Art Lesson Plan: Hand Gestures with Text

Hand Gestures with Text

Submitted by: Dave Haines, Grafton High, Grafton, West Virginia
Unit: Contour Drawing - Art with Text
Lesson Plan: Contour Hand Gestures with text
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to middle school)
Alternate Lesson: Hand with sign language


Objectives: Students will

  • Draw hands from close observation

  • Develop 3-D volume with cross contours

  • Work with blind and semi-blind contour drawing

  • Create a composition that works for all directions - combined with text - emphasizing design principles of balance, contrast and repetition

  • Appreciate use of hand gestures in art to show emotion - symbolism


Symbolism, gesture, contour, cross contour, blind contour, semi-blind contour, fonts, serif, Sans serif, book, Old English, Gothic, Roman (etc).  Balance, repetition, contrast, variety, positive/negative space, figure/ground.


hands      hands     hands hands
Examples are 18 inch (45.7 cm) square with drawing 16" (40.6 cm) square. Click on images for full size.


Handouts of various fonts
Newsprint., Drawing Pencils., Magic Rub Erasers.
Saral Transfer Paper.
Sulphite Drawing Paper. (or other fade resistant colored paper)
Tempera Paint., Brushes.
Ultra-Fine Point Markers.



Lettering books and computer fonts (many web resources are available for fonts)


See the Hands online lesson



Drawing Dynamic Hands. - A book on drawing hands using a revolutionary system for visualizing the hand in an almost infinite number of positions.

The Book of a Hundred Hands. - 100 drawings and in-depth instruction in this guide to drawing virtually every aspect and posture of the human hand.



Drawing Hands by M.C. Escher - Escher's famous picture of a hand drawing a hand.



Look through an art history book for paintings that show the hands. Scan in the paintings - then blow up the section that shows the hands. Find examples through the course of art history (from all time periods). Put these images into a PowerPoint. Look up symbolism of hands. Address hands as a symbol of protection and a sign of identity.



  1. Show PowerPoint of expressive hands (from your collection of scanned images or from the Internet)

  2. Students will research (independently) for works showing the hands. Select at least one work to critique paying close attention to what messages the hands are giving the viewer. Include artist, title and time period. Make a comparison to one other work from same time period.

  3. Review blind contour and semi-blind contour. Review design principles to be addressed. Students should not need much demonstration for this at high school level. Younger grades may need demonstration of what is expected for contour drawings.


  1. Develop good 3-D quality contour drawings of 5 different hand poses (have not tried the signing idea with this).  We do these on newsprint and go through the stages of blind contour, continuous line and modified contours.

  2. The five best drawings are assembled onto a newsprint 'working drawing' composition (cut out newsprint drawings close to the contour of hands and arrange - tape in place when satisfied). Wrists should run off edge of paper - fingers touch - connect or overlap. A goal of this arrangement is to break up the background space into interesting negative shapes that are fairly evenly balanced.  Note: contour drawings can be enlarged slightly larger than life with photocopier.

  3. Letters (student name or initials) are developed from various font resources (lettering books, etc.)... These are added to the negative space. Students make patterns to trace. Letters can overlap and go beneath the hands; also run partial letters off of the edge of the format around the composition.

  4. This composition is transferred onto Canson paper in pencil (any quality colored paper could be used and/or brown butcher paper for those on a tight budget)

  5. Color is painted with tempera (the negative spaces and letters) by mixing colors that provide a nice contrast with the chosen paper color. Two coats may be necessary for negative space background. Use a thinned paint to cut in close to hands - for sharper edges. Mix about 1/3 jar of color in a baby food jar for negative space background color.

  6. Once completed, outlining is done with fine point Sharpie.

  7. Students will write/reflect on what messages their hands are telling the viewer (note: no obscene gestures permitted).

Alternate Lesson idea:

Do this all with cut paper. Cut negative space out with X-act knife - mount on contrasting Canson paper. Use scrap paper for letters.


Do as Character Lesson - have character words in negative space and hand gestures that suggest positive character traits.


Career Lesson: Show working hands - Hands holding various objects of the trade. Example: Artists Hands - holding pencil - paint brush - scissors etc.


Hands signing letters


Evaluation: Did students

  1. Show understanding of importance of hand gestures through personal research?

  2. Demonstrate skill in observational drawing by drawing a minimum of five contour hand studies - showing volume through cross contours.

  3. Show understanding of principles of design in completing composition.

  4. Demonstrate craftsmanship in painting

Sample Rubric (adapted from Marianne Galyk)


Assessment Rubric

Student Name:


Class Period:


Date Completed:

Circle the number in pencil that best shows how well you feel that you completed that criterion for the assignment.




Needs Improvement

Rate Yourself

Teacher’s Rating

Criteria 1 – Developed five contour hand studies with cross contours to show volume







Criteria 2 – Arranged hands in a well balanced composition - with expressive qualities.







Criteria 3 – Designed letters to enhance composition and add meaning - selected colors for variety and emphasis/contrast.







Criteria 4 – Effort: took time to develop idea & complete project? (Didn’t rush.) Good use of class time?







Criteria 5 – Craftsmanship – Neat, clean & complete? Skillful use of the art tools & media?







Total Possible: 20







Student comments:


Teacher Comments:


Tips from Dave on Blind Contour Drawing:

Getting students to do the 'blind contour drawing process' can be a challenging experience. I have my students use a sheet of newspaper to completely cover their drawing paper when drawing blind. Even though I stress the purpose, directions, and outcomes for blind contour drawing, many students will try to 'cheat' by peeking/looking while they draw. They think that doing so is going to give them better resulting drawings. The truth is, as we all know, that 'cheating' on blind contour drawing actually delays the development in achieving good, 3-dimensional modified contour drawings.


I've found that one way to get students to do blind contour drawing correctly (and approach it as a learning experience) is to have them begin with fairly easy subjects. I've used keys or fonts/letters as subjects. Cartoon characters also work well (use a line drawn/not shaded/colored version). Getting some lines 'captured' by drawing such subjects completely blind will build some student confidence that can be applied to more challenging subjects (like hands)!


Submitted by: Nerina Patane - T. C. Roberson High School - Ashville, NC
UNIT: Contour drawing - Hands (Art with a message)
Lesson: Contour drawing with sign language - personal statement - Identity
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to middle school)



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...



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