DIY: True Self Portrait collage

All people are made up of experiences and feelings. How would you describe yourself using pictures, shapes and color? In recognition of Black History Month and celebrating Black contemporary artists, explore making a collage portrait inspired by the composite (puzzle-like) portrait paintings of artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn that explores this concept in his work. A Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based painter, Quinn is known for his collage-like portraits that feature the true nature of people in his life. He developed his drawing skill by copying comic books and kids in his neighborhood challenging him to “art duels.” This style of artwork was born from the artist not over thinking while he is creating, and choosing to work freely and quickly. In this DIY project, kids will learn to layer magazine images, drawings and crayon on paper to piece together a work of art that tells the story of their inner and outer self, creating a True Self Portrait Collage!

Nathaniel Mary Quinn's Artwork

Pictured: Clown, 2014 (left) and Hosie’s Lady, 2017 (right)

guidelines + materials

AGE: 4+ (with adult support)

TIME FRAME:  30 minutes


  • Crayons, markers or other coloring utensils
  • Magazines or newspapers
  • 5 – 6 Sheets of construction paper or other drawing paper
  • Glue stick
  • Pair of Scissors


1. Set up a collage station. Lay out your materials and grab a few magazines. Pull out a glue stick along with crayons or markers. You’re ready to go!

2. Pick images. Go through several magazines to pick images you might want to include for a self portrait. Look for anything that could be used as eyeballs, noses, mouths or ears that inspire you. Once you have ripped or cut out all the pages you like, begin to cut out the individual facial features with scissors.

3. Outline a face. Place the cut-out images on one sheet of paper. Play around with the cut-out pieces and try making different faces. You can even look in the mirror for inspiration. Remember, it doesn’t have to look real, so have fun with it! Much like Quinn’s collage portraits, be sure to play around with different parts of the face to see what emotions you can make. Once you have decided on where you would like the images to be, use glue to attach it to the paper. Repeat this until all of the collage elements are securely in place.

4. Dream up a design. Once the cut-outs are glued onto the paper, now you can grab your crayons or markers. With your mark-making tools, you can fill in or draw other parts of your face. Think about the overall feeling you want your self portrait to have. If you are feeling happy, sad or even silly explore what colors or textures you could add to make that feeling come to life. There is no right or wrong answer, just explore with your materials!

5. Enhance your image! After you finish adding all of your layers, use a black pen or other drawing material to enhance your picture and add fun details. With Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s portraits, some have bodies or backgrounds, your self portrait can include your home or even a place you enjoy being the most. It is up to you! Then share and describe your True Self Portrait Collage with others.

Additional Learning Activities (Grades K-2)

Express Yourself
This type of art making is a great outlet for sharing how you see yourself with the images selected and drawings that you make. Have your child explore using colors and images that speak to them. Collage self portraits can aid in the child’s understanding of their own sense of identity through the images that they associate with. Encourage your child to share their choices and to talk about their work with you.

Select a Story
Reading is a wonderful vehicle for learning and for introducing new ideas to learners. Select engaging and age-appropriate books that feature expressive art and open-ended art making to read to your child before and/or after the True Self Portrait Collage activity.

Recommended Related Reading (Ages 4 – 8):

  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña illustrated by Christian Robinson
  • Anna at the Art Museum by Gail Herbert and Hazel Hutchins
  • The ABC’s of Black History by Rio Cortez illustrated by Lauren Semmer

CA Arts Standards for Visual Art (Grades K-2)

  • Interpret art by identifying and describing subject matter.
  • Engage in exploration and imaginative play with various arts materials.
  • Interpret art by identifying subject matter and describing relevant details.
  • Interpret art by categorizing subject matter and identifying the mood and characteristics of form.
  • Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.
  • Experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.
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