I have been dying to get this post out there because every parent needs a self portrait like this in their life. Self portraits for 3-5 year olds are my absolute fave, though I’m pretty much a sucker for all self portraits by kids. They capture a moment in time like nothing else and are total keepsakes. So forgive the excessive photos happening here. I had to say goodbye to these portraits when they went home with the kids so they will just have to live on here forever and ever.
These self portraits were done by 3-5 year olds. You can 100% do them with older kids and they will be amazing!!! I want my girls to do one of these every year for the rest of their lives. This idea was inspired by some black and white self portraits I saw on Brillante Design’s instagram feed. I attempted one with my daughter, Gigi, and it morphed into this process, that I am totally in love with.
*Warning* This is a messy project we did over two classes to allow for drying time. If you are worried about mess, this may not be the project for you.
black sumi ink (we got ours at Daiso, the Japanese dollar store but you can buy it online here)
large watercolor paper about 18×24 and small watercolor paper about 8×10 (I like Canson brand)
Examples of Picasso’s Self Portrait work for inspiration
Steps (first class)
1. Our first class we set out a small piece of watercolor paper, black ink, a brush and mirror. We talked about the shapes we see in our faces and had the kids study themselves in the mirror. Then we demonstrated painting the shapes we see in the mirror with the black ink. This was a quick activity to help us with the scale we were hoping to achieve on the big paper. *Tip* If this is your child’s first time working with black ink and a brush, we recommended starting on another surface to just free paint. It is super exciting and different to work with sumi ink. Your child will likely be more ready to follow directions if they have some time to explore first. The ink will stain so wear art clothes or a smock.
2. Now it’s time to go big. You’re going to set the small papers aside and say “now that we’ve practiced small, let’s see how we can go BIG.” The kids will have a better understanding when you say big now because the paper size is so different. We talked about the size of the paper and how we are going to try to fill the whole paper with the face shapes we see in the mirror. We demonstrated this as well. When finished set the papers aside to dry completely.
Steps (Second Class)
3. Now it’s time to add color. This is where it can get really messy so be warned. Pastels are fantastic but the chalk will likely get all over their clothes and faces. But don’t worry. It easily washes off.
You might want to say something like, “Okay kids, it’s time to start adding color. I wonder what colors you will add to your self portrait? Chalk pastels work best when you rub them on their sides, blend them with your fingers and smudge.” Kids love to blow away the “fairy dust” from the page too. We demonstrate how to use the pastels in front of the kids as we’re talking. If you want, here’s a full tutorial I wrote on how to use chalk pastels with kids. These kids below totally rocked it.
The kids will likely get this really easily and totally get into it. Have a damp towel or sink nearby so they can wash themselves off. As you can see all the color choices were so different and exciting. We were kind of standing there mouths agape while this was happening. When you’re done you can spray the work with aqua net hairspray or special spray from the craft store. My advice would just be to put these babies in a frame as soon as possible. Aren’t they incredible??
It was so sad to say goodbye to them. Thankfully my daughters both made one and they will be hanging in our kitchen the minute we are done with our remodel. So, even though this is a messy one it is sooooo worth it. Self Portraits for 3-5 year olds for the win!
Thanks for reading along. xo, Meri
O Meri😊💖these self-portraits are absolutelly stunning!!!
Thank you Nona!!! Lots of love your way!
Wow! These are so beautiful – I can’t wait to do this with my preschool art class and maybe even my kinders! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Great! Have fun and thanks so much.
I am a huge fan of your site, and have done several of your projects with my own kids. I am now in charge of all of the class art projects for our preschool auction, and I fell in love with this idea for one of the classes. They are turning out to be amazing! One quick question- I have never tried to frame chalk pastels. Did you have any issues with the chalk dust floating around or pressing against the glass? I am trying to find inexpensive frames since they are a fundraiser, but want to make sure I don’t damage the beautiful art! Any suggestions or thoughts would be greatly appreciated as I haven’t ever framed chalk pastels. Thanks so much for all of the great ideas you provide!
Hi! You may want to give them a little spray first with a fixative. I’ve never had a problem but maybe experiment just to make sure. Have fun. What a great fundraiser!
I love this!! I’m so doing this with my girls asap. The chalk addition looks so fun too.
Do itttttt! So much fun!
Hello Merry always love your ideas. My son is just 3 (couple months ago) and I am wondering what were the ages of the kids in the examples above?
I am wondering if he is still too young?
Appreciate your guidance and if too early will save this project for a bit later in time!
To clarify, I know you say 3-5 yr olds but I was wondering which one was done by the 3 year old to give me an idea of what to expect 🙂
How long do your classes last? Do parents pick up and drop off, whats abailable if you have early finishers?
Our classes are an hour. We always have a “when done” activity planned and the kids move from table to table as they go.
These are amazing! Is there something we could use instead of the black ink? I really want to try this with my daughter but am nervous about using permanent black ink in our carpeted apartment…
Hi! Love the big, white paper. Where do you find it?