Lesson #1: Placing the human figure in a setting

Part of the unit: Drawing a Figure in a Setting |


How can we make a composition of a human figure in a setting?
Students will be able to:
Identify the similarities and differences between artworks displaying a figure in a setting.
Use a digital camera to take photos of a figure in a classroom setting that illustrate a change in scale
Students will understand that:
Changing the scale of a figure in a setting can affect the mood.

Digital cameras with memory cards, a computer, an LCD projector (optional), 4x6 photo printing paper


Reproductions or digital images of Edward Hopper's Night Shadows, Candido Portinari's Lavrador de Cafe, Dorothea Lange's Woman of the High Plains, and Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.


Display Edward Hopper's NIght Shadows, Candido Portinari's Lavrador de Cafe, Dorothea Lange's Woman of the High Plains, and Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.

  • What do these artworks have in common? (all have a figure in a setting)
  • How are they different? (size of the figure, angle at which it's seen, the space the figure takes up, the difference in the amount of detail on the figure)
  • How does the placement of the figure in a scene affect the viewer's response to it?  Explain using the displayed artworks as an example. (make sure to point out why many of the figures are off centered rather than centered and how the placement of the figure can dramatically change the scale and perspective)

We will be using a figure in a setting as the subject of a drawing. You will be able to control how people feel about the figure by the composition you create. We will begin this drawing unit by using a digital camera to take photos of each other in the setting of this classroom.

Ask a student to model a pose by sitting in a chair. Explain that artists who use the same subject can create different compositions.

  • What are the different ways we can photograph this student? (from above, below, the side, close up, far away)
  • How can we create a composition that demonstrates the greatest change of scale?

Demonstrate how to use a digital camera to take three shots from different angles and distances.  Project the images.

  • How does the placement of the figure change the way you feel about it?
  • Which composition displays the greatest change in scale between the background and the figure?
  • Which composition do you find the most interesting and why?

Organize the class into groups of four.  Each group can use one camera. Students should work in pairs to photograph their partner twice from two completely different angles and distances.  Students can place themeselves anywhere in the room, either standing or sitting. 

If the photoprinter is available, the remainder of the period can be spent printing 4x6 images. If not, the teacher should make prints to be used during the next class session.

  • What was the most challenging aspect of this assignment?
  • What did you learn about composition from this experience?

If you have a digital camera at home, experiment taking shots of a family member or friend from many different angles and distances, either indoors or outside.  Pay particular attention to the relationship between the figure and the background to see how it affects scale.  Bring your 3 favorite images to class.

If you don't have a digital camera, bring to class three photographs of figures in a setting from a magazine or newspaper.