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“Uber Nu” Pastel Portraits

Lesson Plan and Artwork by Kathryn Cahill, Art Consultant
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Lesson Plan
Grades 9-12
Sax Lesson Plans, Art History
Prismacolor, Berol


This lesson focuses on creating an expressive portrait in a bright color palette similar to the contemporary portrait artist Emma Uber. It plays with the basic concept of mixed media art – building up layers – but it uses the unconventional pair of Prismacolor NuPastel and Liquitex Matte Medium to create depth and saturation. Different Prismacolor products are layered to blend, to create texture, and to increase opacity and visual variation.


  • Students will research contemporary portraiture.
  • Students will understand layers in mixedmedia work and play with transparency, translucency and opacity.
  • Students will try new color palettes, including the bold and bright.
  • Students will create an expressive portrait.

Supplies Needed

#1371709 Paper–XL 12 x 18" 300g–140# Watercolor 30 sheets/pad
#403930 Medium Liquitex Matte Pint Squeeze Bottle
#406501 Pastel NuPastel, set of 48
#1367751 Brush Freestyle Paddle Brush 2"
#390806 Liquitex Ready-To-Use Acrylic Gesso in 1 qt
#408545 Brush Soft Grip White Taklon, set of 5
#222693 Prismacolor Watercolor Pencil, set of 36
#404460 Prismacolor Portrait Pencil, set of 24

Additional Supplies




Standard #3: Refine and complete artistic work.


Standard #5: Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.


Standard #11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.


Adjust quantities and add all items at once


Step 1

Research contemporary artist Emma Uber and her style of portraiture. Uber sometimes combines the facial features of herself, those of people she knows, and also adds in features from collected references. She defies the tradition of photo-realistic portraits by adding an intensely colorful arrangement of shapes, lines and drips around the face to add interest and curiosity to her characters.

Step 2

Use a light pencil to sketch a face and features, be sure to avoid digging into the paper by pressing too hard.

Step 3

Create a transparent background layer by brushing on the Liquitex Matte Medium with the 2" Paddle Brush while adding in shaved NuPastel dust. Combining the NuPastel dust with the Liquitex Matte Medium, creates a custom transparent or translucent matte acrylic color that can be applied in multiple thin layers to create depth and increase color saturation in the background. The medium "fixes" the pastel as it dries. The Matte surface is slightly textured which allows successive layers to be applied using dry or wet media. Large, vertical brush strokes give the painting a more traditional, gritty pastel look. Let the work dry completely between layers or speed up drying with a hair dryer or heat tool.

Step 4

Use Liquitex Gesso on the face to give it contrast and to make that area the focal point. Let the Gesso dry completely before working on top.

Step 5

Wet the brush and use the NuPastel as a watercolor cake or stick. Apply color to the face and surrounding area using the NuPastels wet or dry. They are very versatile and blend easily. When desired, a layer of coloring is achieved by carefully applying a thin layer of Liquitex Matte Medium with the side of a soft flat brush to seal and prepare you for the next layer. This step can be repeated many times until the desired coloring result is achieved. Use the Gesso as a white out and begin layering again if the desired outcome is not achieved.

Step 6

Add in details to the surface with Prismacolor Premier and Watercolor Pencils. While this could be done with a tiny brush and wet NuPastel, the pencils give your lines a quick, hard, opaque edge. Certain types of pencils may act as a resist to future layers, so be aware of the type used. Experiment and have fun adding in bright, bold colors in the final layers of the piece. Seal the portrait with more Matte Medium.

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