Studying MY HERO Portraits in the Classroom to Inspire New Student Art

This Selection of four artists' Hero portraits creates an art lesson for High School classes to teach and inspire different approaches to representing heroes by the participating student artists.

The Portraits to be Analyzed

Frederick Douglass by Robert Shetterly,

By: Robert Shetterly
Portrait of Civil War era African American hero Frederick Douglass by Robert Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Nelson Mandela-Freedom, Peace by Ben heine

By: Ben Heine
Portrait by artist Ben Heine of the global leader and South African peacemaker Nelson Mandela that illustrates the themes of Freedom and Peace

African Woman by Fary Sakho

By: Fary Sakho from Senegal
Fary Sakho of Senegal paints an archetypal portrait of an African woman

Malala by Marilyn Huerta

By: Marilyn Huerta
Malala the young activist who champions girls' education worldwide is painted by Marilyn Huerta

Analyze these portraits using this guide

These portraits represent heroes from different times and different countries. Two of the portraits- Frederick Douglass and Nelson Mandela- use words to illustrate the sitters' accomplishments or traits. The two other portraits- African Woman and Malala- use vivid color and broad strokes to complete the image, and do not include words.


1. How does the quotation in Robert Shetterly's portrait of  abolitionist Frederick Douglass make you feel? Do you think it adds to the strength of the representation?

2. How does Ben Heine use words differently in his image of South African leader Nelson Mandela? How does the dove as the universal symbol of peace work in the portrait?

3. Fary Sakho- African Woman- wants the viewer to recognize this portrait as symbolic of all African women. She uses color in a bright, joyful and elegant way. Can you identify these traits in her bold portrait style?

4. Malala by Marilyn Huerta shows the young hero of international girls' education in the colors and traditional head scarf associated with young women from Pakistan. Despite these particular elements, can you see the universality communicated in Huerta's compassionate portrait?

Create a Hero Portrait

1.Select your Hero to represent. Make a list of this hero's traits and accomplishments. Be inspired to create a unique original portrait.

2.Decide what kind of art elements to use in order to best present your hero such as the proportion of the sitter's illustration to the background, the colors that might bring out the character of your hero, and whether or not to add words- either a quotation from the hero or your chosen words to best describe him/her.

3.Make a preparatory sketch of your portrait. Then proceed to paint, collage, or use a digital art program to achieve the finished artwork.

4.Look carefully at your portrait to decide if it is actually complete and that you are satisfied that it truly represents your hero.

5.Next, register on the MY HERO website. Create an ART page and upload it to the MY HERO Gallery

6. Ask your class members to discuss all of the completed portraits and to analyze the different ways each of the student artists have represented their heroes.

Organizer created on 7/15/2019 2:01:37 PM by victoria murphy

Last edited 4/23/2020 10:57:38 AM by Laura Nietzer