© Diane Crocker
Immaculate Heart of Mary School students, from left, Gina Spencer, Clara Ryan and Samuel Michael are seen with some of the portraits they drew and mail art they received as part of a portrait project they took part in.
Samuel Michael may not look like much of a pirate in his Immaculate Heart of Mary School uniform, but when tasked with doing a self portrait the Grade 5 student drew himself with a beard and signed it Blackbeard.
“First I was really going to draw myself, but my teeth made me look like a pirate, so I thought I would go as Blackbeard,” said nine-year-old Michael.
The portrait was completed as a project the Grade 5-6 art class undertook in conjuction with an exhibit earlier this year at the Grenfell Campus Art Gallery.
The exhibit was Dale Roberts’ Transformations. Part of the Newfoundland born and British Columbia-based artist’s exhibit was a community element, a portrait project, where Roberts’ alter ego, Dame Mailarta, encouraged people to create their own self portraits and display them at the gallery.
Local artist Jane Reagh Bruce-Robertson’s son William is in the class and she’s done some art instruction with them in the past. So when she heard about the portrait exhibit she offered up her services to get the students involved.
She held a couple of sessions with the students and used slideshows to help teach them the art of portraiture.
“I showed them the structure of the face,” she said.This included a lesson on how the eyes are halfway down the face and not up on the forehead.
With some charcoal, scrap paper and mirrors she had the students draw some self portraits for practice.
In another session she explained mail art — the sending of small works through the mail — to the students.
Then the children set out to create their own portraits.
“The kids in the class did a great variety of self portraits,” she said.
Part of her instruction involved telling them that they could be whoever they wanted to be when doing their portraits.
“Some of the kids really played with that,” she said. “It was really fun to see what they came up with. A lot more variety than I ever anticipated.”
Besides having their portraits displayed at the gallery all the work, either the original or a digital copy, was sent to Roberts. He sent back some mail art of his own to the school and personalized messages for all the children.
Twelve-year-old Gina Spencer’s message said: “Dearest Gina, thanks so much for your delightful portrait. Such fun. Keep making art. All the best, Mailarta.”
Spencer, a Grade 6 student, created a collage with Charlie Brown characters and the Statue of Liberty for her portrait.
“I really like the look of collages, how they’re all like mixed up,” she said. “They’re not just a single thing that’s showing.”
While she drew the characters, she chose to use a picture of her face to complete her character.
“I’m not very good at drawing myself, I don’t think, also I thought it would stand out a bit more than if I had just drawn my picture,” she said of her approach.
Clara Ryan, 12, chose to showed a contrast in seasons in her portrait.
“I drew it half winter because it was still a little cold outside and I thought drawing it half summer would be cool too, because they’re two opposite seasons.”
Ryan, also in Grade 6, said she didn’t know how to draw a self portrait until Bruce-Robertson’s instruction.
“So when I did my sketches they were all mixed up.”
But with some help from the artist, Ryan said “I got really excited about it.”