Powerful Portraits

Powerful Portraits lesson plan

Focus on clothing, body language, and expression as you portray people in the realistic style of American portraitist John Singer Sargent.

  • 1.

    John Singer Sargent's primary focus was on portraiture, using a minimal background to showcase his model. Read information about his artistic career, travel, and powerful painting style.

  • 2.

    Collect magazine pictures of people in the uniform of their profession or favorite activity, such as a doctor, politician, or skateboarder. Look closely at the clothing these people wear. How does their body language relate to their career or activity? Choose one person as the subject of your painting.

  • 3.

    On construction paper, use Crayola® Construction Paper™ Crayons to begin your portrait, including details such as hair and facial features. Include visual hints about the model in their clothing, pose, and gestures.

  • 4.

    Cover a table top with recycled newspaper. Use Crayola Washable Paint and Paint Brushes to finish your portrait. In Sargent's style, include a simple, color field background to highlight your portrait. Dry on a flat surface.


  • Students read about the career and study the work of famous American portraitist John Singer Sargent.
  • Children collect images of people wearing clothing suitable for their career or hobby, and identify postures and gestures related to their activities.
  • Students explore the art of portraiture by drawing and painting in a realistic style similar to that of Sargent.


  • Instead of working from a magazine photo, create a portrait using a live model. Ask a friend to pose for you, wearing their favorite clothing, while you draw or paint them against a simple background.
  • Sargent was known for his portraits of presidents, the aristocracy, and tycoons, as well as for his portraits of gypsies, tramps, and street people. Paint two portraits of one person, changing the clothes and gestures to reflect different circumstances.
  • Find more information about one of the people in Sargent's portraits. Write and present a brief report on that person. Why did Sargent paint the person's portrait? What did the individual think of it?