Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994

Life-Size Figure Murals

Submitted by: Mark Anderson, Oak Park High School in Missouri
UNIT: Figure drawing - collage
Grade Level: middle school (these are 8th grade)



TLW experiment with non-traditional ways to apply color and value to an artwork.

TLW make intentional choices to construct a whole from small pieces.

TLW create, pose, and exhibit a collaborative mural project that is dynamic.


MoSTEP Standards:

FA1 Process and techniques for the production, exhibition or performance of one or more of the visual or performed arts.

FA2 The principles and elements of different art forms.

8th grade student examples


1      2      3      4


5      6      7



Collage, mixed media, papier mache, pigment, recycled art, pigment, portraiture



Large sheets of corrugated cardboard, lots of color magazines and color newspaper circulars, black Permanent Markers., white Elmer's Glue., heavy duty Sharp Scissors. or shears, Digital Camera,. digital projector,. shoe boxes, Paper Mache. glue mixture, butter dishes. Exemplars: Reproductions of collage, papier collé and assemblage art. (Romare Bearden, Pablo Picasso)

Note: Old painting projects - painted papers could also be used.





Collect several large sheets of corrugate (appliance boxes are great. You can sometimes get these behind grocery or other retail stores). Approximately two weeks prior, have students begin to bring in color magazines and newspaper circulars.



Tear color magazine pages into approximately 1" x 2" (2.5 x 5 cm) pieces. The object is to deconstruct photos into areas of color and not objects.


Separate pieces by approximate local color into piles of red, blue, yellow, orange, violet, green, black, gray, and "flesh." (Obviously, there will be more than one way to identify colors as "flesh" – encourage this observation.)


Label shoe boxes accordingly and store the "pigments" in their own container.



Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 students.

Each group elects one person to be the "model."


Using a digital camera, photograph the model in a full length pose. Encourage the model to pose in fun and expressive ways. (There should be no limit on the number of 8th grade boys who will jump at the chance to "ham" it up for this exercise.)

  • Connect the digital camera to the digital projector. Review the photographs and select the best, most expressive pose.

  • Securely tape a large section of corrugate to a wall.

  • Project the image onto the cardboard. Zoom image to approximately life size.

  • Use black markers to trace the contours and key features onto the cardboard surface.

  • Demonstrate safety procedures when using cutting tools.

  • Use heavy duty cutting shears to cut out the shape of the life size figure from the cardboard. Cut slowly – if one student’s fingers get sore from cutting the thick cardboard, trade off with another student. X-acto Knives. could be used (with care)



(Demonstrate selection of torn pieces of Construction Paper., application of collage pieces to cardboard, lightly coating surface with glue to create a clear, protective coating when dry.)


Pour prepared Paper Mache. mixture into enough butter dishes for each group.


Select appropriate colors of torn paper for each part of the life size cutout – be sensitive to color and value shifts as they might appear in the "painting" you’re creating, especially within the areas where folds of cloth or facial features appear. Encourage students to use pieces to form faces and features, not to "lift" a face from a magazine in an attempt to use it whole and intact.


Apply torn paper by first dipping into papier mache mixture. Lay down strips one at a time onto the cardboard surface and use fingers to smooth out excess glue mixture over the cardboard surface. Be sure to overlap torn pieces so that corrugate doesn't show.


Rather than trying to align torn paper pieces with the edge of the construction, encourage students to wrap pieces around the edge, overlapping to the back side of the cardboard to create a cleaner, more "finished" look.


At the end of each day’s session, apply a thin layer of White Glue. over the surface of applied torn paper, blending thicker areas of glue into the surface with fingertips to make an even application.



Use papier mache to model and build up selected facial features into a sort of bas relief. Emphasize the three-dimensional qualities of the face. When dry, apply torn paper, "painting" the face in the same way that you've "painted" the rest of the figure, using torn pieces of paper as your "pigment."


Exhibition When dry, these life-sized figures can be arranged into many different compositions throughout different areas of the school. I like to make one arrangement and then, over the course of the next week or so, have my students rearrange the compositions by adding, moving, removing figures each day. This constant rearrangement makes the arrangements appear to be dynamic and keeps them fresh and new from one day to the next.




Traditional film camera and an overhead projector can be used instead of digital camera and projector.


Alternate approach - Paint figures with Acrylic Paint. or Tempera Paint. rather than collage. For a more permanent mural, figures could be cut from Masonite board and collage finished with several coats of Acrylic Gloss Medium.. Figures could have a permanent location in the school, mounted to the wall.



Did the learner manipulate deconstructed pieces of torn paper into a single, completed construction?

Were appropriate combinations of torn papers used to represent color choices?

Are paper seams securely sealed and adhered to the cardboard superstructure?


Simplified version submitted by Carolyn Roberts:

I did a lesson in middle school that went over great. I had the students lay down on a large piece of white bulletin board paper... then they drew around each other... They drew in the features and colored them. These were displayed along the halls... especially before the first PTA meeting.

Another MS art teacher collected several large pieces of cardboard and had some of the students do the same thing. So along with some of the pictures posted in the hallway she had the cardboard figures standing in the bushes outside the school. Everyone saw them as they entered for either Open House or PTA.


Adaptation for high school:

Students could make cut-outs from plywood or sign board for a semi-permanent installation. If you make stands (like paper doll stands) you can make them movable free standing sculptures. Follow basic instructions above. Cut out from plywood using scroll saw. Paint and/or collage - then apply several coats of gloss finish to protect them.


Copyright © 2005 Mark Alan Anderson - this lesson may be used for in class use. It may not be published elsewhere without written permission from Mark Anderson.



Add to or Comment on this Page: