• The Students are in a community art program, ages 5 to 7 years old, multi-lingual, multi-cultural.
  • The students will demonstrate the ability to express a unique vision of their own reality.
  • The students will demonstrate the ability to let go of outward observation and trust their inner process (instincts & imagination) while freely exploring the materials. 
  • Modigliani often uses muted tones in his portraits, which allows me to teach ways of making images with greater range than the primary or secondary colours alone. Since the students often make these mixes spontaneously, it will be motivational to show them how to use these happy-mistakes purposefully.
  • The exaggerated features in Modigliani’s faces allows caters to this student population’s natural attraction to funny faces. The exploration and experimentation play of mixing colours establishes an environment where mistakes are good and play is the path to expression. ie: There are no mistakes and they can freely express themselves.
  • Placing an additional emphasis on juxtaposition and adjacency of colours/tones gives the students a visual example of the concepts behind the art vocabulary being taught.

Pedagogical Art Education Objectives & MEQ Visual Arts Competencies

  • 1)To identify and know about primary and secondary colours
  • 2) To identify and know about tones, hues, and shades of browns
  • 3) To discover the artists Amadeo Modigliani, the main influences on his portraiture style (African masks), and explore the portrait through his unique style
  • 4) To identify and know about the components of the bust portrait, and point of view (frontal view & profile)
  • Keywords: Tints, tones, shades, Expressionism, Cubism (I might exclude this), expression, style, exaggerated features, elongated necks, almond shaped eyes, subtle tones colour palette, background, etc…
  • 5) Make a unique portrait of a family member

MEQ Competencies:

The Students will produce individual works in the visual arts – Cycle One, Level 3: Participates in steps of creative process; shows influence from emotional stimulus (portrait of parent or other loved one); creates a personal perception of reality; uses spontaneous gestures (demonstrated style) and use of visual arts language in expression; talks about aspects of experience that are personally meaningful(reflection questions throughout activity). 

Art/Materials & Equipment

  • Watercolour paper (or other stiff/textured paper) (minimum 9” x 12”)
  • Paint brushes
  • Tempera paint (preferably liquid, if not, use pucks in trays and have a water dish for ringing nearby) (need primary and secondary colours plus black & white)
  • Charcoal sticks (thick compressed sticks, but prefer willow sticks)
  • Styrofoam trays (big white ones to hold their handmade brown colour pallet) 



Images will be made visible as samples of:

  1. brown tones, hues, tints, and shades.
  2. Modigliani’s portraits
  3. African masks (See Endnotes for why this was removed)
  4. Mario Perron’s original work in Modigliani’s style

Demo of colour mixing to make a brown, and then lighten, darken, and add hue to it to show options.

Questions (see Response to Art for samples) will recap previous lesson on colours, draw attention to style choices by artists (eg: long necks, blackened eyes – like African masks); a story about a family member’s features to emphasize style (eg. My Dad’s glasses).


How can you make brown? 

How can you make your brown different? 

What is strange about this portrait? 


Show quick steps to Modigliani’s faces: Make a “U” in the middle of the page; make an upside down “U” above it; draw two almond shapes for eyes in the top part: draw an “L” for a nose: For the mouth, make an “m”, draw a line under it, then another curved line under that; draw two vertical lines for the neck; Make a big curved line for the shoulders; Modigliani liked to have backgrounds, so make grid lines…

Media Exploration

Liquid tempera: easy to mix; students familiar with material; easier to manage time, especially with slower students; secondary colours mix quickly into browns and hues-shades quickly achieved by adding white or black.

Charcoal: makes clear & thick lines on paper that students can paint within; charcoal dust can add texture and contour to images. 

Note: In my tests, the process for getting ‘tints, tones, & shades’ was easier to accomplish using only secondary colours with black and white. The primaries delivered more derivatives of those colours and required more mixing and experimentation than time might allow.

Watercolour paper: hold liquid gouache well; texture creates more desired charcoal dust. 

Styrofoam trays: practical in containing the paint in one place and allows the students to further mix options.

Part 1 – making browns: 10 to 15 minutes 

Part 2 – drawing portrait with charcoal: 5 to 10 minutes

Part 3 – Painting portraits: 30 to 40 minutes

Backup activity for fast finishers: Abstract-Squiggle painting with browns on charcoal outline

Art Making

Recap/reflection on previous lesson on colours: (2 to 5 minutes, depending on responses)

Ask questions about primary colours, secondary colours, how to make brown, portraits, who they want to draw, etc… See Reflection section for sample questions.

Introduction: (about 2 or 3 minutes, depending on questions)

  • Introduce Amadeo Modigliani; point out key features of his style (long necks, almond shaped eyes, black eyes, “L” shaped nose, etc…)
  • Introduce his influences – African Masks
  • Introduce keywords: shades, subtle tones, juxtaposing, shapes, portraits, Style, Expressionism, Cubism (I might exclude this), adjacent spaces. 


