Monochromatic Pet Portraits

Monochromatic Pet Portrait

Monochromatic pet portraits teach the basics of painting while giving students ownership of their subject matter.  Pets are a subject matter that consistently bring happiness to students and allow them to focus on realism and blending value and color. 

We started by practicing blending shades and tints using a set of primary base colors.  I like to start with grayscale so they can see how starting with black paint is a very different experience than starting with white.   I teach this under the document camera and we move on at the same pace.  As we progress with each color, I am less direct and eventually they will mix their last couple colors totally independently. 

The biggest challenge for many students is keeping their brushes and pallets clean. Anytime black sneaks into a tint, and vice versa, it grays out their colors.  Students often struggle with finding a photograph that does not have a distracting background and exemplifies value. We play with the contrast a little in Google Docs and I print them to scale in black and white.

How to Paint Shades and Tints:

This guided tutorial shows all of the steps we take, and it’s perfect for review, absent students and showing students their end goals.

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If your students don’t have pets or don’t bring in a photograph, I highly recommend the website They have so many high quality images that are free use.

After we practice mixing values, we move on to mini practice paintings on watercolor paper. This allows students to practice seeing color and value before their summative assessment. I pick a few options for them from to pick from and we spend a few class periods putting their value practice to work.

Pet Portrait Guided Tutorial:

This guided tutorial will walk students through my thought process and technique.

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I allow my students to trace their pet photographs.  For many students, this is the first time they have created a realistic painting with attention to value. My painting professor in undergrad allowed us to trace, and it really expanded my viewpoint.  He emphasized that he was teaching us the skills of painting in a beginner class and that drawing was a separate, although important, skill.  As our painting skills progressed we phased out of tracing.  This teaching strategy really allowed me to give myself, and now my students, grace to embrace one technique at a time.  

I also give the option for students to sketch their images instead of trace. I do this lesson in a VERY mixed abilities Art II class and I have learned that scaffolding options for students creates a more successful experience for all. After their image is transferred on their canvas using graphite paper, they begin painting their values.

We focus on shades and tints of one main color, but students are encouraged to explore other colors if they want. Some students stuck with a pure monochromatic color scheme, and others added accents colors or a variety of colors in their backgrounds. It was so fun to see their confidence and blending skills expand with each color.

Monochromatic Pet Portraits Student Examples:

Another advanced option is to do a human portrait.  This is a much more challenging experience, but my AP track students often want to level up.  We have practiced creating skin tones at the beginning of the unit and that is a lesson students really appreciate as their artistic skills progress.

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