Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In the Art Room: Self-Portrait in a Kimono

Konichiwa, ya'll! 

My second grade students have been wrapping up their Self-Portraits in a Kimono collages this week and I just had to share. Because, well, look at 'em. They are, like, totes adorbs (so sorry. With my {gulp} 39th birthday approaching in a month and a half, I've decided to hit mid-life crisis mode and talk like a 13 year old. Mostly because I still act like a 13 year old.)

We covered so much with this project from traditional Japanese clothing to portrait drawing to collage techniques.  We even learned how to write a couple of Japanese characters! It was a whole lotta stuff crammed into one masterpiece and the kids are so excited with the results.

One of my favorite things about displaying these pieces together is that they often appear to interact with each other...like Capt. Spiky Hair and Samurai Scar Face. Scar Face doesn't look too enthused. Maybe the scar is from a bad run-in with a certain spiked hair dude.

Students could create a fan to include in their collage or not. Some students decided to get all FANtastic and spring for two fans. Notice the one tucked into the obijime (which is that little yarn belt).
Now, ya'll might recall that our theme for the school year is Asia (even if we did take a wee detour to Norway to study all things Viking when my student teacher was with us). You can catch a glimpse of my Asian-themed art room here. I've worn this kimono a couple of times and chatted with the kids about the different elements of the outfit. This really piqued their curiosity and got them excited about creating a mini-kimono of their own. Now the boys did take a little convincing...that was until I showed them examples of samurai in their kimonos. Then they were totally on board. 

BY THE WAY...if you are attending the Art of Education's online conference this Saturday, this here is one of the four different costumes you'll get the chance to see. Please BYOC (Bring Your Own Crackers) because my presentation is full of some serious cheesiness.
The first thing we did was create our kimonos. We chatted about the tradition in Japan of having four different kimonos, one for every season. I asked the kids to pick their favorite season and color two coffee filters with colors that reminded them of that time of year. Once colored, these filters were placed on a styrofoam plate and painted with water. NOW, this project was delayed a bit because I did switch gears and have them use their painted coffee filters for a temporary installation for International Dot Day (see here). Once that installation was down, coffee filters were returned and we were back to work.

Our next order of business was creating the body. The children were given a template that was about 3" wide and 9" tall with a round head shape at the top. After selecting their flesh color, they traced the template for the head portion only and began drawing out the features of the face.
We did chat quite a bit about the placement of facial features. The children drew their portraits in pencil, traced with thin sharpie and then erased their pencil lines. Color was added with colored pencils. We then worked on the kimono. The children learned that a collar called a eri sugata is often worn under a kimono. They created one with a small piece of origami paper. Next we folded the kimono over the body...in just the right way with the left side first, right side on top. Folding the kimono the opposite way is how it is worn when buried.
Hair was added with a choice of decorations for the ladies. Arms were created with the second coffee filter folded just like the kimono. Hands were made with the aid of a template. Then came the belts: the obi, which is the large belt and the obijimi, the small cord that goes around the obi. I happened to have some snazzy fabric for the obi and some funky monkey yarn for the obijimi.

Here's a group of first grade creations before arms were added.
Because white toe socks are usually worn with the wooden clogs called geta, the students were given white paper the same width of the body. They were told to draw two curved lines, cut out and slip inside the bottom of the kimono. The top of the geta clogs were created with the letter "V".

I really wanted the background to be interesting but not take away from the awesomeness of the self-portrait. For that reason, the kids used Mod Podge to adhere a piece of tissue paper to white drawing paper and then proceeded to cover that with Mod Podge I had added glitter to.

Once the sparkly background was complete, the kids added their self-portraits. Then they were to write some Japanese characters that best described them (based on a handout that was on their tables) and glue to the bottom of their piece. Once complete, I have the kids my "red stamp of approval": a stamp I had created in Japan that has my name on it. 

Whew! I'm exhausted just explaining all the elements of this lesson...I know the kids are happy with their work. And probably even happier still to move on to something new. Next up: Sumi-e Brush Painting! I'm excited to share this art with the children. Have you taught sumi-e before? Any tips?

OH! And thanks to all of you that have joined in on the Artsy Book Club! If you've not done it already, you can join our facebook page here. And you can join this blog's facebook page here

Chat with you soon!


  1. Chinese Brush Painting by Caroline Self & Susan Self is a great book to use as a resource!

  2. Great little characters in kimonos!
    I have taught Sumie and focused on one 'gentleman' or stroke at at time, such as the first gentleman-bamboo-
    We have large bamboo brushes, learn to hold them upright and to move the arm in one stroke not the wrist....We practice creating the sections of the bamboo stalk, the push down and lifting up stroke for the leaves....the thin Nike-looking check-mark stroke for the joints...We carved Asian charcaters into an eraser for our seal and stamped it in red. I have tons of bamboo growing at my home so I cut thin branches and we mounted our paintings on colored paper and then folded this over the branch and added yarn to hang like a scroll. Japanese Brush Painting Techniques Sumi-e A Meditation in Ink-Paul Siudzinski, Sterling Pub, NY. 1978 The Sumi-E Dream Book: An Impressionist Approach to the Art of Japanese Brush Painting-Yolanda Mayhall and Ted Mayhall, Watson-Guptill, NY, 2003 Yolanda was my Sumie teacher!

  3. Anonymous12/22/2015

    I would love to use this as an inspiration for a project relating to Daniel Garber's "Studio Wall," featuring his wife wearing a kimono. Wonderful!

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  5. So as not to reinvent the wheel, do you have an available template for the body and the arms?


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