Family Portraits with iPad

Year Levels: F – 12


with Dee Zabel

Family Portraits With Ipad 800x400

Click Here to download Lesson Plan


In this activity, the focus is on timed portrait drawings using an “oil pastel” tool (using the App Art Set 4 on iPad).
With current social distancing rules in place families are at home together, but often unable to see other people they love. This activity can be done with live models in your home or from photographs of loved family members you are unable to visit at the moment. Upon completing the portrait, you may like to share it with the family member you have drawn via email or messaging.


Activity Introduction

PART ONE: You (parent/teacher) will explore iPad artist, David Kassan. This will also be the time to encourage your student to play with the App: Art Set 4 and explore its features. The main things that need to be learned are how to:

  • Make a new artwork
  • Change colours
  • Change brush
  • Change medium / type of material used (charcoal, paint, colour pencil, etc)
  • Select different types of background paper
  • Undo / Redo
  • Zoom in and out
  • Erase

*If you have access to a stylus, your student may choose to experiment using this tool to draw instead of her/his finger, like David Kassan.

PART TWO: Your student will create timed portraits of a family member. These will start with 10 seconds and build up to 5 – 10 minutes. As their confidence grows, they may wish to continue working after the timed exercises have finished to fully complete their work without time restrictions. During these timed sessions it will be necessary to select the most important elements/features of a portrait to make their artwork recognizable as a portrait. By limiting the colour pallet to a greyscale, focus can be placed on executing the right shapes, lines and proportions of features without trying to match skin tones.



iPads provide students with an alternative tool for learning and practicing drawing skills. The beauty of an app, besides having lots of drawing and painting tools available, is that you can do no mess art activities as well as have the freedom to make artworks without the fear of making a mistake and wasting materials. Students will gain confidence with their drawing skills and be able to translate what they have learned to real materials. If at all possible, it is great to do this activity on the iPad and then in real life to allow students to compare and contrast the positives and challenges of both options.

Using an App often takes a bit of time to get the hang of, so it would be best completed as a series of shorter lessons to allow for learning the app and for the making component. Instructions are included as to how best break up each part of the unit.

For the relatively small cost of an app, you can have an art store worth of drawing and painting materials at your fingertips. Art Set 4 can be downloaded for free and upgraded for $14.99. By upgrading you gain access to more features within the app, but for the purposes of this activity, the free version will work just fine.

Art Set uses a ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG) interface, which means that when selecting tools, you know you are using a colour pencil because you select the tool that looks like an actual colour pencil. In the activity step by step there is a short guide to learning the important features of the App. However, it is highly recommended that parents/teachers and older students use the How to Guide within the app is very user friendly and has video guides as well.


Art Elements & Principles

Line, Tone, Shape, Contrast


Learning Objectives

Students will:



  • What do you notice about how Kassan is working?
  • What do you think are the positives and negatives about working on an iPad?
  • If you could ask Kassan any questions what would you ask him?
  • Watch the interview with Kassan about doing the iPad portrait. Were some of your questions answered?
  • Visit Kassan’s website: and compare and contrast his “real” work to his iPad studies. Can you tell the difference?


  • What are the important features in a portrait?
  • What will you draw first during the very short timed sessions?
  • How will you use the iPads tools to smudge like you would normally do with your fingers?
  • What might be different to using your finger to draw vs an actual oil pastel?


  • Draw several timed iPad portraits using Art Set 4.



  • Repeat this activity with real art materials.




Create Artwork

Part One: Tuning in and Getting to Know Art Set 4

Step 1: Watch the following video of David Kassan creating a portrait on an iPad. The video goes for 5 minutes, it’s ok to watch a bit then skip ahead.
Click Here to watch the video

Step 2: Discuss what you notice about how he is working. Additional questions to those listed above could be: What does he select/change on the iPad? What is he using to draw? Does it look realistic? What material does it look like he’s using? This portrait was done in a 3hr sitting but the footage has been sped up to a 5-minute video. How would you feel sitting for 3 hrs to have your portrait drawn?

Step 3: Watch the interview with David Kassan about doing the iPad portrait. Have a brief discussion about what information he shares about his process.
Click Here to watch the interview

Step 4: Explore Art Set 4 – allow your student to experiment with free play for 5-10 minutes. Ipad Family Portrait 4abc 250x581
Start them off by helping them to make a new drawing:

Tap on the + symbol; Then select “Paper”; Select the top one.

