Lesson Plan: Pet Portraits

Last updated: January 24, 2013

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Illustration of a cat painting a picture on an easel with a paint brush

Technology Level: Classroom Based.

Audience: Ages 4-8 (Grades 4-6)

Duration: 45-60 minutes


Students will explore different techniques for creating a pet portrait. They will use captions to describe the emotions shown by the animals in the portrait. They will then compare a personal portrait to that of their animal and identify the similarities and differences in the way emotions are displayed.

Prior knowledge

This lesson provides opportunities for students to experiment with a range of art materials and styles. Through this experimentation, the students will make informed decisions about the materials that will enhance their portrait. This activity allows students to put a ‘voice’ to their art in the form of captions for their portraits that identify hidden feelings or emotions.


  • Prior to this lesson the teacher should ask the students to bring in a picture of their pet. If students don’t have a pet then ask them to find a picture of a domestic animal that they would like to have as a pet.
  • Paper and drawing/painting materials (depending on the medium chosen). Including; charcoal, lead pencils (assorted hardness), aquarelles, watercolours, ink, pen (fine point) etc.


  1. 1.Lesson Plan
  2. Samples of different types of portraits & animals
  3. Sample of picture graph
  4. Elements of art
  5. Creation of a portrait


Lesson Procedure
Topic Notes
1.Introduction (15 mins)  
1.1 Introduction to art activity(10 mins)

1.1 Teacher introduces topic by talking about pets, shows pictures of own pet and others’ pets.

Teacher introduces the idea of portraits etc. Class discussion about what a portrait is and how many different ways a portrait can be created.

Ideas to discuss:

  • Photographic portraits
  • Caricatures • Paintings
  • Line drawings
  • Charcoal
  • Difference between live portraits and portraits from images

Discuss the following: How do you think we would do a portrait of a pet?

Teacher shows students a range of different types of pictures/ portraits.

1.2 Selecting appropriate materials & style of portrait(5 mins) 1.2 Using their own pet photographs (or selected images), give the students the opportunity to select the materials and the style (charcoal/caricature/watercolour) they feel will portray their pet best.
2 Body(30 mins)


2.1 Creating the Portrait(35 mins)

2.1 Teacher models a practice sketch of the portrait on paper.

If students are not confident in their drawing ability

  • Provide tracing paper
  • Provide samples using graphs to break the image down into small squares.

Allow space and time for students to create their portraits. Some students will take longer than others.

  • Discuss aspects of depicting emotions and reproducing the image
2.2 Captioning the portrait. Focus on emotions.(5 mins)

2.2 Upon completion of portrait the teacher will ask the students "what is the image telling us"?

Ask students to create a caption to suit the portrait, keeping in mind what emotions the animal is exhibiting.

For example: ‘Curiosity caught Kit by surprise’.

3 Conclusion(5 mins)


3.1 Class Discussion/ Reflection(5 mins)

3.1 Consider the following:

  • How do we portray emotions?
  • How do animals portray emotions?
  • How are we similar/different in the way we portray emotions?
  • Is it possible to depict animal emotions in a portrait?
  • Looking at the other portraits can you see what emotions are depicted?

What elements of art were used to depict different emotions?

Curriculum Links

Curriculum Links for this lesson
Key Learning area Curriculum link
The Arts

Visual Arts
3.1 Students design, make and modify images and objects applying elements and additional concepts to construct intended meanings.
3.2 Students make and display images and objects, understanding the functions of informal and formal display.
3.3 Students compare elements and additional concepts of images and objects from a variety of cultural and historical contexts.

4.1 Students deconstruct and reconstruct images and objects to manipulate meaning through explorations of elements and additional concepts (suitable for higher year levels).

Suggested Homework Activities

  1. Devise a story explaining why this animal was having its portrait done.
  2. Hold a mock auction of portraits to raise funds for RSPCA – discuss why charities fund raise.

Suggested Extension Activities

  1. Create a class book of all portraits.
  2. Hold an exhibition of portraits for other classes.
  3. Separate the captions from the pictures and create a game to match the picture to the caption.
  4. Write a letter to the owner of the pet of your choice regarding the purchase of the portrait.

Suggestions for Adapting this Lesson for Lower or Higher Year Levels

This lesson could easily be adapted for lower year levels by providing outlines of pets to colour or paint. The final pictures can have one word attached relating to an emotion the animal is portraying eg Happy, sad, lonely etc.

Higher year levels can use the activity to explore a range of art styles and elements of art in depth. Students can experiment with a broad range of materials and methods of creating portraits. School murals can be created incorporating pictures and captions. Different animal themes can be explored (care and empathy, cruelty and neglect) through other forms of art – collage, photography, sculpture etc.


Pauline Gledhill, (2001), Animal Portraiture by Pauline Gledhill, 12/3/08, Available at: http://www.ukpetportraits.co.uk/

John S. Pritchett , Pritchett Cartoons, 12/3/08, Available at : http://www.pritchettcartoons.com/elvis.htm

NB: The following pictures to be used for education purposes only and must not be reproduced or sold. The copyright remains the property of the artist.

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