Mixed Media Portrait for Grade 5

As a teaching artist for the state of Hawaii, I create arts integrated unit plans for elementary and middle school students. In designing lessons for kids, I’m always thinking of how to engage them in ways that are high on the fun meter while skill-building in the chosen areas of study. An added benefit is that I get to try out new ideas and play like a kid; I feel like a mad scientist experimenting with this material and that technique until I come up with something I love and I think they will love doing too. This is one of those projects, currently under way at an arts integrated elementary school on Maui. The kids have collaged their boards with a variety of printed papers and will begin drawing on them in the next session. In my demo, I outlined the face with ink, painted the interior with tempera, adding 3D collage elements to finish it off. The children will then write an “I Am” poem in the background behind the portrait. I’m thrilled with the way mine turned out, and can’t wait to see what the kids come up with! I can also envision using this idea for a visual journal page!

Here are some student samples. We decided not to write an “I Am” poem in the background of the piece. It was too complicated for a number of reasons, but they did think of an adjective to describe an aspect of their personality, cut the letters from a magazine and glue them onto the portrait. Before launching into the collage, however, we had two lessons in portrait drawing. These were their practice sketches, and they were done on 1/4 sheets of 9×12 sketch paper. Small. The first lesson focused on realistic proportions, the second on abstracted portraits. Picasso was our exemplar for the second lesson. When the time came to work on the collage portrait, I gave them a choice as to whether they created a realistic or an abstract portrait. Here are the basic steps for the collage portrait…

1. Use a piece of 9×12 chipboard from the back of an old sketch or watercolor pad as your collage foundation.

2. Collect a variety of pages from old books and put a container on each table along with small cups of watered down white glue and brushes.

3. Have students tear the papers into pieces and glue to the chipboard. Put a top coat of glue on to seal when finished. Let dry.

4. Draw portrait on top of the printed paper collage. (Erasing is not a problem because the extra top coat of glue protects the collage papers from being abraded.)

5. Outline with Sharpie.

6. Paint with tempera. If it’s too thick they’ll lose the printed collage papers beneath. If the paint is too thin the printed papers will compete with portrait. Let dry.

7.  Sharpie over any lines that got covered with paint.

8. Add 3D collage elements: beads, buttons, feathers etc.

9. Glue descriptive word to portrait

If you try this in your classroom, please post some of your favorites. Iʻm sure weʻd all love to see the results. Have fun!












About Beth Marcil

Beth Marcil is a well-recognized Maui artist who also leads SoulCollage® workshops and Visual Journaling as well as private coaching sessions. She blends her many years of art training with her love of healing and the creative process.


  1. Kimberly Nelson says:

    Hi Beth,
    Okay, I’m in love with your stuff. Thank you pinterest. I teach elem grades 1-5. It’s tradition to do a 5th grade painting but I want to switch it up and do multi media. I LOVE this demo. Just wondering how it went with the kids. Do you have any pics of their work? I have to write a grant to get the canvases so I gotta show an artist we’re gonna learn about. I love your diversity and all so I’m thinking it’s gonna be you. 🙂 Cool stuff. I’ll read more on your website here but any other advice or anything I’ll gladly take. I love multi media but I’m a little concerned about how to plan it out to help the kids best. We’ve got about 5 weeks for the project so I’m starting my plan… Thanks for this website!!!! – Kimberly

    • Hi Kimberly,
      I apologize for the very tardy reply. Unfortunately, I lost contact with my site for awhile… teaching will do that to me sometimes 😉 I imagine your grant has long come and gone, but if there’s a chance you want to do it next year, I’ll be happy to help. FYI: I used the chipboard backs from pads of watercolor paper as a surface for the collage project. FREE! It worked great. They did curl a little bit after the collage process, but when they were thoroughly dry, I stacked them under some books to flatten them out again. Again, let me know if you decide to play with this idea in the classroom, and I’ll explain the process in more detail. Thanks for your appreciatations! Beth

  2. i love this and teach fifth grade. I would love more info on your process and to see student examples. Thanks.

    • Glad you like the collage portrait, Katy! I’ll get some of the kids’ samples together and post them in a few days. I’ll also tell you a little about our process.

      • Well, I got to it much more quickly than anticipated. The images and process description have been added to the original post. Let me know how it goes with your students, and please post your faves when youʻre done, ok? Canʻt wait to see what your kids come up with!

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