Interview with an Art Teacher: Tara Harrison

I am delighted to introduce you to Tara Harrison, an art teacher in Connecticut. I saw a Facebook post by Tara about this amazing lesson. I was intrigued and super impressed, especially since this was a lesson for second graders! I just had to know more about it. I reached out to Tara for the details, and she graciously arranged for me to share with you on this blog. 
I told you these were amazing!

I am so glad that I reached out to her because I learned a lot. The photographs really help me see the process. I am also tickled to have learned about a new artist, Kehinde Wiley. I think you will be equally impressed and also learn a lot from her responses to the three questions I asked. 

1.  Tell us about yourself (name, where you teach, grade levels, why do you teach, what is your favorite thing about being an art teacher or whatever YOU want to say about yourself)

Hi, I’m Tara Harrison. I teach at the CREC Ana Grace Academy of the Arts Elementary School in Connecticut. I love getting to problem solve and be creative every day. I treasure my students’ contagious joy and enthusiasm. 

I’ve been teaching art for 16 years in a variety of school settings (parochial, traditional public, charter and magnet). It’s incredibly satisfying to now work in school with a diverse student body that focuses on and supports the arts.

2. Tell us how you taught this AMAZING self-portrait lesson and what made it successful.

During February, I usually teach African-American artist studies to celebrate Black History Month. This year, I’m trying to focus more on living artists. Kehinde Wiley’s work is so vibrant and exciting. My second graders are delightful and hardworking, so I knew they’d be up to the challenge of working like Wiley. We began the lesson with students at their tables discussing reproductions of Wiley's paintings. They talked about - what they noticed, thought was special and would like to know. We shared out as a group. I talked about his process. Wiley chooses everyday people who look like him and are underrepresented in art history. Students loved his vibrant colors, realism and poses. 

They planned four different background patterns. Each table had a stack of textile pattern postcards to use for inspiration. While they worked, I took photos of each student. They chose their pose (although, dabbing was verboten) and whether to show their whole or half their body. Next class, students traced their photos on acetate. We watched the CBS Sunday Morning piece about Wiley. Prior to the following class, I photocopied their acetate drawings onto white construction paper. They drew their background pattern in pencil and traced with sharpie. Then, they painted the big areas with tempera cakes and watercolors. Finally, they colored small details using markers, gel pens and colored pencils. They wrote about the project - how they worked like Wiley, what they liked best, what they would change and titled their work. This took about five 45 minute classes with 20-23 kids per class.

3. If you were to teach it again, what would you do to make it even better?

I would definitely use better quality paper. Some of my overzealous students rubbed too hard when painting causing their faces to disappear (I used carbon paper to re-add their details). I might also use wallpaper samples for their pattern inspiration the next time around. We recently finished this project. I’d like to have the students do a gallery walk to share their finished work with each other.

Permission to use this student photograph was obtained by Harrison. 

BE EXTRA SURE to check out Wiley's page on the Hip Hop Portraiture section of the National Portrait Gallery's site. There is audio of an interview with him about his work that is a must listen!

I absolutely love Wiley's Hip Hop Portraiture. I love this lesson. I feel so inspired by this. So, please let me say a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to Tara for sharing this with me and allowing me to post about it. 

Do you feel inspired by this? Leave some comments and feedback! Tara and I would both love to hear from you. Additionally, if you know of an art teacher (or any other educator) that would inspire us, please let me know. I would love to continue to do these interviews. 

Also, if you have a lesson you'd like to share but don't have time for your own blog, I'm happy to share here. Have other ideas, let's brainstorm! I would love to have some guest bloggers/guest posts as well as collaborate with you. Just reach out, friends! 


  1. What amazing work for 2nd graders! I am so impressed by their teacher, Tara Harrison! She is extremely talented for sure! Those kids are lucky to have such a creative, special art teacher.

    1. I agree. Thank you for the comment. Let me know if you need anything else.

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