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Art and Artists  Africa, Sierra Leone
 Chuck Close
 James Ensor
 Frank Gehry
 Robert Gwathmey
 Marsden Hartley
 Pepón Osorio
 James Rosenquist
 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Chuck Close
Teacher Lessons

Creator: Kia Holbeck
Title: Pixel Painting
Medium used in production activity: tempera paint
Target age: Grade 11 to adult


To better understand Photorealism, students will study the artwork of Chuck Close, American Photorealist.


By taking suggestions from the teacher throughout the project, and constructive criticism in the critique, the student will learn to take and use this criticism productively.


Students will understand how to create a pixel painting using a monochromatic color scheme.

Materials Needed:

  • large tagboard (18 x 24 in.)

  • masking tape

  • pencils

  • yardsticks

  • tempera paint

  • small brushes

  • large clear photos of people's faces

  • use of copy machine


You should either be able to supply the students with some large, clear photos (photocopied) of people's faces, or have access to a library or other source of imagery from which students can choose photographs to photocopy.


Day One:

  1. Discuss the style of Chuck Close--how he would break down each little part of a portrait and enlarge it into a very large-scale painting, and how these large-scale works need to be seen from a distance in order to be most effective.

  2. Explain to the students what type of photo to bring in for the next class--large, clear pictures of a favorite family member, celebrity, or just a general photo.

  3. Hand out the tagboard, yardsticks, pencils and masking tape. Students need to create a grid on their paper--mark every half inch horizontally and vertically. It's important to keep the lines accurate and light.

  4. Create a removable border with masking tape (use wide masking tape and fold one-third of it over--tape the remaining third onto the back of your paper (so it's easily removable and won't later pull the paint off from the front) so that it forms a half-inch border that's parallel to the paper's edge.) Repeat this on the other sides so the entire paper has a small border. Looking at the half-inch grid marks from before, extend those marks onto the masking tape so that the tape border is now marked off every half inch. Designate a letter to each square going across (A, B, C, D, E,'ll run out of letters, so then use AA, BB, CC, etc.) Do the same for the bottom border going across. Designate a number to each square going down, and do the same for the opposite side. Make sure the numbers and letters line up from side to side.

Day Two:

  1. Spend first half of block in library (if necessary) looking for images for the paintings. Enlarge and lighten the photos as needed so a good, clear image is produced.

  2. Back in the room, figure out the dimensions so they correspond with the tagboard (usually the tag is 18 x 24 in., or 3 x 4 simplified)...a 6 x 8 in. photo works the best (and easiest to figure out!). Crop down the photos if necessary. After figuring out the space you'll use, divide the photo into half-inch squares both ways.

  3. Divide each square into three smaller squares, and draw the lines down and across the squares to divide each one up. Each of these smaller squares represents one half-inch on the tagboard.

    You're now ready to start painting!

  4. Choose paint colors--students should stick with a monochromatic palette (one color and all its values).

  5. Important! It's okay to paint in a square solidly if it's all one color on the photograph, but for squares with more than one shade, visually divide that square into quarters and shade each quarter corresponding to that particular quarter. Altogether, you should use at least five shades of your particular color. Also, it may help to keep a sheet of paper over the section not being worked on at the timee.

Days Three to Seven (approximately)

  1. Continue painting...

  2. Periodically, stand back from the painting to get an overall view of the progress. It gets more interesting each time!

  3. When finished, have students carefully remove the tape borders. Display the entire class' paintings for a short critique. Discuss which paintings are the most successful and what makes them that way. Also discuss how maintaining a distance from the painting usually makes it more clear and more satisfying. Why is this?


This project isn't a very messy one. Just have the students cover their palettes from day to day, and wash them when the project is completed.


Through observing the students as they paint and answering their questions as they work, and by critiquing the projects at the end, the teacher is generally able to see whether or not the students understand what Chuck Close and other Photorealists were about, and how a pixel painting is created.

Examples of student work:
Student Pixel Painting

Vocabulary Terms:

Photorealism (SUPER-REALISM)--A style of painting in which an image is created in such exact detail that it looks like a photograph; uses everyday subject matter, and often is larger than life.

pixel--A tiny fragment of the entire picture; to break down a large picture into tiny particles.

monochromatic--One color.

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