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Expressionist Portraits

Expressionist Portraits
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Students will learn about Expressionism as they create portraits in the style of artists like Emile Nolde, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh.

By Rebecca Engelman [Rebecca is an art educator at Cathedral School in Bismarck, ND.]


Students will demonstrate an understanding of expressionism by creating a portrait of a friend who inspires a mood or feeling.

What You Need:

  • 16 x 12 black paper (high quality construction paper works well)
  • White chalk
  • White Elmer’s® School Glue
  • Assorted chalk pastels (fluorescence if possible)

What You Do:


Give students information on artist who were considered Expressionists. (Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, Der Blaue Reiter) Use slides and reproductions to demonstrate the use of distortion and color to evoke emotions.


Assign each student a partner. As one partner makes a face which portrays a certain emotion, the other partner quickly draws him/her with white chalk on black paper. Emphasis that this should not be a realistic drawing. Use simple lines and large shapes. Try to capture the expression. Make sure the picture fills the page and extends to the bottom.


Use white glue to trace over the chalk lines. Practice controlling the flow of the glue on scrap paper. Let the glue dry undisturbed overnight.


Use pastel to color in all flesh areas. Use a finger tip to push the color into the edges of the glue. go over the pastel with a colored pastel and gently blend. Have the students blend pink or red on the cheeks.


Let the students complete ther portraits with the colored pastels. Remind them to use only one finger when blending and to push the color into the edges of the glue. Talk about using colors in unusual ways to create a mood.


Complete the back ground taking the color all the way to the edge of the paper. Spray with fixative or hairspray to set the pastel.

About Expressionism:

Written by Andrea Mulder-Slater, KinderArt®

Expressionism was all about the depiction of emotions and the types of responses those same emotions evoked. The traditional goal of representing nature as accurately as possible was thrown out the window and instead vibrant colors, wild abstract shapes and emotional subject matter took over. Expressionism had its roots in African cultures and included many sub-styles within it including Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider) and Die Brucke (the bridge).


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