Art has had a way, since our earliest days, of recording our social history. From the first cave paintings to the latest BLM murals, humans have felt the need to make visual images to express their thoughts and feelings and to document their history. So, it should come as no surprise that a COVID-19 art project for kids would be an important way to help them manage their thoughts and feelings and to document this unprecedented time in their history.
At least, that’s what I thought when I developed this COVID-19 art project and presented it to my students during a summer art camp at my Tucson art studio.
…and I was right.
Masked Student Self-Portraits
Before starting this project, the kids talked about the things (all related to COVID-19/coronavirus of 2020) that kids before them have never experienced. From schools closing in the spring, stay-at-home orders, and businesses being forced to close down, to wearing masks in public—not to mention the many sanitary and social distancing measures that they were heavily introduced to in 2020.
For many days, my summer art camp had gone by without any of the children directly complaining about wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, having their temperature checked, etc. However, when I finally asked the children what they thought about all they were going through, one child said right away, “I hate wearing masks.” So even though she hadn’t said so before, she was quick to say it once given a chance to do so.
I decided that we (the children and I) should use art as our therapy and create a COVID-19 art project specific to this time in our history. Specifically, wearing masks. So, I asked the children to draw a self-portrait wearing their masks. I got no arguments. Surprisingly, I didn’t even get the normal “I can’t draw” type of argument. In fact, it seemed the children were eager to jump in and document this time in their life.
There are a lot of things I could have done with this project.
We could have gone through all the technical ways to draw a portrait—eyes in the middle of the head, nose in line with the bottom of the ear, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I could have had the children design their masks and use lots of bright colors.
I could have had the children use pencils and erasers and strive for absolute perfection.
We could have used mirrors to look at…
Instead, I gave them all large white paper, black tempera paint, and a simple paintbrush. I told them to draw themselves wearing a mask—and they did!
Art can say so much—without saying a word. I wanted to keep the techniques simple. Keep the materials basic, and let the final portraits shine through in their elegant simplicity.
Which they did.
In fact, the next morning, after I had hung up the portraits on my art line, a parent came in. They walked right up to the portraits and said, “Wow, those are amazing.”
As we’ve learned time and time again, less is often more.
This art project proved that.
The kids are the artists, and they’ll jump right in when given a chance.
If you are looking for a COVID-19 art project to do with your kids—your students at school or even your own kids at home—I highly recommend giving them a blank piece of paper, some paint, and a brush and asking them to paint their “masked” self-portrait.
There is no doubt that one day, they’ll find these portraits among a stack of papers that their parents have kept, and they’ll say, “Oh, wow, I remember that year.”
For more COVID-19 art projects, read on to the bottom of this post. I explain a few resources that I have in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I think these projects will be meaningful to you and your students this year.
Thanks for reading and for making art with your children!