About  |  Contact

Hands in Art

Unit: Hands Around the World - Symbols of Power - Protection - Identity

Lesson Series: Give Your Students a Hand! Lesson ideas for all grade levels

Grade level: Middle School through High School




Submitted by: Grace Hall
Title: Pen and Ink Doodle - Patterns
Grace levels: All level (this example is a high school student)


Students draw contours of hands and fill with pattern, symbols/motifs that will communicate something about themselves. In this example, negative space was painting with watercolors.


For younger students, patterned hands could be cut out and mounted on Construction Paper..


Submitted by: Cecilia Laureys, Marywood Palm Valley School, Rancho Mirage, CA
Project: Fantasy Handscapes Drawings


After drawing of hands from life, students created a fantasy/surreal handscape applying the knowledge gained in the life drawings of hands. Lesson is suitable for middle school grades and up. See Lesson Plan.

Click images for larger views




Submitted by: Jan Hillmer
Project: Alexander Calder Wire Hands
Grade level: Upper elementary through middle school (even high school)
See Niki de Saint Phalle twist below

Middle School example submitted by Carol O'Neil

. .


This this lesson is adaptable to middle school and high school. Last year Jan had her 5th grade students do a hand 'self-portrait' - just their hand and some object which tells about them (soccer ball, book, tennis racquet, etc.) These were 8-1/2" x 12" (21.5 x 30.5 cm) , in Oil Pastels.. The next activity was blind contour of their hand, posed in sign language, of one of their initials. They drew with pens. After a talk about Alexander Calder, they created a wire sculpture, 3-D, of their blind contour drawing - not their actual hand. We did transfer the blind contour to the tile and traced over that in permanent marker (Saral Transfer Paper. can be use for this - use white for transferring to black surface). Twisteez Wire. makes a good choice for this project - but any wire that can easily be bent and twisted works fine.


These were mounted on 4" (10 cm) ceramic tiles with hot Glue Gun. and Hot Glue Sticks.. You can see that on the base of the tiles. Note - the hot glue and the Permanent Markers. weren't quite as permanent as Jan had hoped. An alternative mounting technique would be to drill small holes in a wood base (painted ply wood would work) - and insert the ends of the wire. The wire sculpture creates a nice contrast to the blind contour drawing. Creating a work in multiple media is a curriculum objective in many school guides - exploring the limitation of variety of media.


Middle school example - Submitted by Carol O'Neil - is from Sculpture Wire. and mounted into wood base.


Using PC Paint on the computer

1. One hand was drawn using pencil tool
2. Lasso the hand (dotted line icon) and drag to upper left.
3. copy, paste, rotate by angle 90 degrees in upper right corner
4. Repeat for each of the 4 corners.
5. Color is optional


Here is my revision.

6. Divide image into four equal sections using line tool. Make a bold line. If your program does not have a line tool - hold the shift key down to make a straight line. Make sure hand and/or wrist lines go off the edge - draw in lines if necessary. Stop and start line if it crosses part of hand (some of Jan's students' hands are overlapping)

7. Flood fill each background (negative space) section a bold color. Correct any broken lines on hand if color goes into hand.

8. Flood fill hands (positive space) a contrasting color. (Mine are all complementary actually split complementary - See Andy Warhol's self portraits - See below for list - in complementary colors)



9. Change dividing line to white if desired (as shown in sample).


Howard Finster Folks Art Hands
By Jeannette Smith Anthos

Students learned about Georgia Folk Artist Howard Finster.. After realizing that his artwork gave them "clues" about him, they decided to trace their own Hands using Sharpies, and give clues about ourselves. After tracing hands they added words, symbols and patterns with sharpie markers. Colored Pencils.. added the finishing touches. This would make a nice lesson for crayon resist and Watercolor Paint., too. Or AquaMarkers. brushed over with water.
Howard Finster Home Page | Man of Vision

Adinkra-Meets Mehendi Hands Designs by

Christine Besack

A very interesting cultural mix! Students learned about two cultures in the creation of these hand designs. Adinkra symbols were studied along with their meanings. Students combined these symbols and their own personal symbols with the elaborate designs of Mehndi. (also Mehendi) henna decorations. Students did tracings of their hands. Overlapping in an interesting way was suggested. Designs were done in Ultra-Fine Point Markers. and Colored Pencils... Wet in wet Watercolor Paint. washes were used for negative space and the hands. An alternate approach would be to use fine point markers for the designs. More to come on this lesson.




