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Creating a buzzzzzzz

A project making insects redeemed Lizzie Allen in the eyes of a group of disaffected teenage boys.

Art We all have that one class we remember for being truly horrific. For me, it was a Year 9 class during my NQT year. Except, it wasn't so much the whole class, more a cluster of disaffected teenage boys. It was a well fought battle and it wasn't until I realised that a major part of the problem was the theme I was teaching that a truce was called.

When I started a head of art position, I was determined to plan schemes of work that were designed to challenge the pupils, with particular focus on key stage 3 boys. Step in, the Insect Project - creepy, crawly and dangerous beetles to enthuse the Year 9 boys, and the patterns and textures of the butterflies and dragonflies to draw in the girls.

Trying to bridge the gap between key stage 3 and GCSE, I challenged pupils to work in A3 sketchbooks and the project spanned a term and a half. In preparation for making large papier-mache sculptures, pupils produced a range of preparatory work including moodboards, pencil drawings, oil pastel studies and watercolour paintings.

We linked our work to that of Michael Turner, a contemporary British artist who creates large metal sculptures of insects; the pupils adore his work.

Getting the final designs right is paramount and I start with "visual consequences" and ask pupils to fold a piece of paper into thirds. In a timed exercise, one pupil draws the head of an insect and secretly passes it on to the next person who draws the body, the next draws the legs.

Much hilarity ensued, but it was a good way to get ideas flowing. Pupils discussed the positives, negatives and practicalities of their quick sketches before working on more sustained designs.

In terms of making the final piece, pupils cut a card base (creating a template to ensure accuracy). Then they built up the shape of the insect with balloons, cups, squashed balls of newspaper (secured with tape) before adding at least three layers of papier-mache (I use newspaper and wallpaper paste).

Texture can be added after the papier-mache has dried; extra pieces of card to form the endoskeleton, for example. The pupils painted their insect, linking their decoration to sketchbook work. If you have it, gold paint, mixed with any other colour, gives a fabulous luminescent feel to the sculpture. Pupils also varnish their work to protect it.

At the beginning of term, one of the first questions I get enthusiastically asked by all of my KS3 pupils is: "when are we making those bugs, Miss?" Success.

Lizzie Allen is subject leader in art amp; design at the British School of Houston, Texas

Suggested Resources

Living Jewels vols. 1 and 2 by Poul Beckmann and Ruth Kaspin (Hardcover). Good illustrated book on the natural design of beetles.

See the sculptures of Michael Turner at

Get inspiration from Ellen Carlier, Belgian papier-mache artist, at

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