I have always loved Chuck Close. In fact, if I could meet any artist living or dead I’m pretty sure I would choose him (by the way, he’s only 72 and lives in NYC). I also love that students can relate to him. He overcame many obstacles in his life including learning disabilities, the death of his father at a young age and a spinal cord collapse that ultimately left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down. Chuck Close remains in a wheelchair, but he is not “known” because of his handicap. He was a well known (and phenomenal) artist before he was in a wheelchair. One of the things that make him so amazing is the way he took every one of his hardships in life and turned it into something positively positive.
I’m sharing this project and adding a few details about how it’s done. After introducing Chuck Close and having some healthy discussion about his life and work, we start out with a lesson on Portraiture and facial proportions. I take about two days going through the anatomy and proportions of the human face while students draw along with me. Once the practice portraits are complete students are given a large sheet of 18×24″ paper and a mirror. They use the anatomy and proportions we went over to create a portrait that looks like them. Chuck Close created many “fingerprint” portraits so I borrowed that technique to create double self-portraits- not only are the portraits of the students, they also use their unique fingerprint to complete the shading. We do some value exercises including a fingerprint value scale + partial portrait (pictured above). This helps students to practice using their fingerprints for shading (it’s tricky). After practicing students add shaded fingerprints to their portrait. For the background we use another piece of 18×24″ paper divided into 3″ squares. We duplicate Chuck Close’s abstract painted squares. Students must included at least three mixed colors in each square (they are not allowed to use color straight out of the paint bottle- mixed colors only!). Once both works are complete, student cut out the portraits and glue them onto the painted background.
Chuck Close - Fingerpainting (1985) - oil on canvas