Giant portraits with street artist John Denaro

Giant portraits with street artist John Denaro


Street artist John Denaro popped in to a local Solihull Academy to show Year 11 students how to create giant portraits of themselves in just one day, using only chalk and charcoal.

The students from Grace Academy Solihull were challenged to think big, and work quickly, as they produced outsize images of themselves and others, with advice and top tips from the professional artist.

All the artwork produced will go towards the students’ final GCSE coursework and Year 11 student Evie Eggleton said:

“I have learned new skills I never even realised I had.”

Student Leon Harris added:

“It was great to try different medias because you find out that it can actually turn out well.”

Street artist John Denaro, who has visited hundreds of schools, said:

“The first task is to get the proportions outlined correctly in charcoal. This is perhaps the most challenging part of the process – a blank piece of paper can be very intimidating! It’s only when the structure is sound that we start using chalk pastel to add tone and detail, usually starting with the eyes.

“Throughout the process the most important thing to remember is to see the picture as a whole. Whether you’re doing a portrait or an abstract piece, you need to be constantly aware of the relationship between the various lines, shapes, tones and colours that make up your picture, as well as the spaces between things and the way they all fit together on the paper or canvas. This takes a lot of concentration.

“In my workshops I encourage students to work big and not be afraid of mistakes. They are an inevitable part of the process and can easily be corrected. The definition of an expert is someone who’s made every mistake it’s possible to make within a narrow field!”

Joint Head of Art Jen Price, who organised the day, said the standard of artwork produced by the Year 11s was really high, with some very skilled artists in the making, and added:

“Having professional artists come in to the Academy ensures the students have the opportunity to meet people who have made a career in the field of art.  It’s not very often that you get to take Year 11s out for a whole day, so it just shows how valued the arts are here.”