Students work with a partner to take photographs of each other against a light background. They use a photo editing program to posterize the photo, print it and trace the shapes in the photo onto a piece of painting paper. Then they decide which shapes should be dark, medium or light and paint them with tints, shades and tones they have mixed to create a monochromatic self-portrait in the style of the Obama HOPE poster. 

Required Time

100 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 5 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Visual Arts
Media Literacy


colour theory contrast monochromatic shape value


Crayola Paint Crayola Paint Brushes Crayola marker & Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12") Plastic Container Lids for Palettes Water Containers Masking Tape Bristol Board - 30.5 cm x 30.5 cm (12" x 12") - 1 per student Pencils Erasers

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MONOCHROMATIC SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Shape, Contrast - Step One

Step One

  1. Work with a partner.
  2. Use your devices to take photographs of each other against a white backdrop.
  3. Resize your photo to 21.6 cm x 27.9 cm (8.5" x 11") and convert it to Grayscale.
  4. Use a photo editing software such as Photoshop to posterize the photo.
  5. Print a copy of the photo.
  6. Trace the shapes in the photo on a piece of painting paper 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12"). 
    - outline shapes for values that are light, medium and dark
MONOCHROMATIC SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Shape, Contrast - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Mix tints, shades and tones of one colour.
    - tint - a colour mixed with white
    - shade - a colour mixed with black
    - tone - a colour mixed with grey
    - grey - black mixed with white
  2. Decide which shapes should be dark, medium or light and paint them with the tints, shades and tones you have mixed.
MONOCHROMATIC SELF-PORTRAIT – Value, Shape, Contrast - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Remove the tape and trim the edges of your paper.
  2. Look at your painting with fresh eyes.
  3. How is it the same as your photograph?
  4. How is it different?
  5. What did you learn?

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • apply colour theory to a painting;
  • mix tints, shades and tones of a colour;
  • use a photo editing program to posterize a photo of themselves;
  • create a monochromatic self-portrait painting;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the works.


Have students:

  • apply what they have learned about value to create either a high or low key painting;
  • explain the difference between the values in high and low key paintings;
  • explain how the key of the painting affects the mood of the work;
  • work with others to create a display of the paintings;
  • present the display to another class highlighting what they have learned.


  1. Download and display the Value and Colour posters available on this website.
  2. Review or teach the concepts of value and monochromatic colour schemes.
    - value - the lightness or darkness of colour
    - monochromatic colour scheme - made up of one colour and tints, shades and tones of that colour
  3. Teach/review how to use a photo editing software program such as Photoshop to resize, convert to grayscale and posterize an image. 
  4. Gather and make available books about colour and cultures, for example, Monochromatic Dan, by Allison Gharst; Whoever You Are, by Mem Fox, and Leslie Staub; All the Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka; Color - Messages & Meanings: A PANTONE Color Resource, by Leatrice Eiseman; A Book About Color: A Clear and Simple Guide for Young Artists, by Mark Gonyea; An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers, by Natasha Wing and Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, & Violet, by Joann Eckstut, and Arielle Eckstut.
  5. Download several monochromatic images from the Internet, for example,
  6. Download an image of the Obama Hope poster from the Internet.
  7. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students create a colour wheel using the Exploring Colour lesson plan available on this website.


  1. View and discuss several monochromatic images focussing on the use of tints and shades to define the subject matter and set the mood.
  2. View and discuss the Obama Hope poster.
    - it is not monochromatic but the shapes in the face are clearly defined by different values
    - a dramatic image of Barack Obama 
    - designed by Shepard Fairey in 2008
    - was created in one day and printed first as a street poster.
    - viewed as an iconic representation of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign
    - poster portrayed Obama as a visionary leader
    - message is communicated by having the viewer make a connection between the three-quarters pose gazing off into the distance and the idea of hope
    - combining an easily recognized image of Obama with the word Hope sent the message that he would bring positive changes to people's lives
    - that meaning may have changed in the years following Obama's presidency depending on how successful people felt he was
    - to fully understand the message of the poster we have to understand the meaning of the word HOPE, and the meaning of the man's pose 
    - this poster is a great example of how the meaning of a text may change depending on the context of the times
    - it has been recontextualized over the years to send new political messages, for example, the occupy movement
  3. Explain that they are going to use a similar style to what they see in the poster. 
    - simple shapes
    - values clearly shown as distinct shapes
  4. Review how to mix tints, shades and tones reminding students how little paint it takes to change the value.
  5. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Apply colour theory to a painting.
  2. Mix tints, shades and tones of a colour.
  3. Use a photo editing program to posterize a photo of yourself.
  4. Create a monochromatic self-portrait painting in a style similar to the Obama HOPE poster.
  5. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  6. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - mixed tints, shades and tones of one colour
    - created a posterized photo of myself
    - traced the shapes inside the photo to show light, medium and dark values
    - completed the monochromatic painting in a style similar to the Obama HOPE poster
    - described my process in a clear and easy to understand way
    - shared my ideas with others
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to share their paintings and talk about: 
    - what they learned about colour
    - how it relates to what they have learned about colour so far
    -  how their portrait makes them feel
    - what was the most satisfying part of doing the painting
  3. Share ideas with the whole class.
  4. Display all the paintings as a body of work. 
  5. Encourage students to view the paintings over the next few weeks and to notice how they are different and how they are the same.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their designs – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, holds painting to the side, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the painting.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - MonochromaticSelf-Portrait_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students write a reflection that includes things such as:
    - How they decided what colour to use.
    - What they like best about their painting.
    - What part of the process they feel they need more practice with.
    - What surprised them about the project.
    - What they liked best about doing this painting.