Saturday, October 4, 2014

Figure Drawing - Silhouettes

Last summer I ran into a student who told me she REALLY wanted to learn to draw human figures better. So, when I got around to planning lessons for this year I remembered that request and decided to make that the focus for at least one project for 4th graders.

We began with a mini Math lesson where kids figured out how many head lengths (top of head to chin) tall they were. It came out to about 6 or 6 1/2 head lengths. Then we talked about how the body looked when playing soccer (or some other physical activity where motion was involved). I think it is especially important to notice the angles of the arms and legs, where they bend, the tilt of the head, etc. We played a game where one child would freeze in some animated pose and the class would try to guess what s/he was doing. FUN!! (sorry I didn't get photos of this phase!)

Then I modeled on the big screen how to draw a stick figure (6 heads tall, of course) with just the head, shoulder line, spine, hip line, arms and legs. I talked about the angle of the shoulder and hip lines and drawing my figure so that the head/limbs "bumped the edges of the paper (so that later they would create negative space areas for painting).
I also talked about the importance of placing the head near the very top of the paper (unless your arms are going to be raised above the head) so the figure would be tall enough. We used white crayon on black construction paper.
 Next came a contour all around the stick figure lines. I found that, as the first group of kids tried this step, some forgot to go all around both sides of their stick figure line, making the limbs too skinny at first. So, in the next class I really emphasized that point as I was demonstrating.
 I have done lessons similar to this before, using pipe cleaners, paper strips, etc.( see here and here) to help students form a body in motion, but this time I wanted to try it "from scratch" without any crutches to help. I had seen a similar project done with older students on Artsonia (HERE) where the silhouettes had clothes. So at this point I showed the children how to add small touches (sleeves, cuffs, hair) that would enhance the idea of MOTION.
This was a little tricky for some. Adding these touches was optional or "artist's choice"
but I noticed that most kids gave it a try.

The students did a GREAT job of cutting out their silhouette. We only had one head and one arm cut off in 2 classes, and that was an easy fix when they glued the silhouette on the background later.
 Once the figure was cut out, students traced around it onto their 9" X 12" white illustration board making sure that the white crayon lines were on the back, not showing. (You could use construction or watercolor paper for this, I just have a large collection of cut board that I wanted to use up.)
 The boys at this table thought this guy looked like a combination of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and somebody else that I can't remember -- they're right! Love it!!
The next step, after discussing the vocabulary words "positive and negative space", was to paint their areas of negative space with different tints and shades of one color. Students used cake tempera and liquid white tempera. They had a yogurt container lid for their palette and we talked about how to use the palette without smearing color over the entire surface and trying to keep separate little areas for mixing. If the palette did get "full" they could easily wipe it clean with a paper towel and start again.

One tip, when painting the negative spaces, I asked kids to paint a little over the pencil line, into their positive space area, so that later when they glued they would only see only color and not the white, unpainted background.

When all the negative spaces were painted, children put dots of glue around the edges of their silhouettes (on the back side where the white crayon lines were), flipped them over carefully and glued them in place.They placed them on the drying racks, but since we are in the middle of a heat wave, these were dry before I knew it!!

I am loving walking down the halls these days!! What a view!! Makes me feel like exercising (well, almost)!!

I REALLY love what the addition of clothes does to the silhouettes!!!


  1. I am a new follower to your blog. I love your projects and will file this one away to do with my girls soon. Thank you for taking time to post your projects!

  2. This is a very good lesson on human proportion and movement--it looks like it really helps the kids focus on that and not get bogged down with the extra details! Thanks for sharing!

    1. It was pretty cute watching the kids get into different positions to pose for each other:))

  3. Love this, I homeschool, this will help me to teach art, ty.

  4. Thanks. Hope you and your children have fun mixing colors!!

  5. LOVE this lesson. I need to incorporate more figure drawing stuff into my classes- this is perfect for 4th grade. Thanks for sharing all the steps/tips :)