Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Roy Lichtenstein: What is Popular? Self-portraits

Click images to enlarge | Jump to Content
Roy Lichtenstein, Sandwich and Soda, screenprint, 1964.
Sample image
Sample image
Sample image

Developed by Ann Perry Parker, Merrimac School, Sauk Prairie Schools, Sauk City, Wisconsin

Summary of Activity

This lesson uses the art of Roy Lichtenstein to initiate an examination of popular culture. Students will analyze what is popular today and discuss why they know it is popular. Students will be photographed creatively posing with a popular object of their choosing. Working from this photo, and using primary colors and dramatic text bubbles that characterized the artist?s work, students will create a self-portrait in the style of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn about the Pop art movement and how it used images from advertising, cartoons, tabloids, and everyday objects in new ways.

Students will consider the phenomenon of popularity, then create a list of what is popular today, understanding that popularity is always changing.

Students will analyze the work of Roy Lichtenstein, identifying his use of primary colors, cartoon imagery, and dramatically worded text bubbles.

Students will learn how dot screens (benday dots) and later pixels are used in graphic design to create color variations with the use of halftones or what passes for shading in commercial photographic work.

Students will learn to compose a piece of art using cropping, editing, and professional looking graphic design style.

Students will learn to use a light box, photography, photocopiers, and dot screens to achieve the look of a cartoon.

Students will learn how dramatically worded text balloons enhance Lichtenstein's work.


Discuss Roy Lichtenstein and show examples of his work, including Sandwich and Soda. Lichtenstein and his fellow Pop artists rebelled against the prevailing heavy brushwork and abstraction in fashion in the 1960s. Instead they looked to the popular arts of tabloids, soap operas, cartoons, and advertisements then called commercial art (now more commonly called graphic design). Students will discuss the popular images that surround them in youth culture, then choose an object to be photographed with. Working directly from an enlargement of this photo, students will create a work of art that includes words and visuals in a comic-book style.


  1. Initiate a discussion of what popular means. What is popular today? How do we find out that something is popular? Help students compile a list of popular things in a variety of categories. Encourage kids to expand their thinking. Are the same things popular in every country? With every age group? Why do things become unpopular? How do we learn about what is and what is not popular?
  2. Ask students to select an object from the popular list–an object that they have at home, or an object from school, or an object from teachers. Ask kids to bring this object to the next class. (I sent a note to families asking them to facilitate follow-through.)
  3. Students pose dramatically with the chosen objects against a neutral background (white wall) and are photographed by the teacher. Older students could do this themselves. Photographers need to crop and edit out any unnecessary space or objects. Using the zoom helps! Have class photos processed or print on computer.
  4. Enlarge photos using a computer or a photocopier. (We worked with 11 x 17-inch black-and-white photocopies made at a commercial print shop to avoid depleting the school's toner.) The larger format makes it easier for students to work with the benday-dot grids, especially in face areas.
  5. Students cover their photo enlargement with a similarly sized piece of copier paper. Any paper will work, but it should not be thick or totally opaque. Students tape top two corners to keep alignment in place for the next step, which is tracing.
  6. Place papers on top of a light table (check your school's art room) or tape to a large area of window or door glass on an external wall, so that image can be traced to the top sheet of paper.
  7. Define contour lines and have students look at a cartoon or a Lichtenstein image to see how these thick, dark lines are used. Note: Sandwich and Soda does not contain black contours.
  8. Using pencils and erasers, students trace all important contours of their image, showing particular care with details in the face and hands. Remind them to include wrinkles in clothes and skin.
  9. Students remove tracings from glass or light box and separate tracing from photocopy. Have wide- and narrow-point black markers available. Students use wide markers for as many contours as possible and thinner markers for remaining small details (face and pop- object details).
  10. Discuss Lichtenstein's color scheme. He most often used the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue with black. Dotted areas of the same colors offered a few more tone options. When used together, primary colors are bold and colorful and are often used in cartoons or in product packaging.
  11. Show students a photo from a newspaper or a cartoon in which they can observe a dot screen. Use a magnifying glass or photo loupe to examine each photo. Before computers, graphic designers used dot-grid screens to create tones. Up close these images are covered with thousands of tiny black-and-white or color dots. Digital dots are called pixels. Depending on the quality of the picture, these dots may or may not be easily visible to the eye.
  12. Using a template with small, evenly spaced holes (1/8–1/4 inch) demonstrate filling in a space with benday dots. Experiment with your fine-point, primary-colored markers to be sure that the ink does not "bleed" under the screen. (We had best luck with cheap water- based, fine-point markers that weren't very juicy.) Students may want to tape their templates in place so they don't move around as they work.
  13. Using the combination of solid colors and dotted areas, fill in the portrait as much as desired. Some areas may be left white. Look at your Lichtenstein images for inspiration.
  14. Introduce the concept of dramatic text bubbles. Lichtenstein loved soap operas, and his text is often laden with drama. Encourage students to come up with a sentence then "knock it up a notch" for dramatic effect. Discuss font styles with students. Choose a font that is similar to comic-book lettering (we used comic sans). Students type and print the sentences for their text bubbles and center them on the screen, allowing space all around for their bubbles and arrows. Lay each printout over colored cartoon and plan where the bubble should be placed for best effect. In pencil draw a cartoon bubble shape around the text and add either thought bubbles or arrows that will reach near characters' mouths. Outline each bubble with black marker and carefully cut out so as not to lose outline. Using a glue stick, carefully glue edges and position in place.


