Artistic inspiration

Art is a great source of inspiration and no doubt has been used by many a teacher as a springboard for a class. Obviously you can take recourse to famous artists. One of my personal favourites is Chagall and I’ve successfully used his work in classes in a similar way to my outline below. But I’d like to promote the beautiful, inspiring work of a less well known artist, Julie Kuyath, who is now resident in Brighton. You can check out her stunning website here.

Her work is based on collage. She builds incredibly beautiful images on her canvasses inspired by literature. As you’ll see from the website, many of her works are accompanied by quotes from the works which inspired them: Angela Carter’s beautiful short stories, and Hans Cristian Anderson’s fairytales.

I’m sure you will have your own ideas on how to use these wonderful images in the classroom, but here’s a lesson plan I have used to brighten up my classroom

If you don’t have access to internet in the classroom, simply print off a few of her works. I actually find this works best, as the screen can get in the way.

colourful social network


  • Who is your favourite artist? Why?
  • Who am I?

Students pair off. One thinks of an artist. The other has to guess the name by asking yes/no questions:

  • Are you alive? Are you French? Did you paint portraits? Etc.

Activity 1

Divide the class in small groups or pairs. Hand out copies of a selection of Julie’s work. Ask students to compare their ideas:

  • What can you see in the picture?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Think of 3 adjectives to describe the picture

You may wish to pre-teach or elicit appropriate vocabulary prior to this activity – for example:

Dreamy               ethereal              inspiring              stunning              dreary                  colourful             magical                thoughtful                depressing         calming                disturbing

Ask students to prepare a short description of the picture and to say whether or not they like it and why. Feedback

Activity 2: compare experiences

Have you ever?

Students work in pairs and compare experiences. For example:

  • Have you ever painted a picture?
  • What did you paint? Why? Etc.
  • Have you ever commissioned a picture?
  • What did you commission. Why?

Print a few of Julie’s portraits and distribute around the class. Students work in pairs or small groups. And take it in turns to consider questions like:

  • What does the person/people look like?
  • How old do they look?
  • How do you think the person is feeling?

Quick feedback

  • Next, consider the following questions (this could be done as a group or in pairs, it matters little)
  • Why do people commission portraits?
  • Has anyone in your family ever commissioned a portrait?
  • If you could commission a portrait from Julie, what would you commission and why?


Most students will have some photos on their smartphones. Ask them to chose one which they might send to Julie as a portrait commission and to explain to their partner why they chose that photo.

Follow up writing activity

Students imagine they are commissioning a portrait from Julie. They write an email explaining what they want, and perhaps asking for further information regarding things like: the price, how long it will take, what the artist might need (a photo, perhaps) etc.

Please note, that if any of your students are truly inspired, they can actually send their messages to Julie and she will reply. Her portraits make excellent gifts to commemorate special family events, anniversaries, weddings or just to remember somebody special in your life.

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