DrawAble: Making Layered Portraits by Mike Barrett Part Two

By Mike Barrett

Mike is an artist, digital creative and photographer whose work combines words, drawings, photographs, music and sound. This resource continues the work started in Step 1 and shows young learners how to enhance their autobiographical portraits by adding a vibrant background.

Mike Barrett

Notes for teachers


To Begin

We’re going to create a background for the portrait to sit in. We’re going to be using collage, ink, and paint. We’re also going to start to add elements of our narrative hidden within the imagery. I’m a musician as well as an artist, so I’m going to base my narrative on music. So, Step 2 – the background!

I start by using an A3 piece of card, placing my illustration in the centre of it and where it will sit in my finished piece, and then I’m going to create around it. You can put your image wherever you want – down at the bottom, off to the side, at an angle. You can do it landscape, or you can do something completely abstract. It’s entirely up to you – absolutely anything goes.


Background start by Mike Barrett


Next, I’m going to use some collage relief for the background. So I’m going to cut some things out of a newspaper. I’m going to use these crossword squares to cut strips out of them. These will be used to stick to the paper, and eventually I’ll write little messages in the squares.


Cutting up crossword by Mike Barrett


I’m also tearing strips out of coloured card and brown envelopes, and these strips will be used to create an exploding feature out from the centre of the canvas – I want it to be high energy.


Tearing up cardboard by Mike Barrett


I’ve decided to use a limited colour palette on this image as well, so I’m going to go for reds, oranges, and browns to keep it quite warm. The reason I do this is to keep it quite stylized.


Exploding background by Mike Barrett


Next, I’m going to use some watered down inks to go over everything that I’ve made with the collage strips, and then let it dry a little bit. Then I’m going to go over it again with some darker ink, watering it down as I go. I don’t want that ink to soak into all of the collage relief that I’ve put on the page, so I’m just putting some dabs and splits of ink straight from the jar. The ink is very dark, so it gets more texture in there and creates some more interest. Finally, I’m just dabbing off the excess water so that the card will dry properly – taking it off bit by bit, making sure it’s all gone.


Watered down inks on background 2 by Mike Barrett


Now I can pop the illustration of my face back, to see how it’s looking. I’m quite happy with that! That’s fairly good, but I think I need a few more elements of texture…


Portrait with background by Mike Barrett


So I’m going to use a cork to add extra detail. Dabbing the bottom of the cork in some acrylic paint, I’m going to splodge it over the canvas and then blend it in with my hand a little bit, just adding a bit more texture. Then I’m going to use a bit of Posca pen as well, just bringing it all together.


Cork and Posca pen by Mike Barrett


I’m quite happy with that as a textured background – it has some good texture, strong marks and interesting graphic elements, and it’s a good background to place my portrait illustration on to move to the next stage. You could do yours any way you please – it’s just about experimenting with collage elements. You can use paints, inks, acrylics, poster paint… absolutely anything.


Finished textured background by Mike Barrett


Hope you enjoyed that. That was really good fun, putting that together. I love building textures and layering things up on top of each other and see how they turn out. The next stage will be putting all these elements together – introducing our portrait to our background and putting the final touches to our artwork.


This is a sample of a resource created by UK Charity AccessArt. We have over 1100 resources to help develop and inspire your creative thinking, practice and teaching.

AccessArt welcomes artists, educators, teachers and parents both in the UK and overseas.

We believe everyone has the right to be creative and by working together and sharing ideas we can enable everyone to reach their creative potential.

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