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Imaginary Animal Self-Portraits at École St. Thomas d’Aquin

The Wild TREX exhibition was on display at École St. Thomas d’Aquin this past February 2018. Included with each exhibition is a catalogue and educators guide offering students the opportunity to engage in a visual art projects inspired by the theme of the exhibition. With the guidance of their teacher, students created Imaginary Animal Self-Portraits. See below for project details and be sure to check out our visiting artist link for more images of completed works.

Jenn Demke-Lange’s delightful images of childhood include illustrations of playing make-believe, and incorporate characteristics of animals. This project asks students to use their imaginations and choose an animal they identify with to create a painted and collaged self-portrait. Through photography, watercolour painting, and drawings, they will create a magical interpretation of childhood games. If students are past the age of playing pretend, this project asks them to reflect on younger years, much like the artist did in this exhibition—to fondly recall the fun of childhood years, when imaginary wings were just as good as real ones!

Students will:

  • plan and design a mixed-media self-portrait
  • observe and draw in proportion
  • utilize a variety of art mediums 


Step One

After some reflection, decide what animal, insect, etc. you would like to portray in your self-portrait. Next, select a pose to work with. Have a teacher or classmate photograph you against a plain background in your chosen pose. Print selected photographs out in colour on either photo paper or card stock.

Step Two

Carefully cut yourself out of the photograph. Using your pose as a template, draw different animal components, such as ears, tails, wings, and paws, in pencil on watercolour paper. It does not matter where you draw them on the paper, as they will be painted, cut out, and arranged in a collage on the final piece. Paint these elements with watercolour paints in colours of your choosing. When dry, add details and outlining using the fine-tipped felt pen.

Note: you are not drawing or painting on your photograph but on separate paper so everything can be collaged together.

Step Three

As this project is all about imagination, it utilizes a unique watercolour technique to create a fantastical backdrop for the portraits. Each student should have a single full sheet of watercolour paper. They can tape the corners down to the work surface to prevent curling.

Using a big brush and clean water, coat the surface of the watercolour paper completely. Then, working quickly, add big strokes of colour. Spirals, stripes and zigzags all work well—whatever motif you want. While the paper is still very wet, sprinkle salt on it to create a speckled effect. If the paper is drying out too quickly, after sprinkling the salt, spray a little water on the paper and the same effect will appear. Then leave the paper to dry. Try not to move it.

Step Four

When everything is completely dry, brush the salt off the watercolour sheets and cut out the animal components. Using white glue sparingly, create a collage with the components and photograph on the watercolour background.