Student with her ant eater sculpture inspired by the Roald Dahl poem The Ant Eater
September 13th 2016 saw the celebration of 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl, so I thought it would be a nice idea to create a project based around his poetry book ‘Dirty Beasts’ and a great opportunity to look at the illustrations by Quentin Blake.
Sharon Gale reading Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl to her art club students
The finished artwork would be a sculpture inspired by the ghastly beasts mentioned in the poems, positioned on a plinth decorated with marbled paper and mixed media.
This particular project incorporates observational drawing, illustration, modelling with Newplast, marbling inks and mixed media. It was carried out over seven, one hour sessions.
Accessart have a wonderful resource titled ‘Quentin Blake’s Drawing as Inspiration!’. I began my first session with this resource introducing my students to the work of Quentin Blake and how he captures the quirkiness of so many of Roald’s characters. I acted as the model whilst the children had to draw me first as a continuous line drawing, and secondly as a series of straight lines (drawn in time to me slapping the floor).
Illustration of Sharon Gale by a student, using lines drawn in time to a beat
This exercise was quite tough for some children, who found it difficult to draw using a technique that was taking them out of their comfort zone. Even so, the children enjoyed the experience of being in the school hall, choosing where would be a good angle to draw the me (the model) from.
Over the next couple of sessions the students studied Quentin Blake illustrations from books and created their own characters which they were able to paint.
Next we had a session using marbling inks. These decorated papers were to be used to part decorate the cardboard plinths. Using shallow trays filled with water, small amounts of marbling ink was dropped on the water; a toothpick dragged through the water allows the ink to separate and form pretty patterns. Too much ink made for a muddy messy saturated print, so less is more with marbling inks! Paper (pre-cut to fit inside the tray) was placed on the floating inks, you can see the ink soak into the paper, so, after a few seconds it was lifted to reveal the marbling effect. The prints were left to one side to dry. This activity can be messy, so it’s worth covering the work area with newspaper and make sure you have a separate area for drying prints.
Marbling ink patterns being made by dragging a toothpick through the oily ink
Marbling ink papers for use with decorating the plinths
In the following lesson the children modelled their illustrated characters with Newplast, this is the superb modelling plasticine used by Aardman Animations. Once the students had chosen their colours, I handed out a palm sized amount for them to soften. It’s important to warm up the plasticine in your hands first before trying to sculpt from it.
Another tip is to make sure you have plenty of wet wipes to hand. Whenever you handle a different colour, it’s important to have clean hands as the strong colours can transfer onto each other. For example, if you modelled black plasticine then modelled yellow without clean hands, the black would make the yellow go a dirty yellow colour.
Student adding texture to his model
At this point I tried to remind the children about exploring the character of their model, remembering how Quentin Blake exaggerated the features of his characters in his illustrations.
Sharon Gale advising a young art club student
For the final part of the project, the children had to decorate a plinth/base suitable for their character to be displayed on. I had pre-cut thick corrugated card into circles approximately 15cms diameter. Using their marbling paper, construction materials (such as wooden sticks, pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes etc) and their imaginations the students could create an environment fit for their plasticine models. The children really enjoyed this activity of creating little habitats. Some students engaged problem solving skills when their ideas were too complicated or big and need to be simplified.
Students using different materials to decorate their plinths
This was an interesting project incorporating lots of different techniques and materials, the variety made it exciting but also challenging. The age range in my group is 5-11 years, it is evident that the older children were aware of the Quentin Blake link to their sculptures whereas this was soon forgotten with the younger ones. Most importantly, fun was had by all!
Many thanks to Nux Photography who visited the Art Cabin and took a few snaps for me.
Completed model on its decorated plinth