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A Charles Demuth Art Project

Bring an easy Charles Demuth art project to your classroom by having students imitate his famous “Figure 5 in Gold” painting.

A finished example of a Charles Demuth art project

Charles Demuth grew up in the late 1800’s in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When he was four years old, he injured his hip and was bedridden for several weeks. His mother gave him crayons and watercolors to keep him busy, thus beginning his life long love of the arts. Fortunately, his parents saw his talents and totally supported his pursuit of an art career.

Charles ended up playing a key role in America’s changing art world in the 20th century. He was a principal member of Precisionism, which celebrated the new American landscape of skyscrapers, bridges, and factories.

Charles is probably best known for his painting titled “Figure 5 in Gold”, using imagery from William Carlos William’s poem The Great Figure, which evokes the sights and sounds of a fire engine speeding down a busy city street. The intersecting lines, repeating numbers, lights, street lamp, and sirens of the red fire engine together create a painting with a vibrant, urban energy. He derived the title from William’s poem, which reads:

Among the rain

and lights

I saw the figure 5

in gold

on a red

firetruck

moving

tense

unheeded

to gong clangs

siren howls

and wheels rumbling

through the dark city

— WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

TEACHER NOTES

The idea of having students dissect a large number with lots of lines and fill in the closed shapes has been around for awhile, but I created some new tools to give everyone some more options. First, it’s fun to draw the original “fancy” looking number 5, so there’s a tutorial for that. But if anyone prefers to make another number (hey, maybe someone just turned 8 or something?) then there’s a cheat sheet for that too. After all, simple block numbers would work … but why not make them fancy like Charles Demuth’s original? A few extra touches do the trick.

As for coloring instructions, this is perfect for learning about warm and cool colors OR a lesson in camouflage. High contrast will make the number stand out, and low contrast will make it hide.

Preview of the Charles Demuth art project PDF tutorial
Preview of the included cheat sheet for drawing fancy numbers, 0 – 4
Preview of the included cheat sheet for drawing fancy numbers, 5 – 9

MATERIALS

DIRECTIONS

Time needed: 50 minutes.

A Charles Demuth Art Project

  1. Start the top of the number five as shown.

  2. Continue down at an angle.

  3. Draw the large circle shape.

  4. Add the round tip.

  5. Continue the inside curve as shown.

  6. Connect the ends at a slight angle.

  7. Use a ruler to draw three dissecting lines.

  8. Add three more lines from the other direction.

  9. Trace with a marker and color.

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