Figure Silhouettes- A lesson plan


Fritz Scholder (Luiseño, 1937–2005)

Oil on canvas, 80 x 68 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist, 1997.6.


Students will work together to view, analyze, and create art. Students will analyze and sketch a figure. Students will use watercolor paints to create a background for their figure drawing.



CATUN NO. 2, 1986. Manuel Neri (American, born 1930) Bronze with enamel paint, 67 x 19 x 13 1/4 in. Crocker Art Museum Purchase, 1987.4.

About the Artist: Manuel Neri

Early in his career, Manuel Neri sought out new materials for his sculpture. Adopting plaster as his medium, he actively explored the human figure with all the gesture and emotion of the Bay Area Figurative painters. Plaster was perfect for recording the exact instant of the artist’s gouging, filing, and even his fingerprints as he pressed, hacked, and modeled the figure. To the final form, Neri added sweeping strokes of color, bringing the work one step closer in its identification with Bay Area Figuration.

Neri studied and associated with Frank Lobdell, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Nathan Oliveira. Like them, he drew from the live model, making studies in pen and ink, and crayon and conté, a practice he continues today. Neri made the female form his ongoing concern and significantly, since 1972, his primary model has been one woman, Mary Julia Klimenko. The nearly hermaphroditic free-standing figure shown here is thus rare among Neri’s production in its virtual absence of applied color, possession of male genitalia, and the cord that binds one hand together in articulation of both psychological and material fragility. The spackling of plaster on the base makes the artist’s process immediately apparent.


Opening Discussion

  • Today, we are going to study the human form. We will be looking at figurative works from the Crocker’s collection, as well as using our own bodies to practice balance, movement, and form. 
  • Show Catun No. 2, Manuel Neri. Begin by having the students describe the sculpture. Ask the following questions: Does this sculpture appear to be representing something or someone? Look at the posture. Does this figure appear to be moving or standing still? Do we see symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial balance? What material do you feel this sculpture is made from? Describe the importance of balance when it comes to the human form.

  • Show Winter’s Blue Cold, Christopher Brown. Allow students to review the work for a few moments. Begin by asking the students what they think this painting is about? Does the painting have movement? Where and how does the painting show movement? Does color have an effect on the viewer, such as creating a mood? Or does color create a contrast among the figures and the background? The figures appear to be a solid color, almost like a silhouette. Describe what a silhouette is to the students. 


  • Show Human in Nature #11, Fritz Scholder. Allow students to review the work for a few moments. Let us observe the form of the figure in this painting. What does this human figure appear to be doing? What about the form is telling you this? Now, let’s look at the background. What does the background do for the viewer? Do you think the artist wanted you to be more focused on the figure or on the background? Artist who focus on figurative works, likes for the viewer to pay close attention to what they have come to understand and analyze of the human form. Therefore, the background might only be a finishing touch or it might just contrast the dark colors Scholder was using for the human form. 

About the artist: Fritz Scholder:
“I’ve always contended that whatever my current interests are, they show up in my work. This is not a conscious thing, but it has always been there. My life and my art are inseparable, and it is natural for me to express what I am involved with at the time.”(1)

What separated Scholder from other artists offering social critique was the isolation of the figure in his color fields. His paintings were emotional and meant to speak over time to universal values. With this process, Scholder exhibits the lessons of Bay Area Figuration and especially the influence of Wayne Thiebaud and Gregory Kondos, with whom he studied in Sacramento. Scholder’s sardonic wit registers only after we realize the pathos of his subjects.

Scholder has always painted in series based around the human figure, as in this example from the Human in Nature series. The inspiration for setting the figure, his most important subject before chaotic fields of jarring colors came from Scholder’s 1990 involvement with a California environmental group. From this experience, he began to view painting as a tool of consciousness-raising, a vehicle by which to steer others inward. His approach is moral, not didactic, and thus the aggressive painting with slashing swipes and jabs of the loaded brush are choreographed to stir emotions and inspire action.



Part ONE:

  • Today, we will be working on a 4 part project which requires a lot of listening and following directions.
  • Have students separate into groups and pass out wooden manikins to each table. 
  • First, we are going to play with wooden manikins to understand the human form.  Demonstrate how to create a human form with the manikins and explain to the students that we all have different poses. Depending on the action/movement we are doing, our bodies take up a form. Once the students are done exploring with the wooden manikins, have them decide on a pose they would like to trace for the next activity.  

