Self-Portraiture a lá Balet

Welcome to Part II of our interview with Jeanne Donato – the California art teacher who turned a gift of Balet lithographs into special lessons for her high school students.

Peter & Marie: So once you decided to share the lithos with your classes, how did you incorporate them into your lesson plans?

Jeanne: Because I was so drawn to the faces and the exaggerated eyes and expressions in Balet’s prints, I decided to use them, for example, in a series of classes on self-portraits.

Peter & Marie: Was that hard to do? Jan didn’t do a lot of portraits as most people think of them.

Jeanne: It was a multi-stage process. We started by spending time on classical, High Renaissance portraits by artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Students began their self-portrait project using the exact proportion approach used by these artists. Then, I directed them to choose two facial features to exaggerate in the style of Balet.

Peter & Marie: Was that the final exercise?

Jeanne: No. Once they had each created their drawn self-portrait, they had to choose a color scheme, or palette, and paint a self-portrait using that palette and the drawing as the bases for the final work.

Peter & Marie: Why do you think the lithographs were so beneficial to this exercise?

Jeanne: Having these original lithographs allowed the students to see Balet’s works in actual size, rather than in books or projected on the screens. They could see the detail, compare the styles of the artists they had studied, and create their own self-portraits by blending the techniques to generate a unique work of their own.

Peter & Marie: And how did the students’ self-portraits turn out?

Jeanne: Having taught art for more than thirty years, I am ever-amazed at students’ ability to take in all that is presented to them, process the information, and create truly unique works of art. 

Peter & Marie: And since you retired, have the lithos retired, too?

Jeanne: Not quite. I regularly substitute teach and still bring the lithos with me, on occasion, to make sure they keep inspiring young artists.