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Lesson Plan | Suellen Rocca: Symbolic Self-Portraits – MMoCA


Game, n.d., oil on canvas


Visual Art, Language Arts


Mary Kohl Johnson, art educator

Essential Questions

How do artists create images and symbols that effectively communicate? How do life experiences influence the way you create and relate to art?

Grade Level

7th–12th grades


Students will create a self-portrait game by using repeated graphic symbols.


Students create seven to twelve personal symbols that relate to an event or interest in their lives. Using these personal images, they create game-like compositions by repeating images and altering the scale or direction of the symbols, adding color, and creating patterns or opaque areas. They surround their compositions with a border that integrates the central image. Introduce Suellen Rocca’s painting, Game.

Suggested Guidelines
Also may be adapted for an assessment rubric

  • Fill the entire surface of the paper
  • Decide which symbols are most important. Consider how you will designate their significance.
  • Determine how you will integrate the border with the central image
  • Consider including areas of greater and lesser detail to create points of emphasis and compositional variety
  • Consider the balance of positive and negative space
  • Consider how you will create a sense of implied movement to help a viewer “travel” through the work of art

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you see? (Identify the subject matter)
  2. What do you think the artist is making reference to in her painting, Game?
  3. Must self-portraits always include human faces or bodies?
  4. If you were to create a work similar in style to Suellen Rocca’s painting, which objects would represent important aspects or interests in your life?


List the ideas generated by the group. Have students create seven to twelve, or more, symbols that are autobiographical in nature. Instruct the students to create a self-portrait in the form of a game by repeating graphic symbols, which may include words. Alter the scale of some images to denote importance. Students should select colors that have personal meaning and repeat them throughout the composition to create unity. Students should create an illustrated border around the central image.


Fine tip permanent marker or watercolor pencils, watercolor paper, or other selected materials. Provide sample material to the students for experimentation.


Symbol, graphic image, repetition, scale, deckle edge, unity, rhythm, whimsical


Language Arts, Social Studies, Guidance


Wisconsin State Standards

Art and Design: A.4.2, A.8.2, A.12.2, A.4.3, A.8.3, A.12.3 / D.4.4, D.8.4, D.12.4 / E.4.5, E.8.5, E.12.5 / I.4.2, 8.2, 12.2 / I.4.7, 8.7, 12.7

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