Mapping our Identities: Conté Self Portraits featured image

Grade Level

9-10, 11-12 (ideal for 10/11)


20 class periods, periods are 50 minutes long


maps, premium heavy-weight print paper, black and white conté crayon, computer and printer


Drawing, graphite paper

Lesson Objectives

For the student to

  • Explore how identity is connected to geography
  • Appreciate maps as a design form and artifact of human history.  Maps not only present information about the world in a simple, visual way but they tell stories and reveal a lot about the times in which they were produced.
  • Students learn how to use transfer paper to recreate their photos on paper.
  • Students learn how to use conté crayon to develop value on their portraits.
  • Students use symbolism through the objects they choose to tell a story about themselves in the context of geography.

Introductory Activity

1). Students chose a location that had a connection to (it could be a place they have vacationed or lived, it could be connected to their ethnic heritage, it could be a place they want to go, etc.)

2).  They then had to find an image online of a map of that place.  (Please note, you have to be careful here because you have to find websites that allow you to use their maps.  Many are copyrighted and are not allowed to be used in artwork, however, many public libraries have online databases that provide free downloadable maps that are approved to use in the artwork).

Lesson Process

1) The maps were then printed onto premium heavy-weight print paper. The final size was 11″ x 14″.

2) A photo was then taken of each student holding something or doing something that related to the location of their choosing.

3) The photos are printed and students transferred their images onto the paper using graphite paper.

4) Using black and white conté crayon, students shaded their drawings with value to create form and detail. (See the gallery at the end for the photo of one portrait in process and then the finished portrait.)


line, value, transparency and opacity, transfer, form, symbolism


Artists and articles to look at:

  • Creative Cartography: 15 Artists Transforming Maps HERE
  • 5 paper artists who make incredible artworks from old maps HERE
  • Elaborate New Portraits Drawn on Vintage Maps by Ed Fairburn HERE

Author & Website/Blog

Elizabeth Saitta

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