iPad Portraits

Term: 3 Year: 2013

Students are often intrigued by the work of M.C Escher and it was Escher’s well known self-portrait, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, which provided the basis for a task completed by the Year 10 Art class at Charlton College.

Hand with Reflecting Sphere features Escher and his studio interior, both of which are reflected in a mirrored sphere that he holds in his hand. Self-portraits in reflective, spherical surfaces are common in Escher’s work and this lithograph is a famous example. This artwork became an important starting point for a painting task which required the students to produce a distorted self-portrait.

To commence the unit we discussed self-portraiture, addressing the fact that self-portraits can merely depict your appearance or, when taken to another level, can reveal something about the personality, character or attitude of the subject. Students viewed a range of images that show this.

Much conversation centred on the materials and techniques used in the artworks we viewed. We discussed the fact that traditionally artists drew or painted themselves from a reflection in a mirror and this led us to explore Hand with Reflecting Sphere in greater depth. With a classroom of ‘digital natives’ it was also pertinent to explore how the techniques and processes of contemporary artists have dramatically altered with advances in technology. At this point the students studied portraits produced by contemporary artists, particularly those employing current technology in their working practices.

The class was then introduced to the distorted self-portrait task. This task provided an excellent opportunity for the integration of technology, as the students were required to use their smart phones to take a self-portrait and an app to distort their image. Although we used smart phones it would also be possible to use iPads.

The students used various free apps including Warp it and Roundy Head to distort their images and it was exciting to see everyone share their knowledge and resources. Experimenting with different apps to create diverse effects was an important stage of the process. 

Once the self-portraits were captured and distorted they were printed in colour. The students used their distorted photograph as the basis to complete sketches, which aided the development of their ideas and drawing skills. When the students felt they had consolidated their skills they drew their image onto a canvas board, ensuring the canvas was filled as background space was to be minimal. The students then painted their self-portraits using oil paints. Using oils gave us the chance to employ different painting techniques, whilst learning about effective clean up procedures and the importance of health and safety within the classroom. Acrylic paints could be used with equal success.

Although Hand with Reflecting Sphere was produced in 1935, it was easy to use it as a source of inspiration, whilst applying 21st century approaches to our art making. Integrating technology enabled us to collaborate and communicate with a common goal, whilst working towards the creation of a personal, individual artwork. Using readily accessible information technology in the classroom such as smart phones has provided the students with valuable skills and a foundation that will encourage future independent exploration.

Charlton Secondary College
Suitable for levels 2-4