An introduction to the murals of artist Diego Rivera
Meets the learning standards for grades 4-5 (can be adapted)  
Media Type:  Plaster Fresco
Subject Integration: Fine Arts, English Language Arts, Social Studies

Materials: writing materials, watercolor paint or food coloring, paint tray (optional), styrofoam plates, paint brushes, Plaster of Paris, water

Special Equipment: measuring tools, containers for mixing, tools for stirring, tarps/dropcloths


This lesson provides 10 new vocabulary words: 

  • Mural
  • Fresco
  • Plaster
  • Buon
  • Secco
  • Mezzo
  • Classical Art
  • Modern Art
  • Cubism
  • Shading


Have you ever seen a Mural in real life? What was the subject matter? What kind of paint/materials do you think were used? How old do you think it was? What condition was it in?

Activity 1: 

Check out this video about the famous painter, Diego Rivera.

Look at these examples of some of Diego Rivera’s frescoes:

The festival of the distribution of the land, Diego Rivera,1924
Conquest and revolution, Diego Rivera, 1931
The making of a fresco showing the building of a city, Diego Rivera, 1931

What do you notice about the relationship between the murals and the architecture?

Observe the murals: what are examples of classical art techniques/principles, modern art influences, cubism, and incorporation of the simple and elegant forms of ancient Aztec and Mexican art?

Activity 2: 

Read this article from MyModernMet: What is Fresco Painting? Exploring the Ancient Art of Painting on Plaster ( (You can read independently or as a group.) Make a list of artistic concepts, terms, and definitions (fresco, plaster, buon, secco, mezzo)

Are you surprised by the age of some Frescoes? What do you notice about the style and subject matter?

Activity 3:

For this activity, We will attempt to make our own mini frescoes! This activity focuses on technique rather than subject matter. This activity is MESSY so tarps and surface coverings are highly recommended. We must work quickly and carefully once the plaster has been mixed.  Also, plaster should NEVER be washed down the drain… wait for it to dry and then scrape the dry plaster into the trash.

watercolor paint or food coloring

paint tray (optional)

styrofoam plates

paint brushes

Plaster of Paris


Special Equipment: measuring tools, containers for mixing, tools for stirring, tarps/dropcloths

Preparing your plaster according to the manufacturer instructions (our mixture was 2 parts Plaster-of-Paris to 1 part warm water.)

Once Plaster has been mixed to a smooth, pancake batter consistency, pour the plaster onto Styrofoam plates.

Gently shake the plate to remove bubbles and evenly spread the wet plaster.  Put aside to “set.”

Use a paint tray to prepare their water color paints. Create a watery, “stain” with 4 different colors and the color black .

Gently touch the plaster on your plates and notice that it is getting firmer. You will be painting “mezzo frescos” on partially set plaster. The plaster will get warmer as it is setting. It should still feel damp, but should be firm enough to touch without leaving a deep mark. This is the time to remove it from the plate!

Turn over the plate while supporting the plaster with your fingers or another hand. Once the plate and plaster are upside-down, lift off the plate.

Time to paint! You must work very quickly. Paint 3 simple shapes on your plaster in 3 different colors. Depict the shapes overlapping each other. What are some observations about how the paint is reacting with the wet plaster? Is it easy to get an even distribution of color? Is it easy to get a bold, clean edge?

Once all three shapes have an even coat of color, use the black watercolor to create the illusion of volume by darkening the edge of each shape and then blending toward the center of the shapes. What are some of your challenges and successes with shading?

The texture of the plaster has probably changed considerably by now. The final step in the process is to completely paint the background of your fresco. How is the paint is reacting differently now?

Share… Reflect! Consider the large murals of Diego Rivera in relation to your experience making mini-frescoes. What are the advantages of this technique? What are disadvantages?

Review of Vocabulary for this Lesson:  

  • Mural – A mural is any piece of graphic artwork that is painted or applied directly to a wall, ceiling or other permanent substrate.
  • Fresco – a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.
  • Plaster – a soft mixture of lime with sand or cement and water for spreading on walls, ceilings, or other structures to form a smooth hard surface when dried:
  • Buon (“true”) fresco – artist paints directly onto freshly mixed plaster. Due to the natural tack of the wet intonaco, the pigment used to paint a buon fresco does not need to contain a binding medium; instead, it can simply be mixed with water.
  • Secco (“dry”) fresco –  employs dry plaster as its canvas. To make the paint stick to the plaster, the pigments must be mixed with a binding medium, such as a glue adhesive or egg yolk.
  • Mezzo (“medium”) fresco – is painted onto nearly dry plaster. During the Renaissance, this type of fresco became widely used, eventually surpassing buon fresco in popularity.
  • Classical Art – Classical is the term generally used to refer to the style of the ancient Greek and Roman periods, focusing on the principles of elegance, harmony and proportion.
  • Modern Art – Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.
  • Cubism – an early 20th-century style and movement in art, especially painting, in which perspective with a single viewpoint was abandoned and use was made of simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes, and, later, collage.
  • Shading – a process of adding value to create the illusion of realistic subjects, three-dimensionality, shadow, and most importantly the degrees of lightness and darkness in your drawings. 

Extending the Lesson:

Many communities have public Art. The Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture continues to update its list of public art in our region. View the list here (Art in Public Places – Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture (

Have you seen any of this art in person? How did it make you feel?