Google search for Roy Lichtenstein and Pop art
Library books from school or community libraries
Cartoons, advertisements, newspaper photos, product graphics with comic-book style

Curriculum Connections

Art—graphic design, technology, advertising, cartoons
Social studies—popular culture, consumer culture
Language arts—creative writing, captions, dramatic exposition


Suitable for all levels, this lesson was piloted in grades 3-5


Digital camera or traditional camera with print film

Black-and-white printer or photocopier for enlargements

Examples of Lichtenstein's work including at least one image with benday dots

Examples of cartoons, newspaper photos and digital images that show pixels or benday dots

Students need to bring a popular culture object from home. (I sent a note home to facilitate follow through.)

Light table or access to large-paned exterior windows for tracing purposes

Pencils, erasers, masking tape

Smooth, thin, white drawing paper (photocopier paper works well)

Felt markers in a variety of sizes in red, yellow, blue, and black (Students will need broader point black markers for their contour lines)

Template for creating evenly spaced dots (Could be made with a paper punch and tagboard, 1/8-inch – 1/4-inch holes (we used a plastic ribbon with pre-punched holes that we found at a craft store)


Pop art:
an art style developed in the 1960s that drew visual inspiration from popular visuals such as tabloids, cartoons, ads, packaging, and billboards. Pop artists enlarged their images to comment on the importance of media in American life. Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Roy Lichtenstein were three of the most famous Pop artists.

benday dots:
a dot/grid system used to create tones or shading in screen printing, especially in the commercial art world of the 1960s. Pixels on a computer are a contemporary parallel. Tones can be changed by varying the color, number, and size of the dots per inch.

color scheme:
a group of colors an artist purposefully chooses to use. Different color combinations can create a variety of moods such as peaceful, active, dynamic or discordant in a work of art. Artists are aware of the interplay of colors in many color schemes.

a system that divides a space into evenly sized areas

text balloon:
the area of a cartoon that contains words. The balloon can be directed to a character?s mouth with an arrow, or be connected via a series of dots of diminishing size to the head as if the subject were thinking the message.

contour line:
a thick, dark line that outlines important shapes as in a cartoon

removing unnecessary space or shapes from a picture or photo. Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein edited and cropped images to help viewers focus on only the most important features and ideas.

the usual place or environment where something can be seen. Pop artists took objects out of their usual contexts (cartoons, ads) and turned them into large-scale works of art.

Academic Standards

This lesson meets the following Wisconsin Model Academic Standards: 


B: Students in Wisconsin will understand the value and significance of the visual arts, media, and design in relation to history, citizenship, the environment, and social development.

B.4.3 Know that works of art and designed objects relate to specific cultures, times, and places.

C: Students in Wisconsin will design and produce quality original images and objects, such as paintings, sculptures, designed objects, photographs, graphic designs, videos, and computer images.

D: Students in Wisconsin will apply their knowledge of people, places, ideas, and language of art and design to their daily lives.

E: Students in Wisconsin will produce quality images and objects that effectively communicate and express ideas using varied media, techniques, and processes.

E.4.2 Communicate basic ideas by producing design art forms such as graphic design, product design…media arts, such as film, photography, and multimedia.

E.4.3 Communicate basic ideas by producing popular images…such as popular arts, mass media, and consumer products.

F: Students in Wisconsin will understand the role of and be able to use computers, video, and other technological tools and equipment. Performance goals F.4.1, F.4.2 and F.4.6

Language arts

B.4.1 Create or produce writing to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. (all Performance Standards for B.4.1).

E.4.1 Use computers to acquire, organize, analyze, and communicate information. Use basic word processing, graphics, and drawing programs. 

E.4.3 Create products appropriate to audience and purpose. Create simple advertising messages and graphics appropriate for familiar media.


Roy LichtensteinSandwich and Soda, 1964, screenprint, 19 x 23 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of the Betty Parsons Foundation. 1985.36D © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

All grade levels

Art, social studies, language arts