COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail

Students work with watercolour pencils to design and illustrate a costume for an imaginary Cirque de Soleil performance.

Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts


colour contrast costume proportion


Crayola Marker &Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12") Crayola Watercolour Pencils Crayola Paint Brushes Crayola Scissors Pencils Erasers Water Containers Paper Towels Pipe Cleaners Hole Punch - ⅛" hole Cardstock Paper - 21.6 cm x 27.9 cm (8.5" x 11")

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COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step One

Step One

  1. Cut out all the pieces of the mannequin pattern. (Downloads - Mannequin_Pattern.pdf) 
  2. Punch small holes where the joints should be.
  3. Cut small pieces of pipe cleaner to use for fasteners.
  4. Place one piece of the mannequin on top of the other where it will be joined.
  5. Line up the holes and push the pipe cleaner through.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Place the mannequin flat on the desk so the edges of the 2 pieces almost touch each other.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Bend the ends of the pipe cleaner into the middle.
  2. Flatten them so they close like a staple.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Place the mannequin on the desk.
  2. Experiment with poses.
  3. All the parts should bend easily at the joints.
  4. Place your mannequin on the drawing paper in the pose you like best.
  5. Lightly trace around the edges with pencil.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Draw your design over the mannequin outline.
  2. Use watercolour pencils to colour the design.
  3. Paint over the pencil with a small amount of water to get watercolour effects.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Fill in the background.
  2. Use a wet paintbrush to pick up colour from the tip of the watercolour pencil.
  3. Paint with the liquid colour.
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Seven

Step Seven

  1. Paint shadows along the outer edges of the figure to make it seem more 3-dimensional. 
COSTUME DESIGN – Proportion, Colour, Detail - Step Eight

Step Eight

  1. Place your design at a distance and view it with fresh eyes.
    - What is your first impression?
    - What grabs your attention?
    - What message does your design communicate?
    - What do you like best about your work?


Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • draw a human figure with correct body proportions;
  • design a costume to suit its purpose;
  • create an illustration using watercolour pencil techniques;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity; 
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • collect and display pictures of costumes used in contemporary society, e.g., theatre productions, Hallowe'en, action figures; 
  • use sticky notes to add comments to the display;
  • compare the costumes and how they relate to their purposes. 
    How are they similar? 
    - How are they different?
  • use the Papier-Mache Mask lesson plan available on this website to create a mask to be used with their costume;
  • display their costume designs alongside their masks.


  1. Download and display the Colour, Proportion and Contrast posters available on this website.
  2. Download a variety of costume images from the Internet, e.g.,
  3. Teach proportions of the human body and provide time for students to practice drawing figures. 
  4. Provide time for students to Explore Watercolour Pencils using the lesson plan available on this website.
  5. Download the mannequin pattern and print it on cardstock - 1 per student. (Downloads - Mannequin.pdf)
  6. Gather books and pictures of costumes and other materials that support the focus for your lesson, e.g., ceremonies of ancient civilizations, Cirque de Soleil.
  7. Create a sample mannequin. 



  1. View and discuss a variety of costume illustrations focusing on how the images communicate ideas and identifying common characteristics, e.g.,
    - drawing shows the human figure wearing a costume
    - shows details of the style
    - includes embellishments
    - demonstrates an attitude 
  2. Make a list of notable characteristics of one of the costumes, e.g.,
    - deliberate use of colour for specific effect
    - use of pattern and detail
    - special decorative effects such as trims
    - placement of lines created by hems and/or belts
    - areas of emphasis that attract attention
    - fabric texture
    - silhouette of the costume
    - message it conveys
  3. Discuss how costumes are meant to 'transform' the wearer - when a person puts on the costume he/she changes.
  4. Focus on costumes that support your topic.
    - discuss use of materials, decoration, embellishment and possible purpose
  5. Explain that they are going to design a costume using watercolour pencils.
    - If this is the first time students use watercolour pencils demonstrate several techniques. (See Exploring Watercolour Pencils lesson plan available on this website.)
  6. Explain that they are going to be focusing on correct body proportions in their illustration. Show the mannequin.
  7. Introduce the challenge. 


The Challenge

  1. Draw a human figure with correct body proportions.
  2. Design a costume to suit its purpose.
  3. Create an illustration using watercolour pencil techniques.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - created a costume design that suits its purpose
    - used watercolour techniques effectively

    - used colour for a specific effect
    - included details
    - created a balanced shape
    - created a silhouette that fits the purpose of the costume
    - created a design that communicates a message 

    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work.
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Display the completed illustrations for a group discussion. Remind students of the challenge.
  2. Ask students to:
    Look closely at the designs.
    Choose one that interests them for some reason.
    Share thoughts about the work.
  3. During the discussion include references to:
    colour - how colour affects the overall design
    technique - how painting techniques create the illusion of depth
    silhouette - how the silhouette of the design communicates a specific message
    - purpose - how the design suits its purpose


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their designs – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to areas in the design, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the design.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - Costume_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Download - Costume_self-assessment.pdf)