Symbolic Self Portraits and Frida Kahlo

In order to dive in deeper into our journey of self investigation, we decided to introduce our children to the importance of symbolism. We thought the perfect artist to help introduce this idea to us was Frida Kahlo. She was such a passionate artist that expressed her life and love through her art. Her pieces are always packed with hidden symbols and images that would convey her message.

We started off by introducing Frida Kahlo as an artist from Mexico. She loved art so much that even when she was really hurt and in a cast, she would not stop painting! We showed the students the picture pasted below of Frida Kahlo lying in bed with a cast on her body and she was still painting! The students were amazed. Questions soared around the art studio…

“How did she get into an accident?”

“Why is she painting on her cast?”

“What is she painting on her cast?

We discussed all of their questions and the students were amazed by her dedication and her love for art.


“Wow, art made her feel better,” said Nohea!

Yes, we said. Art helped Frida through hard times and it was what made her happy.

We then asked the students what made them happy?

“My mommy makes me happy,” said Isela.

“Ice cream makes me happy,” said Nohea.

“Birds flying makes me happy,” said Sean.

“My skateboard and lightning make me happy,” said Bishop.

We were so excited to let the students know that they were all starting to understand symbolism!

All of the things that they told us make them happy, can be symbols to them for happiness.

We asked them if they knew of another symbols?

Bishop said, “Batman has a symbol!”

Preston said, “Yes! It’s yellow with a black bat!”

You are right we said! “So, whenever you see that symbol of the black bat with a yellow background you immediately think of Batman. That is the symbol for Batman!”

Well, after that discussion we had plenty more examples given by all of the children of different symbols that they have seen on superheroes, ninjas, etc.


So, now it was time to show them one of Frida’s paintings and see what they thought of it. Could the children pick out the hidden symbols that she used in her piece and what do you think she is trying to express in this particular piece?

The students all gathered around the computer to really examine this piece…they were captivated!

“She looks mad,” said Sean.

“It’s because her eyebrows are like that,” said Nohea.

“She doesn’t look mad to me,” said Bishop.

We reminded the students that it was o.k.. to think differently when viewing art. That is what is wonderful about art, it can make one person feel one way and another person feel a different way.

The students noticed the animals all around her and wondered what they meant.

Nohea said, “the animals are her friends… but not the black cat.”

Bishop noticed the butterflies in her hair and thought that maybe Frida just liked butterflies. Isela said, “Maybe she loves them!”

Then one of the students noticed the “red stuff” on Frida’s neck.

Sean said, “the bird scratched her when she put that necklace on.”

Bishop said, “The thorns have spikes on them and it scratched her so that is the red on her neck!”


“What do you think the thorns could mean,” ¬†we asked. They could mean that she is hurting said one of the students. “Yes,” they all agreed!


It was so great too see their wheels turning and creating different conclusions to their own observations. They were truly about art and thinking about Frida’s intentions, her likes and dislikes, and picking up on her emotions… what amazing students!


So now it was time for the students to create their own self portrait with symbolic meaning! We had mirrors placed in front of each child and told them to first draw their own self portrait in the center of the picture.

They had to closely look at their features in the mirror and observe their unique features.


They had so much fun!

…and got right to work!

This student made sure her hair was draw past her chin! A very important observation :)

Once the students finished drawing their portraits they were asked to draw images that would be their own symbols for happiness.

This student meticulously drew rows and rows of lightning. He said, “lightning is blue and that is my favorite color!” In between the lightning rows he drew tons of tiny skateboards. “I love my skateboard,” he said.

These are some of the finished drawings from that day. Next class we will tackle color but for now enjoy these amazing symbolic self portraits.

Bishop’s self portrait:

He has his own symbol on his shirt like superman. He even decided he needed a symbol on his forehead! Lightning, skateboards, and markers are arranged throughout the background.

These are all of the things that remind him of happiness!


Nohea’s self portrait:

She has a “AP” symbol on her head for “Amazing Princess!” She has also drawn herself in gymnastics, ice cream, math, books, her cat, and a paint brush that represents art in the background.

These are all of the things that remind her of happiness!


Sean’s self portrait:

He has birds flying above his head, his WII 2 game controller, his DS, and a birthday cake with candles.

These are all of the things that remind him of happiness!


Isela’s self portrait:

She has flowers on her shirt. For the background she has drawn a bunny, her mom, her clock in her room, a birthday cake, more flowers, and ice skates!

These are all of the things that remind her of happiness!


Alex’s self portrait:

She has a ballerina symbol on her shirt like superman. She has also drawn markers, her school journal, a rainbow, a princess, and paintbrush to represent art, and a chocolate chip cookie.

These are all of the things that remind her of happiness!

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