INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character

Students create an expressive self-portrait collage for the cover of a hardcover book (made in a previous class). Then they create three characters using collage techniques and describe them in written profiles. Finally, they write a story featuring themselves and the three characters.

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Visual Arts


collage contrast expressive self-portrait multimedia texture


Crayola Washable Glue Crayola Acrylic Paint Crayola Paint Brushes Crayola Glitter Glue Crayola Scissors Crayola Glue Sticks Crayola Markers Masking Tape Magazines Embellishments Water Containers Paper Towels

Shop Crayola Products


INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step One

Step One

  1. Use the hardcover book you created earlier.
  2. Visualize your self-portrait on the cover.
    - imagine textures and colours
    - imagine how you will fill the space
    - imagine the energy and attitude you want your self-portrait to convey
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Flip through magazines to find eyes, noses and mouths you might want to use in your self-portrait.
  2. Think of what paper you could use for your face that has significance for you, for example,
    - a map of a special place 
    - a flag or crest
    - an environmental image
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Prepare the surface of the cover for painting. You may want to add textures, for example,
    - masking tape
    - egg shells
    - bits of netting
    - bits of fabric
  2. Paint the cover with acrylic paint.
  3. Set the book aside to dry.
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Add glitter glue and other paint to the cover before working on the self-portrait.
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Gather the images and start playing with different combinations and arrangements.
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Use washable glue to fasten everything to the cover. 
  2. Place a piece of wax paper over the surface and press the shapes firmly in place.
  3. Add a body, other details and embellishments to express the attitude, feeling or spirit you want to convey about yourself.
  4. Use cut out letters to add your name, or nickname.
INSPIRED BY GEOFFREY FARMER – Self-Portrait, Character - Step Seven

Step Seven

  1. Over the next few weeks create 3 different characters using collage techniques.
  2. Use cut out letters for their names.
  3. Start with the first character and let your imagination flow.
  4. Once the image is complete use the Character Interview Form to interview the character. Let the following information guide your thinking:
    - NAME: Choose a name that is respectful of the energy and personality of your character. Think about the meaning of the name you choose. Does it fit? Does the character have a nickname?
    - AGE: What are the characteristics of a person of this age?
    - APPEARANCE: Does the character care about looks? Does he/she have a favourite outfit? Is he/she usually neat or sloppy?
    - RELATIONSHIPS: What is the character's family like? Are there any problems? Do they have special customs? Does the character have a best friend? What do they like to do together?
    - PERSONALITY: What are the character's strengths, weaknesses, fears? Does he/she have special talents and hobbies? Does she/he use a unique expression when he/she is excited or upset? 
  5. When you have finished creating your characters, use them in a story. Include yourself in the story too.
    - List at least 5 details about where the story takes place.
    - Describe the colours, shapes and spaces that are important to your story.
    - What is the problem in this story?
    - What are some possible solutions to this problem?
    - What facts or evidence can you provide to back up what you say in the story?
    - Think about how you want the story to end. Make it a satisfying ending.
  6. Write a first draft of your story and share it with a peer.
  7. Use the feedback you get to edit and refine your story.
  8. Write the final version in your hardcover book and share it with others.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • use collage techniques to create an expressive self-portrait book cover;
  • use collage techniques to create expressive images of 3 different characters;
  • create a variety of textures; 
  • write fully developed character descriptions;
  • write a narrative involving their three characters and themselves;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • read their stories to students in another class and explain their creative process;
  • teach other students how to make expressive characters using collage techniques;
  • add all the characters created to a large group mural;
  • continue adding to the mural until it is full of a variety of details, colours, textures and interactions;
  • use the mural as inspiration for a group story.


  1. Prior to this lesson have students create a hardcover book using the Creating a Simple Bound Book lesson plan available on this website.
  2. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students explore texture techniques using the Texture Techniques lesson plan available on this website.
  3. Review information about Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer, and download the image, The Surgeon and the Photographer, 2009s from the Internet.
  4. Download and display the Contrast poster available on this website.
  5. Review or introduce the principle of contrast.
  6. Gather and make available a variety of narrative books, for example, Peace Dancer, by Roy Henry Vickers; Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest, by Gerald McDermott; Fairy Tales, by E. E. Cummings; Illustrated Stories From The Greek Myths, by Usborne; Illustrated Stories From Dickens, by Mary Sebag-montefiore; Illustrated Arabian Nights, by Anna Milbourne; and Illustrated Stories From Around The World, by Lesley Sims.
  7. Introduce or review the qualities of a good narrative, for example,
    - well organized
    - an entertaining beginning
    - interesting characters
    - details that help bring the story to life in the mind's eye
    - a suspenseful middle 
    - a compelling main event
    - a satisfying ending 
  8. Photocopy the Character Interview worksheet, enough for each student to have 4. (Downloads – CharacterInterview.pdf)
  9. Create a sample self-portrait collage for demonstration purposes.


  1. View and discuss the image, The Surgeon and the Photographer, 2009s by Geoffrey Farmer.
    - What do you think is going on here?
    - What do you see that makes you say that?
    - How do you think Geoffrey Farmer made this artwork?
    - What do you think of the work?
    - What do you see that makes you say that?
  2. Share a few points about Farmer, for example, He is:
    - Canadian
    - was born and lives in Vancouver
    - a multimedia artist who uses collage, photographs and lots of other materials to make his art
    - famous around the world
  3. Show and discuss your sample self-portrait, for example,
    - What does this self-portrait tell you about me?
    - What do you see that makes you say that?
    - How do you think I made it?
    - How is an expressive self-portrait different than a school photo?
  4. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Use collage techniques to create an expressive self-portrait book cover.
  2. Use collage techniques to create expressive images of 3 different characters.
  3. Create a variety of textures. 
  4. Write fully developed character descriptions.
  5. Write a narrative involving your three characters and yourself.
  6. Demonstrate technical accomplishment.
  7. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    ​I know I am successful when:
    ​COLLAGE - 
    - there are many different images in each collage
    - there are lots of textures on the book cover
    - contrast is used effectively
    - materials and images are used in a new way
    - the collage is in good condition
    - names that are respectful of the energy and personality of each character
    - behaviours that fit their age
    - appearances that fit the collage images of each character

    - relationships, such as best friends or family for each character
    - strengths, weaknesses and things that make each character special

    - connects strongly with the characters and images
    - has an entertaining beginning
    - has lots of details that build suspense
    - has fully developed characters
    - creates suspense
    - backs up information with fact or evidence
    - has a satisfying ending
  3. Encourage students to let their imaginations flow.
  4. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  5. Observe students as they work. 
  6. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. For each phase of this unit place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to: 
    - Share their work and discuss the things that are especially effective and why.
    - Talk about what they found satisfying about doing this project.
    - Talk about what they found challenging about doing this project and how they solved their problems.
    - Talk about how they might use what they learned in a different way.
  3. Share ideas with the whole class. 
  4. Ask students to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work  – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the works – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads – Characters_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads – Characters_self-assessment.pdf)