Automata, puppets and clocks

The art of play – making automata and narrative sculpture with Rachel Larkins

Ref: SSS08945


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About this course

Consider the potential of automata to tell a story through drawing and making inspired by antique and contemporary moving toys. By reflecting on the use of materials, construction and experiments with simple moving mechanisms, you will develop an idea for a moving sculpture from two-dimensional sketch to three-dimensional realisation.

Course Description

You will be introduced to mixed media narrative sculpture using processes associated with collectors' toys and automata. Historical and contemporary examples of toy making, folk art and automata will be explored using slides and the tutor's personal collection. Drawing will be used as part of the character design process, with the end goal being to create a 'plaything' which may exploit the illusion of movement or use simple mechanisms.

The emphasis is on an illustrative approach where drawing skills are beneficial but not essential as an experimental approach can be employed when communicating ideas two dimensionally. You will make a series of simple toys as prototypes using drawing as a starting point. Characters, housings and mechanisms will be created using materials such as wood, card and wire although you are welcome to bring found objects if you wish to remodel or adapt. The decoration and refinement of pieces will also be guided as individual projects progress.

By the end of the course, you will be able to create a playful, narrative sculpture which may reflect an element of storytelling. There will be introduction and discussion to the term 'the art of play' and it's use in contemporary craft. An understanding of the ways in which individual pieces could be developed further independently will also be increased through peer feedback and tutor support.

An introductory talk will explore the art of play; its links with toy making, folk art and the appropriation of toy making themes within contemporary craft and animation. We will look at examples of character design and consider how found objects can be used to inspire interactive toys such as automata to communicate atmosphere or story. We will also draw from a collection of antique and contemporary toys, including dolls, puppets and automata.

You are invited to bring your own stories, found objects and unfinished projects to develop or use as starting points but this is not essential as we will explore a variety of playful ways to gain inspiration.

Several evening events are planned throughout the week, a detailed timetable for your summer school week will be given to you on arrival. This will include:

Special Summer School features:

• Short inspirational talks by tutors and displays of their work

• A swap-over session to another course of your choice

• An optional evening at the Chichester Festival Theatre (pre-booked)

• A celebration with dinner, entertainment and music

• Workshop displays of students' work and informal end-of-course group reviews


Timetable for Summer Schools

Several evening events are planned throughout the week, a detailed timetable for the summer schools will be given to you on arrival.

Arrival Day

Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students should vacate their rooms by 10am please.

Course Materials


  • A supply of useful materials to make your piece are included, including some plywood, wire, greyboard, paper (including tissue), dowel, nails, paper, glue, string, limited collage materials, paint, some drawing materials

What students need to bring

  • Useful hand tools such as scalpels, scissors, pliers, paintbrushes, rulers, which you have
  • Any favoured drawing materials, sketchbooks, if you have them
  • Bring ideas for your own stories, found objects and unfinished projects to develop or use as starting points if you wish. These can include:
  • Any objects you would like to draw or use for inspiration
  • Collage material/ printed ephemera for your automata
  • An idea of a narrative (this could be based on the object you bring or a favourite story)

Available to buy

  • Drawing materials, including pens, pencils, charcoal, oil pastels, sketchbooks and cartridge paper
  • Paints and paintbrushes
  • Scalpels and craft knives


Rachel Larkins

Rachel holds a Masters in Sequential Design/ Illustration from Brighton University and regularly teaches at leading Arts universities alongside her freelance practice. As well as being held in numerous private collections, Rachel's work has featured at The Design Museum and Automates Galeries, Brussels. Media coverage includes Crafts, Elle and Weekend Telegraph.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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