Art lesson resource: Alice illustrated

Here is a popular project we do with Year 8 toward the end of our key stage 3 as they opt for GCSE choices (we do GCSE in y9 and 10). It has developed from a drawing and painting project into a mixed-media compositional approach as we felt it best readied students going on to GCSE or brought up motivation and skills for whom it was the end of their art studies. Although we have chosen Alice in Wonderland as the inspiration, it could actually be anything that students are aware of from literature, movies or other popular culture. The examples used here are either current or go back over the last 3 years.

What you will need

  • Card; we save cereal boxes for months prior to recycle but you will also need some more robust cardboard too
  • Scissors or x-acto knives for the brave
  • Newspapers or old books
  • PVA glue and yoghurt pots
  • Black Berol fine-liners/sharpies or similar
  • Either cheap acrylic paint or watercolour sets and ready mix white. If you can afford gouache for ks3 then this would be better.

Inspiration

Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland is as relevant a story today as 1865 due to the wonderful interpretations by artists and film makers based on Caroll’s imaginative prose. Many students have seen the Disney animation or more recent Tim Burton movie (2010). They are less aware of the Jan Švankmajer movie (1988), the Sony PS3 game or too numerous to mention book illustrations. Those ‘class experts’ can still be amazed by at least 10 things they didn’t know about Alice in Wonderland! The point is to look beyond Disney’s characters and even the original Tenniel illustrations.

Alice book illustration by Kay
Gertrude Kay
Alice book illustration by Steadman
Ralph Steadman

Method

We like to start with drawing and water colour studies; focus on symmetry based on secondary source images. Initially, we use bugs, butterflies and creatures then move on to fungi and flowers. Using Austin’s Butterfly as a reminder of critique and resilience, we try to create a tessellation of studies across a double-page spread in the students’ sketchbook.

sketchbook page
Student’s studies

This is a great opportunity to introduce other media; in the above example there is a study using black felt tip and a watercolour/wax resist attempt. Notice how newspapers/old books are used to ‘patch in’ around studies to become aware of negative space?

Next, we begin to plan how the elements of the illustration begin to place together as a scene in Wonderland. We use thin card and a base card of around 20cm x 20cm to try out different compositions. This is done as collaborative tasks and a trial and error approach – nothing is stuck down until the next stage.

We introduce four main Alice characters:

resource sheets
Resource sheets

These are copied back to back on A3 in colour. Some will try directly copying, others will be inspired to create their own version s based on common character motifs and some will use carbon paper or even cut out characters from the sheet depending on motor skills.

We use cardboard platforms to bring some elements forward in 3D (working on many levels so that the illustration has depth), papier-mâché to create 3D relief bugs, cups and top hats prior to painting.

White ready mix paint is relatively cheap and when mixed with watercolours a serviceable gouache effect is created. Students are encouraged to select their own materials including wax and ink. Despite the restricted base, students can cut into the profile edge or expand beyond it, breaking square format dimensions (difficult to show in the photos).

Students are encouraged to explain the part of the story they are illustrating or create their own descriptive writing.

This example shows work in progress, before Alice characters have been made.

Kids’ Feedback

“The best piece of art work I’ve done”

“This project allows me to use art materials in a different way; I can use stuff that I know I’m good at or try new stuff”

“I can compose an idea now”

“I’m rubbish at painting; I didn’t have to paint my Alice picture”.