See image of finished hand "tattoo". These were done using watercolor marker. Student could choose any color.

Mehndi Hand Designs - Temporary "Tattoos"
Submitted by Kris Fontes

I have a friend who is married to an Indian and her daughter gave us a demonstration using traditional henna paste. Students then created their own hand designs on paper (just by tracing their hand) referring to handout for ideas. I supplied handouts with designs consistent with this art, i.e. paisleys, swirls, vines, eyes, etc. See finished hand - done with AquaMarkers. - in choice of colors.


Kids loved writing on their hands. Make sure the staff in your school is aware that this is a legitimate ART PROJECT or the kids will have some nasty teacher make a comment about not writing on hands.

Extension to the Hand Henna Tattoo Lesson:

Use the paper hand in a collage showing a merging of cultures - a sharing of ideas. Make a second paper hand with personal symbols and combine both in a composition (maybe showing elements/images from both cultures in the negative space - magazine pictures - whatever - or simply a painted background. See the example from My Place Asia Australia


Aboriginal Hand Print Lesson Plan
Rock Art painting by Cheryl Kerr

"The stenciled hand print and Aboriginal style drawings help children to relate to Australian Aboriginal Culture. while helping them to understand the use of line in art. A black paper with white splattered paint was used, but white paper with red (ochre) splattered paint would make a nice impression also. Construction Paper Crayons. make bright, bold, linear designs around the hand. Stencil Paint. and Paint Markers. could be used too. See lesson plan


The image at right is from Dick Blick Lesson Plan and will be replaced with a student example. Used without permission.



Consider other Rock Art Cultures - Native American symbols and patterns. Use with Cave Art Lesson See some resources from Bradshaw Foundation


"Sacred Circles" Mandalas
image from Gina Grant Clifton Hill Primary

Quoted from Bunki Kramer: The lesson comes from a book called Mandala: Luminous Symbols for Healing. by Judith Cornell, PH.D. who is from San Francisco. It discusses the spiritual light from within the self which comes from ALL religions and encompasses the circle as the common ground for of all religious artworks. It doesn't just cover eastern philosophies but ALL philosophies of religion. See Sacred Circles from Bunki Kramer's Students (Los Cerros Middle School). This lesson was introduced to Getty TeacherArtExchangeTalk by Sharon Kennedy.

White Prismacolor Colored Pencils. and Metallic Colored Pencils. on black.

Common Threads - Hand and Ribbon Drawing
Textiles from Around the World - Judy Decker

This lesson dealt with similarities and differences of cultures. Tolerance and understanding. Students researched textile designs and used cultural patterned papers. The lesson began with looking at famous drawings and paintings of hands. After researching textile design on the Internet using links in Art Stuff, drawings of hands began. A ¼ inch ribbon was given to each student which became a connecting "thread" for handmade book. Original drawings were glued to collage materials (digital images and assorted papers) on Black Drawing Paper..

See "Hands Book" from Bunki Kramer- Los Cerros Middle School. Bunki's lesson "sparked" this unit.

Expressive Hands from Donnalyn Shuster
Modern Art Styles

Problem to solve: create a larger than life modified contour drawing of hands in an expressive situation. Hands will have linear value, contain a object, and have a patterned background.

Students express a message with hands. Background is inspired by a style of modern art. Hands are rendered with stippling technique. - See lesson plan



Blind Contour with Rope
Submitted by Carol O Neil

Linda Watson posted the idea to Getty TeacherArtExchange. Hand Holding a rope. Have all students hold a section of rope with one hand and draw that hand holding the rope with the other hand…try blind drawing. Hands would be displayed then with a rope connecting all of them. Example shown takes on a surreal look with the hand drawing the rope and rope piercing the arm. M.C. Escher's Drawing Hands. could be used for reference for this lesson. For variation. photograph the students hands. Students will then draw the photograph and include a drawing of their hand drawing it.

