Fingerpainting the Moon: mark making + portraits

I recently volunteered to help my son’s prechool class with a school-wide art project on self-portraits. Each child in the whole school is to make some sort of self-portrait which will be hung up on the walls in February. My son’s classroom is a mixed age room, ages 3-5, so the skill level range is huge! I found that some kids were very capable at drawing figures and some were still in the scribbling mode. I came up with a project that I hoped would allow each child to feel successful and just be creative. And I did not want to do anything that was too crafty, which was all I was finding for this age group when I firsted started searching for inspiration online at various kid art websites.

I came up with a mixed media project that included photography, of course! What else- that is what my own personal art work entails.

This past fall I went to NYC for one of my closest friend’s wedding. My husband and I took a stroll through Soho and Chinatown one day and I was struck by the “grandness” of the street art there. This particular wall became the inspiration for the self portrait project I am doing with the kiddos.


No, I did not have the preschoolers emulate graffiti. But what I did was focus on was mark making and color washes. I gave them oil pastels and told them to draw their hearts out- symbols, stick figures, shapes, scribbles, letters, numbers, etc. Whatever they wanted to do. And after that I gave them watercolor to paint over their marks. It was so fun to see their eyes widen as their original oil pastel drawings popped out from their paper once the watercolor went over it. I wish I could say that I gave a well thought out lesson on what wax-resist is- but remember, I was dealing with getting 23 squirmy 3-5 year olds to produce work! Maybe next time…

Making marks in and of itself a form of self-portraiture, just like one’s signature. It is such a pure form of an individual’s expression. One of my favorite quotes says:

No one else but you can make your marks. Listen to your bones. Speak with your spirit. Edit with your head. Live with your heart. – S.Holland

The teachers and I also had the kids come up with “I am ____” statements that helped me direct them with their paintings and later with their photographs. The hardest part of the painting was to get the kids to fill the entire page. Some would just want to draw one little thing and say “I’m done!” and I would be like, “No, no, no, keep going”.

I won’t be posting photos of the finished projects because of permission issues, but I wanted to share the projects I did with my own kids and my nieces and nephews as practice runs before I went in the classroom. We had so much fun! And they were all very proud of their finished projects.

Noah, age 4
on the left side you can see his drawing of the Sears Tower or as he calls it “The Serious Tower”. He loves drawing the skyscrapers he sees living in Chicago.

My niece’s “I am” statement: “I am silly”
age 4
Whenever I look at this one, I smile remembering the silliness during the picture taking. I love her painting too.

“I am a dreamer”
age 8
I love this one, because this painting, the words, and the pose all give an accurate portrait of my niece.

age 3
I’ll never forget the look on my little nephew’s face when I held up his finished project, he looked so proud and had this little shy smile on his face!

age 6
As you can see, this nephew is very imaginative! He and I had a lot of fun doing the poses.

“I am curious”
age 8
We got some good giggles out of this one when we had the puppy coming out of her head. My niece and I both thought it was perfect, although it was totally unplanned!

“I like to make things”
age 8
We didn’t come up with “I Am” statement but, he does like to make things. He is very industrious and focused 8 year old. You can see all his tools he drew.

And last but not least, I did one of my little Grace
“I am crazy”
(her older cousins came up with her “I am” statement)
age 1

So the class project is still in progress, but I really enjoyed working with my son’s classmates. So much energy! Reminded me of the days I did speech/language therapy in Early Childhood and Head Start classrooms back in the day…except this was way more fun. While I had the natural tendency to use my art towards therapy goals, I never did in depth projects like this. It was more about doing challenging speech and language therapy in a way that didn’t cause tears, tantrums, screeching, silence, non-response, or hiding under the tables. I’m not kidding.

I hope the project goes over well with the parents. I’ve never done anything like this before and feel a little nervous! ha! Well, I think the kids did a great job and we had fun while we were at it. That’s what counts, right? And I also know that it made my son so happy to have his mama in the classroom doing art with his friends.


  1. I would certainly be thrilled to see these come home; I’m forwarding it to some of the k-1 teachers at the girls’ school. I especially love that it *does* leave room for all levels of drawing.

  2. What parents wouldn’t want such special pieces of art done by their children? These are worthy of passing by the fridge magnets and getting onto the wall with a beautiful frame around them. Good for you!

  3. The pieces done by the kids are just wonderful! I know they must be really proud of them.

    What a fun project for that age group (and for us Big Kids too!) These will sure surprise their parents when they bring them home.

  4. Bridgette, this is just brilliant, you had me back in the classroom over fifty years ago with the eight ear olds I was teaching. And I just love the way you have added a photo portrait to each beautiful piece of art. And it gives me an idea (may I borrow it?) for our local Embroiderers’ Guild, and even for our village art week … Thankyou so much for sharing your approach to this project.

  5. i think mixing photography with hand wrought art is a grand way to engage kids, all ages, in art making. what a super idea, and the results are impressive. great!

  6. I can imagine being one of those kids and seeing the end result and feeling so good and so proud. Your point about getting them to fill the page is a metaphor for giving themselves permission to use their voice loudly. Using their photo over their piece–brilliant!

  7. I love these!! I am thinking about using your idea with a group of kids – same age range – this summer. I am a photographer and it seems like the best medium for me to allow us to work together. I have a couple of questions: What type of paper did you use for the painting and then the photographs? Would you be able paint over the photographs after they were glued on the painting? Thanks so much for your inspiration.

  8. I love this project! Thank you for the inspiration! My 1st graders made self-portraits in this style for our art show this year. I will be posting pictures on my blog soon and will link credit to you! Thank you again!

  9. These are absolutely powerful. Thank you for posting and sharing. After having done this project, do you or anyone else out there have tips on suggestions/ steps/ guidance to offer. It’s summer time and I can’t wait for the start of the year to do this with my kiddos!!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. One suggestion that I have is that when you are working on the black and white photo portraits of the kids- bump up the contrast to make their portraits more graphic. It will really stand out from their artwork in the background. Good luck!

  10. Hi
    I do teacher training workshops. I am writing to ask permission to use the photo of art work with kids’ photos added on in a Power Point Presentation. I am doing a workshop on social emotional development and am suggesting including photos in art displays. I will credit your site and provide your URL.
    Please respond to:

    I look forward to hearing from you.

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