Monarch Mash-Up: Abstract Art Lesson, Week 4

Because tutors have so many ways available to them through which to introduce kids to abstract art, I’m choosing to do things I haven’t seen others do. A lot of abstract projects students will have already done, by the time they get to my class, consist of experimenting with color and basic shapes overlapping–or taking a representation of a form and changing it to make it look unrealistic. Those are two valid approaches–in fact, there are so many! Here is my lesson for Journeymen and/or Masters (ages 8-12) classes for Classical Conversations drawing classes.

The segment of the abstract movement that I always found the most interesting is the Cubism movement. I love the faces done by artists such as Picasso–you know, the ones that look distorted, one feature out of proportion with another, and even features that are drawn from completely different vantage points. Below are two great examples I have shown my students, both by Picasso.

Image result for picasso portraits

I love both the starkness of the shapes and the use of color. This is typically the week in the drawing quarter (week 4) when the kids who feel they are not very artistic sigh relief. “Oh, it’s abstract week–I can do this!” Now, my goal for the entire unit is to get students to see they in fact can learn to draw, even if they entered class believing they weren’t “born with artistic talent.” But students still carry those misconceptions and burdens; sometimes my lone voice isn’t enough to change that, or at least not immediately.

Nonetheless, take full advantage of the willingness of students to try something abstract because they think it looks easier!

Image result for picasso portraits

One aspect of the abstract movement was a departure from the goal  to represent life as realistically as possible. Instead, the emphasis changed, more than once–to try to capture a feeling or convey a message by intentionally not representing the world the way the eyes naturally see it.

Often, faces such as these are painted this way in the artist’s effort to convey a feeling or a message–or to simply dwell on shapes or color.

For an abstract drawing project to fit into this year’s medieval history theme, I came up with a “Monarch Mash-up,” a nod to Cubism, the first abstract style of modern art. This is the practice of analyzing forms, breaking them down and putting them back together–but not necessarily all from the same perspective.

For this project, we will have fun replicating abstraction of faces the way Picasso does. Those faces look like some of the features don’t belong together at all–they’re even from different vantage points! They are not in proportion and perspective is all wrong!

So how about taking it one step further? We can not only mix and match features of different perspectives and sizes, but why not mix together features of more than one person? For my example, I will take portraits of King Alfred the Great, King John and King Henry VIII, and mix them together to create my English King portrait.

I printed off coloring pages, or at least black and white drawings, of monarchs from the history sentences or timeline. Here are links to choices I found.


William the Conqueror

King John

Richard the Lionheart

King Alfred the Great

Edward III

Plus I added in some women by going to Renaissance figures, though they are not talked of in any specific history sentence. (Kids who did the summer History Camp through the Classical Conversations practicum this summer did learn all about them!):

King Henry VIII

Queen Mary

Queen Elizabeth

For class, you’d need to bring 2 or 3 for each student. If you want to be more conservative about how many things you need to print, bring in only 2 per student–or less. It’s possible you could have students share the portrait originals so that not everyone needs at least 2 faces of their own to look at.

While I’ve tried to include links to all the above, I will show the ones I used for my sample project.

King John coloring page 001

King John

King Harold 001

King Alfred the Great

king Henry Viii coloring page 001

King Henry VIII

Step #1. As I taught in the first OiLs lesson, I ask students to look at the originals and carefully observe the lines there to find the most basic shapes. I ask them to trace the shapes. Below I will show just one example of this. On Alfred the Great, I traced the basic shapes of the pieces of his portrait I wanted to use for my mash-up. I traced the shapes of his one eye, his fantastic hair, and his crown. I did this on the other 2 originals too.traced over King John coloring page 001

Step #2. On a blank sheet of paper, start drawing the basic shapes. Tip: put eyes (or at least one eye) near the half way mark down the paper to better ensure you don’t run out of room for the rest of the face/crown. (But it’s okay too to have a face so large that it spills off the page in an extreme close-up.)

In class, I plan to draw this step on the board. In past years I did not, but I did show my steps done on the project at home. I think the first option is more beneficial for the students, but start where your comfort level is.

Note: Some drawing skills you can choose to ignore–if you want–for the goals of this project. Measuring as we learned to do in the mirror-image lesson? Do so only if you want things to be proportioned. I did measure some things for the crown because I wanted that to look realistic. But I did not measure other things at all; this face is intentionally not supposed to look well-proportioned!

basic shapes for Monarch mash-up 2 001

You can see my basic shapes for King Henry VIII’s beard and right eye and eyebrow, King Alfred’s right side of his hair, crown and left eye, then  King John’s nose and lips.I purposely placed one eye higher on the face than the other. Otherwise, he was running the risk of looking too normal. I purposely made the nose much larger on the face than it “should” be. (Fantastic nose shape King John had, by the way–so much character! Makes the world wish he had as much good moral character, ha ha!)

You also will notice an ear–and I confess, that is not from any portrait. I just thought it needed an ear, so I added one.

Step #3. Now that you’ve made decisions about where each feature will fit on the page and have drawn the basic shapes, fill in any gaps you see, or change anything you want to complete your face. I drew in  my own line for the left side of the face, to draw together all the features I mashed-up for him. (You can see this in my illustration of step 4.)

Step #4. Now go back and refine each feature, putting in all the details.

You may discern my drawing has a style to it that is still quite realistic. Other valid options: go cartoony, or with blunt geometrics for each of the features. There are many, many ways to take this! (After Step 5 I will show you a more geometric styly of cubism, with color, to show another direction.)

monarch mash-up 2 001

And ta-da! An abstraction of the English monarchy, from the 9th to 15th century!

A project such as this has endless possibilities. I could have  even abstracted the crown too, combining and distorting the various crowns. That could be fun…

Step #5. If time allows, break out the colored pencils and crayons. See how much more inventive students can be with color. Remind them of Picasso and others who used colors outside the realm of reality in the creation of abstraction. Color was used to create mood and emotion or convey a message–not represent only what the eye could see.

For an example of a project exploring both color and a more geometric style of Cubism, check out Cubist Queen Mash-Up Art Lesson. I like to show my students two examples for my abstract lessons, so they can see two wildly different ways to approaching the same assignment. This year, I will show my students the king above as well as the queen in the other post just mentioned.


Best to you in your art classes! Enjoy the creativity you see in your students!

Other drawing lessons:

Medieval-themed Upside-down Drawing: Week 3, Classical Conversations

Mirror Image Lion Drawing: Week Two, Classical Conversations

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One




About Renee Lannan's blog

I live, write, teach and enjoy life from a place of hope and a belief in miracles from seeing first-hand the depths of redemption
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5 Responses to Monarch Mash-Up: Abstract Art Lesson, Week 4

  1. Shelby says:

    This is FANTASTIC! Thank you so much!

  2. Christine Pieculewicz says:

    I’ve been using your posts for tutoring this year, and it’s been SO helpful! I love it!

    • Renee Lannan's blog says:

      Christine, I’m glad it can help others. This is one of the things I love with CC–we’re not alone; we can help each other give the kid the best experiences!

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