Plaster Cast hand - Personal Portrait
Paul Galinas Junior High -Ms. Connor

Also see Plaster Cast Surreal hands from Bunki Kramer's (Los Cerros Middle School) students. Hands can be cast as one unit leaving the middle two fingers loose to ease removal (and secured with gauze after taking hand cast off). With this method a wrist needs to be fashioned from cardboard and/or newspaper and foil - attached then plastered. The other method is to cast the front of the hand and back side of the hand separately - then put together with strips of Plaster Gauze.. The students glued and plastered the hands to a wood base and painted with Acrylic Paint.. Objects were included to tell something about the individual.



Plaster Cast hand idea from Susan on Long Island:

Plastercraft. the writing hand in the position of holding an object. After cast dries, you can Hot Glue Sticks. the object in. Hot glue or wire the hand to Illustration Board. (painted wood base or Foamboard. painted base. Dow board could have a layer of Plaster Gauze.). On this board, draw the other hand doing something related or coordinated. Draw a related background. Example: plaster hand holds milk carton in a pouring position. Draw a hand holding a cereal bowl with dry cereal. Background is a table in a kitchen. Example: plaster hand holds a Brushes., draw a hand holding a Palettes.. Background- a painting on Easels.. Note: These would be striking with the hand left white and the drawing a black line contour drawing (Permanent Markers.) on white surface. M. C. Escher's Drawing Hands. could be inspiration.




Share the hand paintings of Guido Daniele (not a site for your students)

Patterns in Nature - Camouflage Hands - Lesson by Melissa Speelamn

Students studied pattern in nature. They painted the pattern on 12" x 18" paper - then painted their hand to either be camouflaged within the pattern or contrast it (painting opposite the pattern). Lesson can be done in tempera or acrylics. Melissa photographed hands with a 35mm Camera. and with a Digital Camera.. Students manipulated the digital image in Photoshop (You can buy Photoshop at the Adobe Education Store). The photograph becomes the art. It might be fun to do some larger collage works with all of the painted papers. See Nature Patterns - Utah Education Network Theme park. Jan Hillmer has written a lesson plan for this project.


Value Study Hands - Cubist style
Submitted by Carol O'Neil

Jan Hillmer posted this idea to Getty TeacherArtExchange. Lesson teaches related colors and value shading with Colored Pencils... Students trace their hand 3 times with pen (or pencil) on 9x12 (23 x 30.5 cm) Drawing Paper., with hands overlapping and outlines of all hands showing. Then, draw 4 more lines, with Rulers., from one edge across to the opposite side, dividing the largest spaces into smaller spaces. These lines will also go through the hand tracings. Then pick 4 colors ( any type of color scheme works here) and color each space from dark to light (start darker in the angles and fade out towards center). It's particularly good for working on colored pencil values.


Note from Jan Hillmer: They trace their hands 3 times, overlapping is fine. Then they draw 3-5 lines from one side of the paper to another, breaking up the largest spaces. The students shade each space with Colored Pencils... I encourage my students to figure out their own 'rule' for shading - for example, darkest towards the middle of the page or darkest towards the bottom. Then they pick out a color group and shade! We start this early in the year and keep it available to work on as other projects are completed - instead of 'free art.' (from post to Art Education list serve 9/1/05)



Hands of a Hero
Submitted by Carol O'Neil

This is also a lesson in character development. Students research any hero of their choice. They create a composition of the hands of the hero (using their own hands as a model). The composition has to tell a story about their hero. Any medium could be used for this lesson. Example shown is done in Colored Pencils... Hands must include something about the hero. A scientist could be holding a beaker or test tube. Students need to do research to see what hands could hold. Students write a report about the hero.

. .

Surreal Self Portrait Hands
Submitted by Carol O'Neil

This lesson is modified from one by Bunki Kramer. Student created a surreal portrait of themselves using their hands and symbols representing their interests. See lesson. Click images for larger view.


Hand Self Portrait - Lesson by Jan Hillmer

I had my 5th grade students do a hand 'self-portrait' - just their hand and some object which tells about them (soccer ball, book, tennis racquet, etc.) These were 81/2" x 12 (21.5 x 30.5 cm)," in Oil Pastels. but any medium could be used. Have students bring in an object that they treasure.



Signing Hands - Andy DiConti - 7th grade Contour Drawing

A contour drawing project (using the American Manual Alphabet as our model) was the final phase in a series of lessons which followed a blind contour drawing and modified drawing.


Students did several studies of their hands prior to this lesson. This also was a lesson in letter design. Different styles of lettering were presented - then student designed their own.