Part TWO:

  • Second, when students are deciding on a pose they would like to trace, pass out materials for the watercolor session.
  • Students will set their wooden manikins aside and explore with watercolors.
  • Demonstrate how to use the watercolors and ask students to create a background using the following techniques: Masking:
  • Using masking tape, have students create a design by masking an area on their paper.
  • Resist: Using oil pastels, have students create lines and shapes. Once they have used both the masking tape and the oil pastels, have students use watercolors.
  • They may peel the tape off when their paper has dried off completely. 


  • While students are finishing up their watercolor backgrounds, start to gather students who are ready to draw silhouettes of their human forms. There will be stations setup all around the classroom with lamps, newsprint paper, white charcoal pencils, and black drawing paper. Have students take turns and practice using newsprint paper before their final trace. When they are ready to trace over black drawing paper, have students take turns and trace around the manikins shadow, creating a silhouette. 
  • When they are done, have the students go back to their seats and cut around their silhouettes. Lastly, they will glue their silhouette on top of their watercolor background. 

Part Four:

  • Guide students as they explore with the wooden manikins. Help them understand the different forms/poses the human body makes. Have them practice with their own classmates by having one person of their group pose for a small amount of time. 
  • While they are explore with the wooden manikins, have students who are ready to move onto the next step, gather their watercolor materials. When they are ready to paint their backgrounds, demo how to use masking and resist techniques, as well as watercolors for their background. Students will do this section together, which will require all their attention and them following directions. 
  • When they have finished their watercolor backgrounds, have each group go to tracing station. Demo in small groups and explain to them that they will be using newsprint first to practice tracing the silhouettes the wooden manikins are making onto the surface of the paper. Have them work together. When they are ready to trace their final silhouette, have them use the black drawing paper.  
  • When they are all down tracing their silhouettes, have them return to their table. Using their scissors, have them cut and glue their silhouettes onto the watercolor backgrounds. 

Clean Up

  • Everything but their work of art needs to be cleared off the table. All other materials come back to the supply table. Have students check under the floor for any scraps or other materials that need to be put away. When the floor and tables are cleaned, have them sit in front of their artwork so they can move onto the next activity.


  • All, some, or none of these can be done, depending on the class and the remaining time.
  • Tell students that they’re going to move around the room and look at each other’s work. The figure silhouette artwork will stay on their table and they will be the ones moving. There are two rules for this activity: no talking, no touching. It’s a time to look, not talk or touch. Ask them to stand and push their chairs in and stand behind their desk. Remind them once more of no talking and no touching. They can walk around the room and return to their seat when they feel like they’ve seen everything.
  • If they want to share: Have them look at their silhouette artwork. Have them share what they learned throughout lesson. Using new art terms, have them describe their work and why they chose the colors for their background? What pose did they end up using for their silhouette? What did they learn about the human form and did they enjoy this style of art?


  • Thank the students for their hard work. Tell them to take their figure silhouette artwork home and share them with their friends and family. 


-Consider using dolls, barbies, paper dolls, students, etc. if you are unable to access wooden figurines. You can still do this!

-Consider completing this lesson across the week or dedicating one special day to art


CA Standards

Creating (VA:Cr1.1; VA:Cr1.2; VA:Cr2.1; VA:Cr2.2; VA:Cr2.3; VA:Cr3); Presenting (VA:Pr4; VA:Pr5; VA:Pr6); Responding (VA:Re7.1; VA:Re7.2; VA:Re8; VA:Re9); Connecting (VA:Cn10; VA:Cn11)

Grade 4-6
• 4.G.A.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.

Visual Arts

4.VA:Cr1.2 Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers

5.VA:Cr2.2 Demonstrate quality craftsmanship through care for and use of materials, tools, and equipment.

6.VA:Cr2.1 Demonstrate openness in trying new ideas, materials, methods, and approaches in making works of art and design.

ELA: College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (R.CCR.1; R.CCR.2; R.CCR.4; R.CCR.5; R.CCR.6; R.CCR.7; R.CCR.8; R.CCR.9); College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (W.CCR.9); College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (SL.CCR.1; SL.CCR.2; SL.CCR.3; SL.CCR.4); College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language (L.CCR.1; L.CCR.3; L.CCR.4; L.CCR.6)


  • Mixed Media Paper
  • 9 X 12 in. Drawing Paper (Black)
  • White Charcoal Pencils
  • Newsprint Paper
  • Watercolors
  • Oil Pastels
  • Masking Tape
  • Brushes
  • Water cups
  • Towels
  • Wipes
  • Scissors
  • Glue Sticks
  • Lamps (6 to 8)
  • Wooden Manikins (6 to 8)


90 Minutes

Grade Level



  • Visual Art


  • Collaborative
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • People


  • Pencil
  • Watercolor Paint


Crocker Art Museum

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