Lesson #1: Re-interpreting a Photograph

Part of the unit: Creating a Portrait Print |


Why might an artist re-interpret a familiar image?
Students will be able to:
Discuss why Andy Warhol and Shephard Fairey re-interpreted photographic portraits into screen prints.
Reduce a photograph to flat planes.
Students will understand that:
Artists can be inspired by significant cultural and historical figures.
Artists often re-interpret a familiar image.

9"x12" drawing paper, colored markers, black sharpie markers, 8.5"x11" tracing paper, ebony pencils


Andy Warhol's silkscreen prints of Marilyn Monroe and Mao

Shephard Fairey's Obama Hope poster with the photograph on which it was based (theage.com.au/news/entertainment/arts/obama-poster-designers-lie/2009/10/19/1255891765913.html)

8.5x11" images of notable people (from the arts, history, politics, science...) gathered from magazines and the internet

Optional:  Students can be told in advance to bring in an 8.5"x11" photograph of a notable person.


Display Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe and Mao. Explain that these are silkscreen prints based on photographs. Briefly desribe the silkscreen process.

  • Who are the subjects of these portraits?  
  • Why do you think Warhol selected these people as subjects?

Briefly discuss the Pop Art Movement of the 1960's.   Indicate that much of the art was commentary on popular culture. Include some visuals of Andy Warhol's Soup Cans, Roy Lichtenstein's prints and other iconic pieces of work. 

  • How are these images different from photographs?
  • What is similar about the way Wahrol has portrayed Marilyn and Mao?  (discuss  composition and color) might he select to memorialize in a portrait?

Display Shephard Fairey's Obama Hope poster and the photograph it was based on. 

  • In what ways is this image of President Obama similar to Andy Warhol's portraits?
  • How has Shephard Fairey re-interpreted the image in the photograph?
  • Why is this an effective poster for a political campaign?




Explain that in this printmaking unit, students will be selecting a photograph of a notable person to re-interpret into a new image, similar to what Warhol and Fairey have done. Starting with a photograph from the internet or a magazine, students will create a four-color sketch in preparation for making a four-color reduction print.

Using an ebony pencil, the teacher will demonstrate how to

  1. 1. outline the planes of the face (or the shadows) to create flat shapes
  2. 2. use tracing paper to trace the image
  3. 3. re-trace it on the reverse side
  4. 4. place the tracing on 9x12 drarwing paper
  5. 5. go over the lines to transfer the image onto the drawing paper
  6. 6. outline the contours using a Sharpie marker.

Students will use the photos they have brought to class or will select one from the teacher's collection. 

They will ouline the planes of the face to create flat shapes.  Tracing paper will be used to trace the image,  retrace it on the reverse side, and transfer it to 9"x12" drawing paper. The drawing will be outlined used a Sharpie marker.


Display student work.  Ask students to identify the subjects.

  • How are these traced images different from a photographic image?

Use MoMA's website (www.moma.org) to find Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait,1966, on nine canvases.  In writing, answer the following question:

  • Why do you think Warhol displayed the self-portraits in a group rather than individually?
  • Which one do you like the best?  Explain.