Putting Up Resistance

Lesson Plan


Students will learn how a resist technique was used to create the finishing touches on the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head, then make their own designs using a crayon and watercolor resist.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


The students will be able to:

  • describe the artistic characteristics of the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head;
  • explain the artistic process used to create the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head; and
  • create their own artwork using a crayon and watercolor resist technique.


  1. Display the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head and invite the children to examine it closely. What do they notice? What colors do they see on the figure? What material do they think the figure is made from? How do they think the figure might feel if they were able to touch it? Does the figure remind them of any other sculptures they have seen?
  2. Explain to the children how the final decorative touches on the sculpture were applied using smoking and a resist technique. The design areas that were to retain the original surface color were painted with the resist material. Placed over a smoky fire, the unprotected surfaces took on a darker tint. The resist material was then washed off. See the About the Art section for more information.
  3. Tell the children that they will be practicing a similar artistic process by creating a watercolor and crayon resist. Begin by providing the children with watercolor paper and crayons. Have the children draw a design of their choice on the watercolor paper with crayons.
  4. Distribute watercolor paints, paintbrushes, and cups of water to the children. Tell the children to select a color for the background of their drawing, then have them paint that watercolor over the entire piece of paper.
  5. Ask the children: What do they notice about the watercolor paint on their drawings? Is it erasing their drawing? Remind the children that the crayon drawing acts in the same way as the resist material on the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head: the watercolor paint attaches to the part of the paper not covered by crayon, just as the smoke on the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head attached to the part of the sculpture not covered by the resist material.
  6. Be sure to collect the children’s artwork and display it in a prominent place in the classroom!


  • Watercolor paper and paints
  • Crayons
  • Paintbrushes
  • Plastic cups filled with water
  • About the Art section on Warrior Figure with Trophy Head
  • One color copy of the sculpture for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Warrior Figure with Trophy Head

Warrior Figure with Trophy Head

A.D. 500-1000

Artist not known, Costa Rica

Who Made It?

This sculpture was created by an artist from the Central Highlands or Atlantic Watershed region of Costa Rica. To make this ceramic sculpture, the artist used slabs and coils of clay to gradually build up the sculpture. This gave the clay time to partially dry so that it could support the weight above as more clay was added. The artist then coated the smooth surface with a reddish slip (a mixture of clay and water) and burnished the slip to bond it firmly to the clay. This vessel was probably fired (heated to harden the clay) out in the open, with clay objects placed in a slight depression in the ground and fuel carefully placed around them. This technique produced porous ceramics called earthenware.

After firing, the artist used a sharp tool to engrave or scratch patterns onto the figure’s legs and body. The artist applied the final decorative touches using a smoking technique. Areas where the artist wanted the original surface color to show through were painted with a resist material, possibly a slip, to protect the surface from smoke. When placed over a smoky fire, the areas of the vessel that weren’t covered with the resist material took on a darker tint. The resist material was then washed off, revealing the design.

What Inspired It?

This figure portrays a powerful man, probably a warrior or chief. He holds a head carefully with both hands. The head, which resembles his own, suggests that the warrior has defeated a peer—either killing him in battle or sacrificing him afterward. Alternatively, the head could be the cherished relic of a revered ancestor. Such a relic might have brought protection and spiritual power to descendants. The high status of the victor is evident in both his elaborate body decoration and his confident stance, with huge firmly planted feet, stocky legs, and projecting chin.


Vessel Opening
Vessel Opening

The opening of this sculptural vessel is at the top of the figure’s head. The vessel chamber in the body is sealed off from the hollow arms and legs. Thus, liquid could not leak through the multiple vent holes pierced in the figure’s limbs.


The rough nature of the white lines in the ears, the mouth, and on the legs, back, and hips indicate that they were engraved after the vessel was fired. If the lines had been carved into the soft clay before it was fired, a cleaner line would have been produced—a process called incising.


Created using the smoke and resist technique, designs on the arms, chest, and face of the figure may have imparted magical protection or powers, or they may have signaled clan membership or some other affiliation.


Notice the holes on the inner arms and inner legs. These holes served as vents and helped air circulate more freely during the firing process. This prevented the vessel from exploding.

Curvilinear Patterns
Curvilinear Patterns

The resist painting was usually done in curvilinear patterns. Notice the spirals on the arms.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.