes dripping or even throwing it onto canvas. Their work is characterized by a strong dependence on what appears to be accident and chance, but which is actually highly planned. Some Abstract Expressionist artists were concerned with adopting a peaceful and mystical approach to a purely abstract image. Usually there was no effort to represent subject matter. Not all work was abstract, nor was all work expressive, but it was generally believed that the spontaneity of the artists’ approach to their work would draw from and release the creativity of their unconscious minds. The expressive method of painting was often considered as important as the painting itself.


9.1 Production, Performance and Exhibition of dance, music, theatre and visual arts

9.2 Historical and Cultural Contexts

9.4 Aesthetic Response

Goals: Create a self-portrait in the style of the Abstract Expressionists using a variety of materials


Discuss the work of Robert Rauschenberg and other New York School artists

Define and discuss the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Brainstorm ways to create a non-representational self-portrait

Create an Abstract Expressionist inspired self-portrait

Requirements: Create a Abstract Expressionist inspired painting using symbols, color, and composition to portray yourself.

Resources/Visual Aids:


Painters Painting DVD

PowerPoint of Rauschenbergs work



Canvas stretcher bars

Staple gun



Acrylic paint

Paint brushes


Mixed Media supplies

Teacher Prep:

Have supplies ready to distribute


Day One:


  • Discuss what Abstract Expressionism is
  • Watch clips of Painters Painting DVD
  • Review Rauschenberg’s work
  • Introduce lesson


  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Create sketches


  • Clean up
  • Discuss homework

Day Two:


  • Review canvas stretching and priming procedure
  • Review sketches and plans


Stretching the Canvas

  • Build frame by putting four canvas stretcher bars together to make a rectangle, staple each corner twice
  • Cut canvas six inches larger than the dimensions of the stretcher bars
  • Center the frame on the canvas
  • Starting with the longer side, fold the canvas over the stretcher bar
  • Staple the canvas onto the bar with three staples, starting at the center, and two on either side
  • Rotate the canvas and repeat on the remaining three sides, pulling the canvas tightly before stapling
  • Starting with the first side, working from the center going outward, add more staples while pulling the canvas tightly
  • Repeat the process on the remaining three sides
  • Fold the excess canvas at the corners and staple it down

Priming the Canvas

  • Mix gesso
  • Using a wide brush, apply the gesso in even strokes going the same direction (Only if applying two coats of gesso. If applying one coat, use a cross hatching technique)
  • Allow to dry
  • Apply another coat of gesso going the opposite direction of the first coat


  • Clean up

Day Three:


  • Review project


  • Begin painting


  • Clean up

Day Four- Seven:


  • Review progress of students


  • Continue work on paintings


  • Clean up

Day Eight


  • Review process of a critique
  • Set up work




  • Clean up
  • Discuss effectiveness of critique

Critique/evaluation/assessment: Students work will be graded based on a rubric that will look at creativity, originality, craftsmanship, and participation. Students will participate in a critique based on the following criteria:

  • Prepare to critique
  • Examine Actual (literal) qualities
  • Examine Functional qualities
  • Examine Formal qualities
  • Examine Expressive qualities
  • Determine Relevant theories

Extension: Students will conduct research on Robert Rauschenberg and pick a painting to analyze.

Time budget:

Day One-Three

Intro: 10 minutes

Work time: 30 minutes

Clean up: 5 minutes

Day Four- Seven

Intro: 5 minutes

Work time: 35 minutes

Clean up: 5 minutes

Day Eight

Intro: 5 minutes

Critique: 35 minutes

Clean up: 5 minutes


Gesture: The act of making a sketch with relatively loose arm movements (gestures) — with the large muscles of the arm, rather than with the small muscles of the hand and wrist of the artist.

Spontaneity: the quality of being spontaneous: behavior proceeding from natural feeling or from a momentary impulse, without having been planned or labored; developing from within, without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment; not apparently contrived or manipulated.

Abstract: Non Representational art that focuses on the use of line, color, and forms.

Safety Concerns: None






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