Encourage your students to try to:

  • Change drawing tools by choosing one in the drawer that pops up when you tap on one tool. (There will be a limited number available in the free version.) Scroll down in the drawer for more tools.
  • Make a variety of marks.
  • Smudge/blend lines with the Tissue Blender.
  • Erase marks.
  • Tap on the colours to change colours and choose other colours from the pallet that pops up.
  • Use the Undo/Redo buttons.
  • Return to the gallery and create a new artwork.
  • Pinching two fingers to zoom in and out on different areas of the canvas to add more detail.
  • Use fingers and a stylus if you have one and compare the difference.

Step 5: After some time to play, start a new drawing and use only the black Oil Pastel, Coloured Pencil and Eraser tool for some quick trials of how the materials work.
One of the limitations of using Apps can be that you can’t adjust the size of the tools’ marks. By using the Colour Pencil and Oil Pastel you will be able to create a wider variety of marks. You can also experiment with using the eraser to take away pigment and create interesting marks.
If you push and hold on each of these tools you can drag it down to the wooden bar at the bottom of the screen to keep it there. That will make switching between tools faster.

Part Two: What is a Portrait?

Step 6: Discuss what is a portrait? What facial features do you need to include in a portrait? Where on the face are the features? How will you draw the features? What kinds of lines and shapes will you need to use?

Step 7: Ask a family member to make different facial expressions. Talk about how will you need to change the shapes of different features to show emotions? For example, if someone is sad, the mouth turns down, eyebrows pull up and together, eyes look down, etc. vs someone who is happy might have an upturned mouth, possibly showing teeth, cheeks lifted and eyebrows raised.

Part Three: Timed Family Portraits

Step 8: Choose a model to pose for timed drawing sessions. Ipad Family Portrait Step 8 250x333
(Or use a photograph of a loved one you cannot currently visit.) The drawings will increase in length with the longest being 10 minutes long. Each drawing will be started on a fresh sheet of paper so that you can compare the drawings at the end. When drawing a portrait it is best to hold the iPad vertically to fit the person’s head and maybe neck.

Before starting ask your student to look closely and think about the most important features to draw first. The shorter drawings will be mostly made up of quick lines and shapes using just the Oil Pastel. To start, the chin, eyes, and nose might be the only features that there is time to draw. There might just be time to click undo, but not enough time to erase. How can you turn a mistake into part of the drawing? With more time on the clock there will be time to toggle between drawing tools, rub out mistakes, zoom in and out and refine details and the shape of each feature. After each drawing discuss how it went and what they will improve and add in the next drawing.

Drawing 1: 10 seconds
Drawing 2: 30 seconds
Drawing 3: 1 minute
Drawing 4: 3 minutes
Drawing 5: 5 minutes
Drawing 6: 10 minutes (you may shorten this time to suit your student’s needs)

If you have made a drawing of a loved one not at your house, send them their portrait electronically or print it out to be sent through the post.



Taking it a few steps further…

Extension Idea 1:
Your student my like to continue with their 10 minute drawing. Make a duplicate copy of this drawing to continue and keep the original. Select the drawing in the gallery and tap the Duplicate button.

Extension Idea 2:
If you have drawing materials this activity could be completed with traditional materials. Compare and contrast the process.

Extension Idea 3:
Try using different colours to create a portrait. How can you use the Tissue Blender to mix colours and create tone?

Extension Idea 4:
Instead of portraits do times drawings of objects around the house like scissors, dish soap bottle, pots, cutlery, ect.


Discussion / Reflection



  • What was easy or challenging about working on an iPad?
  • Keeping in mind the interview with David Kassan, would you agree or disagree with the positives and negatives he expressed about making artwork on an iPad?
  • If you had the option, would you like to do this activity with real materials or on the iPad?
  • There are currently three different versions of Art Set. With each App and update, the developers have tried to make it more and more user friendly and realistic. If you had to give feedback what is one thing you wish you could do with in the app to make it more realistic or easier to use?



Materials & Equipment

  • iPad (It is recommend you ensure your ipad is fully charged and updated before beginning)
  • APP: Art Set 4 (option to use the FREE version or $14.99 for the full version)
  • Stylus (optional)



Related Artwork, Links & Sources


Share Your Outcomes!

How did you go!? We’d love you to share your artwork with us on Facebook or Instagram!


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