Trudging Through the Holidays

December is Honesty month in detention, and despite the hum drum mood of the residents who are infinitely upset about being away from their families, I get excited to teach this one specific art project. I’ve learned that my excitement is a welcome change from the general negative atmosphere of any type of residential placement during the holidays, because the students always hop on board and fully immerse themselves in the project.

This is a task that I call Honesty Portraits, and it is one of projects during the year that every student enjoys, no one complains, everyone participates, and everyone is engaged throughout the entire class.  We start off by learning about Andy Warhol and view his various self-portraits and other prints of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, and even Mickey Mouse. We use the Pop Art style of repeated images, bright colors, and bold contrast as inspiration for the students’ own self-portraits, using the iMac PhotoBooth app on my computer.

The catch is that the students are challenged to use facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language to try and convey the feeling that they most often experience while they are in detention. Typically we do a quick writing warm-up before completing the photos… this way the students have a clear concept to work with before they sit down in front of the camera.

After they’ve taken their photos, and I print 8×10 copies for them, they use them as the focal point of their artwork. Next, they use pages of collage words to create a poem or series of sentences that relate to the feeling they chose for their photo. (Side note- I have at least 30 of collage word pages. Teenagers love them, and they turn out to be useful in so many projects throughout the year! They’re just pages full of words that I’ve cut out from magazines. Simple, yet so indispensible!)

Below is an example (with my photo) that I worked on with a student this year. It’s amazing the powerful messages that the students are able to convey without actually having to write anything. (Although this year I did have two students voluntarily write lengthy poems of their own which they asked me to type up).

When everyone’s finished, we hold a group critique and I give the students a chance to share their work and the emotions they featured. We talk about expressing yourself honestly and how to do it without being rude or hurtful to others. We role play and practice things you can say to be honest about what’s going on with you without throwing in curse words or put downs. Everyone seems to walk away with a peaceful sense of emotional release and a renewed strength to face the holidays.

Wishing you peace and quiet through the new year J

Til next time,



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