Teacher's Guide Introduction


1. Ask students if they've ever had a portrait of themselves made—perhaps a painting or a photograph. (School pictures count!) Ask them to describe how they were posed and what they were doing in the portrait.

2. Discuss the many techniques that portraitists use to depict their subjects' appearance and character. Explain the following techniques for students. (You may want to illustrate these techniques with examples from the Eye Contact exhibition.)

  • Present the subject in a different physical form (Agnes Meyer by Marius de Zayas)
  • Present the subject in a significant place or doing a significant activity (Leo Stein by Adolph Dehn—portrait not included in the online exhibition)
  • Give the subject a different identity to emphasize a specific characteristic
  • Include objects illustrating the subject's place in society (Ornette Coleman by Elaine de Kooning)
  • Include symbolic images to describe a person's life (Stokely Carmichael by Jacob Lawrence)
  • Surround the subject with real and significant objects from the subject's life
  • Include contemporary effects such as distortion, stylization, or abstract use of line (Ralph Barton's self-portrait)

3. Discuss with the class why and when portraits are made. Be sure the discussion reminds students that some portraits flatter the subject and others do not. Some portraits please the subject and others do not.

4. Invite students to sketch two portraits of themselves.* The first should be a portrait of themselves as they wish to be seen or remembered (public). The second should be a portrait of themselves as they really are (private). For each portrait, students can use some of the techniques listed in step 2, above.

*An alternative to this drawing activity may be found below, under "contour drawing."

5. When students are finished sketching, have them share their portraits with the class. Discuss, or have them write about, how the two portraits differ.

Contour Drawing

Using a single continuous line that follows the edge of a form comprises contour drawing. Unlike outlines, which merely define a space, contour lines also define edges within a form. Drawing a figure using contour drawing requires strong concentration. The artist must focus attention on the object being drawn, not the drawing surface. At the same time that the pencil is following the path of the eye, the artist must be analyzing and interpreting the subject.

Instructions for students

1. Decide on the starting point of the drawing, and place your pencil tip on the page. Do not hold the pencil at the tip as if you were writing. Grasp the pencil closer to the top. This forces use of the whole arm and allows for free flow of the contour line.

2. Do not look at your paper as you draw. Move your pencil as your eye scans the edges of the figure.

3. Don't worry about the results. Focus on what you are seeing and interpreting.

4. Practice many times. "Go with the flow."

5. Artist Elizabeth Layton says, "Contour drawing is a wonderful way to get rid of anger or whatever you want to get rid of." Did you "get rid of anything" as you allowed yourself to be pulled into this drawing process?

6. After practicing contour drawing with a partner, try doing a self-portrait while looking into a mirror. Now look at your drawing. What did this contour drawing help you notice about yourself that you hadn't noticed before?


Invite students to make a contour drawing of a sitter in the Eye Contact exhibition while looking at the sitter's portrait. Students should select one word from the exhibition label that evokes the quality of the sitter as captured in their own contour drawing. This word becomes the title of the new portrait. Post these contour drawings around the classroom alongside the students' self-portrait contour drawings.