Design and make a surreal critter

Play with objects, artworks and your favourite animals in these creative drawing challenges designed for ages 7 and up. Start off by sketching a creature in clothes, and then create your own funky critter.

Illustrators create drawings, paintings, prints, collages, diagrams, digital art and much more to help create a story or make sense of an idea. Have a go at these activities to test your illustration skills!

Draw a dressed-up animal

Did you know that the world-famous children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter visited the V&A over 100 years ago to find inspiration for her books? When she was illustrating her book The Tailor of Gloucester, she came to the V&A to look at and draw different clothes. The clothes she saw at the museum inspired her to turn them into tiny outfits for the characters (mainly mice) in her book.

Left to right: A long tailed dark blue jacket with gold floral embroidery. A Beatrix Potter drawing of a brown mouse wearing a similar blue jacket. It is standing in front of a white and orange teacup.
Left to right: Men’s embroidered dress coat, about 1790 – 1900, England. Museum no. 295-1898. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Gentleman mouse watercolour, Beatrix Potter, 1903, England. Museum no. BP.473B. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Get inspired

Take a look at some of our clothes in the V&A Fashion collections. Select a piece of clothing (maybe a dress, some shoes and a hat) that you like. Have you decided to choose clothes that are quite old or more modern? Would you wear them yourself?

Now draw your favourite animal wearing those clothes. Do you need to adapt the clothes to make them fit the animal better – perhaps they need space for tails, ears or legs?

By drawing the animal in human clothes, you are making it anthropomorphic – which means 'to make something human-like'. Can you think of any more modern examples of anthropomorphic animal illustration?

Watercolour of an elephant wearing a white shirt and bue trousers, paddling a raft. Watercolour of a mouse wearing a bonnet and a yellow dress, holding a clothed baby mouse in one hand, and pulling another clothed child mouse by its tail so it doesn't go into a mousetrap. Printed Mickey mouse handkerchief with characters wearing green dungarees and trousers, blue tops, and hats.
Left to right: Elephant on a raft, G. H. Thompson, about 1900, England. Museum no. RENIER.368. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Mother mouse saving her children from a mouse-trap, about 1890, England. Museum no. RENIER.237. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Mickey Mouse handkerchief, 1965, England. Museum no. B.291-2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design a surreal critter

Now we are going to mix things up a bit. Look at this etching (which is a type of printed image) by the artist Molly Smith. What do you see?

A black and white drawing of a rabbit's head, with a budgie's body. Sitting on a tree branch.
'The Budgbit' print, Molly Smith, 2015. Museum no. E.2808:25-2016. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This image is a form of Surrealism. Surrealist artists often bring together unexpected things. In this image Molly Smith has combined a budgerigar and a rabbit, which she has called 'The Budgebit'.

Think again about your favourite animals. What are your favourite parts of these animals – an elephant's long trunk, a pig's curly tail or a dog's floppy ears?

1) To start, create several separate animal parts to use in a collage. You can draw them or cut them out of different papers, packaging or magazines. Combine two or more body parts that don't normally go together to create lots of strange new creatures. Try finding some objects (leaves, feathers, buttons – whatever you like) to add texture. How many new creatures can you make and what are they called?

Top tip – Don't stick any of your animal body parts down, so you can mix and match them. Instead take pictures of your different creature combinations along the way.

Illustrated giraffe head with its tongue out, with a blue and white tortoise shell body, an orange tiger's tail, and leaves and feathers for legs
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This is what it might look like if you mixed the head and neck of a giraffe, a tortoise shell, a tail of a tiger and some feathers and leaves to make funny legs. What would you call it? How about 'a long-tailed Giraf-Ortise'?

2) Now let's try playing with scale! Scale is the size of one object in relation to other parts of a design or artwork. Playing with the scale of different parts of an object is a popular Surrealist technique. Take a creature that is usually very large and combine it with one which is very small – or the other way around! Add different drawn or collaged elements around your creature to give an idea of the scale. Maybe put a plant or a coin for small scale, or a building or a mountain for a large scale.

An illustrated giraffe head with its tongue out, a yellow and black fuzzy bumble bee's body, eating a plant made out of leaves and pencil sharpenings
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What would you call this animal? Maybe a 'bee-raffe'?

3) Now let's get imaginative. You know how they say pigs can't fly? Well, in illustration anything is possible! Make your creatures do things that you would never imagine them doing in real life. This is a flying octo-raffe.

An illustrated giraffe's head with its tongue out, with a blue octopus body , yellow spots, and pink, red, and yellow feather wings.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

4) Now, give your creatures a new home. You can make and imagine weird and wonderful lives and hobbies for your creatures by drawing or collaging them an environment you wouldn't usually find them in – an elephant driving a car, a cat playing piano, a giraffe combined with a seahorse snorkelling!

An illustrated giraffe with a yellow seahorse body, green snorkel, under a blue paper sea
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Visit the V&A and follow our 'Explore as a family' trail to find more inspiration for your creations.

Share your stories with us using #VAMFamilies.

Background image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London