  • Part 1: making browns (2 minutes)
  • Part 2: drawing portrait (2 minutes)
  • Part 3: painting portrait (2 to 3 minutes)

Making: (40 to 50 minutes)

  • Step 1 – Making your own browns:
  • Hand out sheets of stiff, white paper with 5 circles already drawn on them. Ask them to make 5 different browns by mixing any colours from their paint trays (including white)
  • Step 2 – Drawing a portrait of you parent, Modigliani style
  • Step 3 – Painting the portrait using only browns

Backup Activity: 

  • Show fast-finisher (individually) how to draw a squiggle abstract with charcoal.
  • Explain the painting in the spaces with the brown paint they have left over in their trays.
  • Explain the challenge of not painting the same brown side-by-side in adjacent spaces.

Clean Up time: (5 to 10 minutes)

  • Bring paintings to be displayed; bring brushes and trays to sink; wash hands; put away smocks.

Response to Art

  • Note: These will be spaced out during the whole activity, and may evolve into different questions, depending on the responses of the students. Some may also be dropped altogether. 
  • What are primary colours?
  • What are secondary colours?
  • Who can tell us a way to make brown?
  • What happens if we add white to brown? (Demo)
  • What happens if we add black to brown? (Demo)
  • What looks different about Modigliani’s portraits?
  • What similarities do you see between Modigliani’s faces and African Masks?
  • What’s the name of the artist I showed you?
  • Who can name one of the influences on his painting style?
  • How do we make shades of brown?
  • How do we make tints of brown?
  • How do we make hues of brown?
  • How do we make tones of brown?
  • Who did you paint?
  • Would you like to make a self-portrait in this style?
  • What other materials could we use to make portraits in this style?

Reflection and Lesson Assessment

  • Did the students learn how to create subtle tones?
  • Did the students learn how to change browns with white, back, and other colours?
  • Did I introduce an appreciation for Modigliani, African Masks, and Expressionism as a form of self-expression?
  • I want the students to know how to make shades and tints of colour mixes they already love making. 
  • I want the students to know they can make subtle hue changes to colours by rising in small amounts of other colours. 
  • I want the students to learn to observe the most prominent facial features and be able to portray them with simple drawing/painting techniques.
  • I would like them to make more portraits at home, in materials other choice, portraying themselves, and others from observation, as well as memory. 


The exclusion of “African Masks” was in response to a last minute request to make the lessson more culturally responsive to stear away from stereotyping Africa as a single culture, and to address aspects of cultural appropriation. Given time to revise this lesson into a full uint, I would re-introduce masks from various cultures around the world, and explain the features as the source of inspiration, while explaining that the Expressionist at that time may not have had any un derstanding of the colonization mentality they demonstrated.

In fact, the whole issue of cultural appropriation vs. inspiration has become a fascination and hot button topic amongst my fellow teachers. I will be spending more time on this question over the next while.



Follows a discussion with my mentor, where she gave me an idea and challenge to use Modigliani to teach about “subtle tones”. 


Image #1 – Making Brown: Retrieved from: https://www.knowhowadda.com/how-to-make-brown-from-primary-colours/

Image #2 – Making Browns: Retrieved from: https://www.stjosephauburn.org/what-color-does-brown-and-yellow-make.html 

Image #3 – tints, tones, and hues of brown: Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/353532639473174321/?lp=true

Image #4 – Shades of Brown: Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/453808099925829288/?lp=true 

Image #5 – Shades of brown: Retrieved from: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/shades-brown-vector-color-palette-guide-1479197402

Image #6 – Browns: Retrieved from: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/57/ea/21/57ea21a8f2cc8c233eff023d973a7b36.png 

Image #7 – tints, tones, and hues: Retrieved from: https://multidict.net/clilstore/page.php?id=6157 

Image #8 – Modigliani Portraits: Retrieved from: https://carlasonheim.blogs.com/kids_art_week/2015/07/lesson-6-modigliani-portraits.html

image #9 – African-Masks: Retrieved from: https://www.etsy.com/dk-en/listing/595279732/african-masks-ceramic-decals-masks 

Modigliani Portraits: Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/paradigmadarte/photos/a.614314538598490/984779898218617/?type=1&theater 

Portrait Samples #1 & 2: Retrieved from: Arts M.Perron: www.1-mario-perron.pixels.com 


Modigliani Self-Portrait Tutorial: Retrieved from: https://artprojectsforkids.org/modigliani-self-portrait-tutorial/ 


Alice Lai (2012) Culturally Responsive Art Education in a Global Era, Art Education, 65:5, 18-23, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2012.11519188. Retrievedf from: https://doi.org/10.1080/00043125.2012.11519188 


Art Lessons For Kids Amadeo Modigliani Part 1: Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/kfZodd5BkFQ

Art Lessons For Kids Amadeo Modigliani Part 2: Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/gvJz2E2OCzY 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.