Lin Altman did this lesson with 5th graders - shown right. These lessons used the student names. Any special words could be used.
See this Sign Language Alphabet Activity



Submitted by Dave Haines - High School Hands Study

Dave's students draw a minimum of five hands gestures on Newsprint. then select and arrange the ones they want on good colored drawing paper. Transfer hands using Saral Transfer Paper. or Graphite Sticks. on the back. Dave has them make a square composition that can be turned in any direction. The negative space and letters are painted with tempera. Hands are outlined with fine point Sharpie. An alternative idea would be to do collage - cut the negative space away and mount on a contrasting colored paper. Letters could also be cut paper. Most of Dave's students use their initials.



Submitted by Nerina Patane - High School study with signing

SIGN LANGUAGE CONTOUR LINE HANDS: Students learned how to draw using contour lines and close observation. They were required to chose three to five letters that they would pose their hands in. In addition to drawing their hands in a sign language pose, they had to incorporate the written letters that the hands represented in a creative way for the background. Because their options were open, students came up with visually appealing solutions for this project. Students used colored pencils.



Three Dimensional Hands: Caring Sharing Hands
Lesson by Teresa Holt See Character Education Lessons - 1st Grade

Materials/Resources: Hands Are Not for Hitting. by Martene Agassi, Multicultural Construction Paper., Drawing Pencils., Scissors., Glue Sticks., white Drawing Paper., and black Construction Paper. for mounting

Trace hands and arms onto paper - cut out - cut out tools/ items for hands to hold. Glue to construction paper in relief. Try using some 3-D-Os


Submitted by: Cynthia Gaub, ArTechTivity
Collage Personality Hand:

  1. Draw a picture of your own hand, by tracing or contour drawing.

  2. Pick out pictures from magazines or your own photos that show YOUR personality.

  3. FILL the entire SHEET with images around your hand, ALL white space must be filled.



.Submitted by Stephanie M. Corder
Lesson: Cool Hands/Warm Hearts
Grade Level: Kindergarten (and up)



To help younger students understand and to illustrate the difference between warm and cool colors.



12x18 (30.5 x 46 cm) white Drawing Paper. - Colored Markers./Oil Pastels. - Heart templates; one large, one small - Laminate (optional) - Fishing wire



  1. Trace both of student’s hands taking up as much length as possible.

  2. After defining "cool colors", instruct them to color their hands and arms with patterns using blues, greens and purples.

  3. Hand out heart templates and have them trace one large, and two small hearts.

  4. Define the "Warm Colors" and have them fill in hearts with patterns using reds, yellows, oranges.

  5. Point out the differences of the color combos, with hands side by side, hearts next to hands and hearts beside hearts. What do they notice?

  6. Teacher should cut out hands and hearts (maybe get a volunteer to help) to be sure of getting all details. Older students can do their own cutting. Many Kindergarten students can cut their own.

  7. If available, laminate and cut these out-I know this is drawn out, but the stiffness and protection the laminating provides is worth it!

  8. Punch holes into the top and bottom of each set of hands, and two of the hearts, leaving one heart with a hole at the top.

  9. Connect with fishing wire, leaving a loop at the top to hang with.

Niki de Saint Phalle inspired Wire Hand Sculpture - personal portrait - from Judy Decker

I got the idea for this lesson by looking at Blue Magic by Niki deSaint Phalle. You could use any imaginative wire shape. I chose to write this up as a hands lesson. Make a wire hand sculpture (from traced outline of hand and wrist) and hang a symbol in the center - Symbol can made from Moist Clay. - Sculpey. polymer clay - paper cast - Tooling Foil. - - even built up Plaster Gauze. on a foil or cardboard armature - for a personal "portrait". After posing the hand - wrap the wire hand and wrist with plaster gauze (or Paper Mache. - or bright colored Tissue paper. dipped in White Glue./water mix) to thicken it and paint in bright colors (a la Niki De Saint Phalle.). Paint symbol with bright colors and patterns and suspend in center of hand with fine wire. . Stick wire ends of wrist into a wood base painted white (or light color) and write words on the base about self - or positive character traits. Paint a border design around the base (a la Sam the Dot Man style or Howard Finster.) picking up colors of the symbol. An added option could be to wire in words across wrist section and in fingers. Collage printed words onto Posterboard. (on both sides) - put small hole in ends with awl - and tie in with fine jewelers wire.


