figures
K-12EducatorsEnglish Language Arts and LiteracyThe Arts

Creating a Figure Painting – Lesson Plan

Students learn about Kentucky-born painter Ellis Wilson and create a painting in his style.

  • Length: five 35-minute periods
  • Grades: 4-5

Concepts/Objectives:

  • Students create a painting in the style of Ellis Wilson.
  • Students use the elements of art and principles of design in both the execution and the analysis of their paintings.
  • Students differentiate between realistic and abstract art.

Resource Used:
Poor Man’s Africa
Found On: Visual Arts and Culture

Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts

Vocabulary:
abstract, colorist, contrast, frontal view, pattern, proportion, realistic, shade, tint, value

Materials:
pencils, 8-1/2" X 11" white paper, black crayons, tempera paint (including multicultural skin tones), brushes, TV/VCR or DVD player, computer with Internet access

Handouts:

  • Multiple-Choice Questions
  • Answer Key

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Instructional Strategies and Activities

Summary of Lesson
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Using the Ellis Wilson painting Jamaica Paysans for inspiration, students make a painting that includes two full-length, frontal figures. One of these figures will be the student; the other will be a taller relative or friend. Students use “balloon people” (figures made of circles and ovals) as the basis for drawing the figures. Then they imitate Ellis Wilson’s painting style by using flat shapes, sharp contrasts, bright colors, and patterned backgrounds and paying minimal attention to facial features and details.

Day 1
Watch the excerpt “Poor Man’s Africa” and visit the KET web site for Ellis Wilson—So Much To Paint to view his painting Jamaican Paysans with your students. Discuss Wilson’s work and style of painting, focusing mainly on his figure paintings. Ask students the following questions:

  • What are the most striking elements in Ellis Wilson’s paintings?
  • Ellis Wilson painted scenes from everyday life. What types of scenes would you paint from your life?
  • Are the figures in Ellis Wilson’s paintings realistic or abstract? Why?

Demonstrate for students how to make a “balloon person” as the basis for figures in a painting. This method uses circular and oval shapes to create parts of the body (see diagram). Point out how each shape (circle or oval) connects to another at a joint.

Demonstrate how to draw in the contours of the figure, the clothes (using simple shapes, as Ellis Wilson did), and the hair by drawing right over top of the “balloon person.” Point out that the “balloon person” is the “skeleton” of the figure.

Day 2
Have students practice drawing “balloon people” in a variety of poses, using 8-1/2" X 11" paper. Let them add contours of the figures, clothes, etc.

Day 3
Have each student use the “balloon people” method to sketch out two clothed figures (the student and a relative or taller friend) on a 12" X 18" piece of paper. Tell students to draw in a patterned background and then go over all the pencil lines with a black crayon.

Day 4
Have students paint their figure drawings. Like Ellis Wilson, they should use contrasting colors (tints next to shades), bright colors, simple shapes, and very few details.

Day 5
Have students finish their paintings. Display and let the class view all paintings. Have students describe the elements of art and principles of design they used in their paintings, using correct art vocabulary from the lesson.

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Open Response Assessment

Prompt:
Works of art often tell us a great deal about time periods, peoples, and cultures.

Directions:
View the video segment “Poor Man’s Africa.” Describe what the Ellis Wilson paintings shown in this segment tell us about Haiti, Haitian culture, and Haitian people. Use examples and details to support your answer.

Open Response Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student describes in a clear and in-depth manner what Wilson’s paintings show about Haiti, Haitian culture, and Haitian people. Student communicates effectively, making insightful use of many relevant examples, details, and supporting information. Student effectively describes what Wilson’s paintings show about Haiti, Haitian culture, and Haitian people. Student communicates effectively, using relevant examples, details, and supporting information. Student basically describes what Wilson’s paintings show about Haiti, Haitian culture, and Haitian people. Student communicates on a basic level, using some relevant examples, details, and supporting information. Student ineffectively describes what Wilson’s paintings show about Haiti, Haitian culture, and Haitian people. Student communicates ineffectively, making little or no use of relevant examples, details, and supporting information. Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.

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Performance Assessment

Performance Event:
Ellis Wilson included full-length figures in many of his paintings of everyday scenes. These paintings demonstrate a use of flat shapes, sharp contrasts, bright colors, patterned background, and very few details.

Directions:
Paint a figure painting in the style of Ellis Wilson, depicting yourself and a taller relative. Describe the elements of art and the principles of design that both you and Ellis Wilson used in your paintings. Use correct art vocabulary from this lesson.

Performance Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student paints a figure painting showing him/herself with a taller relative. The piece is clearly painted in the style of Ellis Wilson. Craftsmanship is excellent. The art elements and principles of design used by both the student and Wilson are clearly described. The student uses art vocabulary consistently and correctly. Student paints a figure painting showing him/herself with a taller relative. The piece shows some influence of Ellis Wilson. Craftsmanship is good. The art elements and principles of design used by both the student and Wilson are generally described. Art vocabulary is used correctly. Student paints a figure painting showing him/herself with a taller relative. The piece shows minimal influence of Ellis Wilson. Craftsmanship is acceptable. The art elements and principles of design used by both the student and Wilson are vaguely described. Art vocabulary is used inconsistently. Student paints a figure painting showing him/herself with another figure. The piece shows little to no influence of Ellis Wilson. Craftsmanship is poor. No attempt is made to describe the art elements and principles of design used by the student and Ellis Wilson. There is no indication of any knowledge of art vocabulary. Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.

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