Reverse Painting Acetate Self Portraits

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We had a photo shoot in class during which each student posed for their self portrait. They had the freedom to pick how they wanted to pose and whether they wanted to express an emotion through their pose. We printed out 8” by 10” photos and students traced the main contours of their face and body onto acetate with Sharpie. We then painted the back of the acetate using acrylic paint. Students had to select an analogous color scheme thoughtfully as well as apply their paint in directional marks to best accentuate the flow of hair and clothing. Because they painted the reverse side, students had to think carefully about the fact that the first strokes of paint applied are what is most visible once the painting is done, dried, and flipped back over.


Students painting the back of their traced portrait.



Students checking their painting, mid-progress!



The background seen through the unpainted sections of the acetate is an example of handmade “paste paper”.

Paste paper is a surface decorating technique in which a mixture of paint and paste, (in our case, papier mache paste,) is applied thickly to white or colored paper. Patterns and textures can be created in the wet paint with tools such as combs and plastic forks, or even finger tips.


A variation of this project had students use leftover abstract paintings from a previous lesson as the background piece behind their acetate paintings. Any interesting patterned paper, handmade or not, makes a fun background element for this project! Wallpaper or wrapping paper work nicely as well!

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