Basquiat Art Project: Make a Portrait in the Style of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a history-making artist—one who definitely deserves to be celebrated for more than his just incredible and unique style. Basquiat used his work and his platform to bring attention to issues that affected the Black community. When I reflected on his art and his legacy, I felt inspired to do a Basquiat art project with my kids that would help them learn about this trailblazing, neo-expressionist painter.
In this activity, you and your kids will get to create some beautiful art while learning about and experiencing the unique style of Basquiat. The activity can be done with any available supplies suitable for drawing—pencils, crayons, colored pencils, pastels, or markers. You could even use paint.
Below, we have advice about how to get started, and how to tailor this activity to children of different ages, as well as links to videos to help students learn more about the art and life of Basquiat. For more ideas about activities you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit the main page, Charter a Voyage of Learning.
Younger Students Can Build a Portrait
For young children, introduce the Basquiat art project by starting with pre-cut features like those in the template provided: heads, eyes, noses, and mouths. Draw and cut out enough copies for the number of children participating. Give them these instructions: Pick a head shape that you like, then eyes, a nose, and a mouth; put the eyes, nose, and mouth wherever you want on the face.
For permanent pictures, you could provide the children with glue to fix the features in place once they have them where they want. The goal is that they will gain an appreciation for combining vibrantly styled components into a unique art piece.
Olders Students Can Draw in Basquiat’s Style
For bigger kids, they can build on their knowledge of texture, color, and linework. Show them some videos about Basquiat—see examples below—and samples of his art pieces. Explain that they will be drawing a portrait in Basquiat’s style. Show them the template provided. Encourage them to copy the shapes on the template or improvise their own.
Have them use black (or any single dark color suitable for making strong lines) to draw the basic image. Then demonstrate for them how to go back over the basic image with different colors. Encourage them to use a variety of colors to add texture and make their drawings vibrant and exciting. Ask them how the different colors and kinds of lines helped add texture to their Basquiat art project.
Extend the activity by having the students pick any other animal, creature, or character they wish and draw it in Basquiat’s style.
Learn More About Democracy Prep
At the Democracy Prep Public schools network, we believe meaningful engagement with the arts is an integral part of scholarship and active citizenship. To reflect this value, our schools employ full-time arts educators as part of their core academic team. We also offer a variety of after-school activities and partnerships to support specialized growth and training in the arts.
At the Democracy Prep at the Stewart Campus here in San Antonio, every scholar receives formal instruction in 2–3 artistic disciplines, including music, visual art, dance, theater, step, film. Through these core arts classes, we grow our scholars’ capacities to think critically, communicate fluently, and take informed, creative action within an artistic discipline. Arts classes emphasize knowledge and skill building, art making, and ongoing inquiry into how the arts reflect and shape personal identity and culture.
Scholars contribute to their school’s arts culture through regular showcases, concerts, exhibitions, and other opportunities to share creative output. From the earliest years in kindergarten, creative expression is framed as a powerful vehicle for self-discovery and civic engagement.
Links to Video Resources for the Basquiat Art Project
Here are three videos that I recommend to help students learn more about Basquiat, his life, and his art. Show these videos, as well as samples of Basquiat’s work, to inspire students to do their own drawings in Basquiat’s style.
“The chaotic brilliance of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Jordana Moore Saggese (4’32”)
“How Jean-Michel Basquiat Turned Art History on Its Head” (3’19”)
“Who Was Basquiat? Famous Black Painters” (7’09”)
For more ideas about activities you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit the main page, Charter a Voyage of Learning. Learn about Black History in San Antonio with SAAACAM, and get creative with art projects like Grumpy Pants, Making Faces, Making Memes, and Nature Box.
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Katie Mallette, Visual Art teacher at Democracy Prep at the Stewart Campus, talk about how she teaches the Basquiat art project lesson on Charter Moms Chats on February 26, 2020 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
About the Author
Katie Mallette is an experienced elementary and middle-school art teacher at Democracy Prep at the Stewart Campus in San Antonio. She has four adult children, two cats, an adorable basset hound, and a slightly less adorable husband.
Learn More About Democracy Prep
- “Guide to Enrolling at Democracy Prep at the Stewart Campus for 2021–2022,” San Antonio Charter Moms, February 4, 2021
- “San Antonio ISD’s District-Charter Partnership with Democracy Prep at Stewart Elementary,” San Antonio Charter Moms, January 20, 2018