Mehendi (Henna) Hand Design Scratchboard - From Kristen Puhl (student teacher)

My cooperating teacher just did a lesson with Gold or Silver Scratchboard. using Mehndi. (also spelled Mehndi) hand designs (henna painting.) As far as I know, the students traced their hand and then looked at Mehendi designs to fill in the hand. Then then transferred these to silver or gold scratchboard. Then, they retraced their design onto good White Drawing Paper. with brown Colored Pencils.. so it looked like henna. This hand was cut out, and both the white hand and the black scratchboard hand are mounted on a piece of brown Construction Paper.. (5th grade.) They're pretty neat looking, and girls an guys alike were pretty into it. ("It's like tattoos").


Surreal Plaster Hands by Bunki Kramer - Los Cerros Middle School. Upper elementary through middle school. See images on Los Cerros Middle School site.


Kaleidoscope Cloud Dance - Movement lesson grade K through 4 - from Kennedy ArtsEdge

See Introductory Hand Sculpture idea. Have digital camera ready to take picture of these temporary sculptures. Use this as Interdisciplinary with Science - as a lead in to a unit on Weather.


Paper Hand Cast Lesson- Elementary to middle school

Make a plaster mold of hand - then when dry cast with paper. Lesson has pushing pulp into the mold. Loosely molded sheets of handmade paper may be used too - leaving some paper around the edges if desired. Students could also carve symbols into the plaster mold to be picked up by the cast paper sheets for an interesting relief sculpture. Do more carving into plaster for a middle school lesson.


Hands of Character Elementary

  • Draw Hand - trace hand three times onto 12 x 19 (30.5 x 48 cm) paper

  • In each of the fingers and on the palm, label one of the pillars of Character Counts. OR - You may also brainstorm with the group qualities you feel are important to positive character. Discuss for each character trait how you have represented that trait/pillar. Add word in the other hands for each Character trait - things you do to exhibit that trait. Use markers (try some watercolor markers - then brush over with water), Crayons. and watercolor or marker and colored pencils.

Hands Sculpture in Clay Lesson Plan [Archive] - looking at hands of Rodin Utah Museum of Art - Middle school and up. Expressive hand sculptures - looking at hand gestures.

Hand of the Artist in Clay - by Jeannie Sandoval Create a hand sculpture in clay. Research an artist and decorate the hand using that art style for inspiration. The hand project gives a great opportunity to learn about the style of an artist of interest to the student. Hand could even become surreal.


Submitted by Tina Grimes
Lesson: Hand sculpture
Grade level: upper elementary - adaptable to middle school

A project I did one time was Clay Hands. We rolled out slabs and traced around the students' hands and cut them out, then they could move the fingers around, if they wanted to, or just leave the hands flat and smooth out the edges. Once the hands were bisque fired I had the students paint them in a way that would tell me something about them. One student liked cows so she painted a cow pattern. Another liked baseball so he painted his hand to look like a baseball. And so on. They really had fun with these, and there is the added bonus of having their hand preserved in Moist Clay., so to speak.


For middle school through high school adaptation, roll our thick slab of Moist Clay.. Cut out hand. Shape hand into desired pose. Prop up fingers if necessary with wads of newspapers or scraps of clay. Build up palm of hand and add knuckles. Shape wrist and portion of arm by rolling our and fusing a cylinder of clay. Hollow out thickest part of hand and attach to wrist section. Tie in art of Rodin - expressive hands. Bisque fire - then paint to express "self" - or an emotion.


Hands - Photography Lesson Ideas

  • Speaking with Hands: Photography from the Buhl Collection | More examples | More Buhl Images
    You will get many lesson ideas from browsing this exhibit.

  • Hand Print Display Border

  • Get your Kindergarteners in the act, too. A Getty list member sent in this suggestion.

  • I had my kinders do simple hand printed borders for my bulletin boards. The fun part was that students experimented with mixing colors right on their own hands. We used Tempera Cakes. and paint brushes, students mixed colors right on their hands, and when they were satisfied, they made the prints on a strip of paper. All the strips were then stapled around the edges of the bulletin boards.



Add to or Comment on this Page:

privacy policy