Exploring the Artwork of Cartoonist Jackie Ormes
Meets the learning standards for grades 4-5 (can be adapted)  
Media Type:  Drawing and Painting 
Subject Integration: Fine Arts, English Language Arts, Social Studies

Click here for Formal Lesson Plan and TEKS Information

Materials: writing materials, 8×10 picture frame with glass/plexi (clear plastic sheet protectors may be used as an alternative), 8×10 print of reference photo, 8×10 heavy white paper, black permanent marker, rubbing alcohol, acrylic paint, scraping tool (e.g. xacto knife, plastic utensil, wood craft stick) masking tape  

Special Equipment: paint brushes, water and rinsing container, pencil with eraser  


  • Trailblazer
  • Cartoon
  • Syndicated
  • Publishing
  • Ben Day process/ Ben Day dots
  • Shading
  • Color Palette
  • Panel, Gutter
  • Sequence  

A Trailblazer is a pioneer; an innovator. A Pioneer is a person who helps create or develop new ideas, methods, etc. Can you name any contemporary Trailblazers or Pioneers? Discuss!

Activity 1:

Jackie Ormes was the first African American woman cartoonist to have a syndicated comic strip. “Jackie Ormes made sure that African Americans were included in comics. Her characters were bold, beautiful, and Black. She was a leader in diversity.” (from Jackie Ormes, by J.P. Miller. Check out the book here. What do you observe from the portrait of Jackie and the collage of her cartoons above?

Jackies’s first comic was published in 1937 and she had several successful series before retiring from comics in 1956.

“Jackie’s comics told Black stories differently than how they had been told before. She showed the characters she created having happy lives. They wore fashionable clothes… had nice homes… and did exciting things.  

Jackie was well-known among people who designed clothes. She learned how to influence people and make them want to buy certain clothes. She was in high demand as a fashion model.”

Use your Social Studies knowledge to consider what a pioneer Jackie was. Discuss! 

Activity 2:

Now we will create a Self Portrait inspired by Jackie Ormes cartoons!

Choose a reference photo that is large enough to clearly see all your facial features.

Lay a piece of plexiglass over the photo of yourself.  

Trace the prominent lines of the portrait onto the plexiglass with black permanent marker, primarily focusing on the eyes, nose, lips, hair, clothes, and outline of face. 

Use the black marker to color in the pupils of the eyes, inside of nostrils, and any other deep shadows (mistakes can be removed with rubbing alcohol) 

Now it is time to paint to on the plexiglass! Leave the face of the portrait clear and select a few key features to paint a solid color. (*look at Jackie’s strategic use of color and her limited color palette for inspiration.) Set the plexiglass painting aside to dry. 

Now to create the background for the portrait! What other comic strip traits should be incorporated into the portrait? Look at these photos and concepts with for reference: 

Use comic strip layouts as inspiration for a pattern of irregular size and shape rectangles on a white sheet of paper. 

Use masking tape to indicate where the gutters between the panels will be. 

fill each panel with a different Ben Day dot pattern, color, or line pattern. Set aside to dry. 

And now to add finishing details to the plexiglass portrait! Once the paint is dry, you can use a scraping tool to create clear Ben Day dots so that the background painting will show through. You may want to also add a few more Ben Day dots with black marker as shading

Once all the components are dry, you can assemble the finished piece! Lay the plexiglass portrait over the background paper and assemble inside the frame. Viola! 

Share… Reflect! Did this project make the you feel like Cartoonists? Did it make you feel like Trailblazers?  

Review of Vocabulary for this Lesson:  

Trailblazer– a pioneer; an innovator. 

Pioneer– a person who helps create or develop new ideas, methods, etc. 

Cartoon– a simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way, especially a satirical one in a newspaper or magazine. 

Syndicated– (of articles and photographs) sold to several different newspapers and magazines for publishing. 

Publishing- the occupation, business, or activity of preparing and issuing books, journals, and other material for sale 

Ben Day process/ Ben Day dots– The Ben Day process, named after illustrator and printer Benjamin Henry Day Jr. (son of 19th-century publisher Benjamin Henry Day) is a printing and photoengraving technique dating from 1879. While the Ben Day process is commonly described in terms of dots (“Ben Day dots”), other shapes may be used, such as parallel lines, textures, irregular effects or waved lines. 

Shading– the darkening or coloring of an illustration or diagram with parallel lines or a block of color. 

Color Palette- 1.The range of colors used in a visual medium, in a picture, or by an artist. 2.Any similar set of elements or qualities, such as musical notes, used in a medium, in a composition, or by an artist. 

Panel– an individual frame, or single drawing, in the multiple-panel sequence of a comic strip or comic book. A panel consists of a single drawing depicting a frozen moment. When multiple panels are present, they are often, though not always, separated by a short amount of space called a gutter. 

Gutter– the space between two panels within a comic strip or comic book