Wednesday, February 13, 2013

That Thing That Makes You, You

Each year, the children lay down the first layer of their self portraits imagining carefully placed internal organs. This year though, things had to be changed. One of the children DID NOT like the idea of internal organs. 

Our first foray into talking about internal organs found him slowly building up a level of terror that overwhelmed him. We had just finished a small group research session, pouring over some human body books and were sketching out internal organs. He drew a heart and then the idea of talking about, adding to, imagining other organs became an all-stop, do not pass go, I need my daddy RIGHT NOW kind of moment.
"Energy balls" radiate from the center of the chests on these portraits.

So, on to Plan B.

I decided that I would do a mini-session with him using my car engine in order to back our way in to a discussion about the circulatory system, hearts as engines, etc. and that he could bypass altogether that first layer of the self-portrait series. But, I will be the first to tell you that it makes me nervous to not have that first layer on the portrait, it just seems like it would be wrong. As I thought about why I felt that, I realized that, in the past, the internal organ painting layer usually revealed something about the painter. It is my favorite layer. Plan B became about shaping the thing that makes that first layer so precious and in the end, our little one who had just been so worried about the idea of beating heart, flowing blood, and breathing air, embraced the project.

These two portraits have a special emphasis on eyes and
mouths as well as central cores.
During arrival time, the co-oping parents helped me introduce the idea in bits and pieces to some of the children and then we talked about it as a group during circle. This is the idea in a nutshell, on the first layer you should paint the thing that makes you special. Some people call it your spirit, your aura, your energy, or your soul, or maybe it is your favorite color or your favorite thing. (I made sure to add, "you know, your favorite thing, like Lego" for our especially concerned about internal organs customer). It is the thing that makes you, you.

A collection
Then I changed things up and gave the children watercolors for this first layer. We usually use tempera for the whole project. The reason I chose watercolor is because the watercolor will hold fast and it will reveal itself and make its presence known through each additional layer. The watercolor is that strong. It makes that much of a statement. And that is what we are looking for, isn't it?
"I want my insides to be beautiful."
And this, is that thing that makes our worried child, less worried.


  1. I love the way you can invent new dance steps on the spot. So important when working with children. Brilliant, as ever.

  2. What an utterly unique approach you have & I really do admire how much time you devote to each art task. Can't wait to see them as they the layrs go on. Kierna