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Charcoal Observational Portraits


Artists in Schools

Charcoal Observational Portraits

Dispatches from CMA Resident Artist Noormah Jamal's fifth grade class at Children's Workshop School.

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Students were challenged to create 3 different charcoal portraits in 30 minutes – that’s 10 minutes per portrait!

This allowed students to slow down and really focus on their portraits instead of rushing through. 

To help with the placement and proportions of the face, students looked at works by British figurative painter Leon Kossoff

This week’s key skill was observation. Noormah reminded students to keep looking back at the reference and use the charcoal sticks according to what it does best, and not necessarily like a pencil. 

The best part about these hyper-specific assignments is that when students engage, they fully jump into the assignment. Some students wanted specific feedback about the shape of the nose for example.

It’s fantastic to see students really honing their skills in charcoal. 

Noormah’s work at Children’s Workshop School is supported by the Emergency Arts Education Fund, which provides free arts education to NYC school communities whose art programs have been decimated by recent budget cuts.

Children’s Museum of the Arts’ three Residents Artists are currently implementing ambitious arts curriculum at each of our partner sites throughout New York City: Hudson Guild in Chelsea, Sid Miller Academy in Crown Heights, and Children’s Workshop School in the East Village. Come spring, our residents will showcase their students' work through exhibitions and installations across the city. Learn how you can support the work of our residents here.


Noormah Jamal at Children's Workshop School

Directional Coloring

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