Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) and Tarasque Press (active since 1964)
The Pier Arts Centre
About this resource
How can we capture the poetry of words in art?
This resource offers lesson plan ideas for exploring the visual poetry of Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, who combined his passion for words and writing with his art-making.
Providing opportunities for interdisciplinary study across art and design and English, students will use simple poetry to respond to nature, investigate words and their structures and meanings and have a go at combining words and images.
The resource can be used to support students in:
exploring and experimenting with words, language and poetry
being inspired to use language creatively in response to nature
engaging with the writing and art of contemporary Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay
making artworks that combine image and text
This resource suggests a series of activities that can be used together as a lesson plan or as individual components to integrate into your own scheme of work. It is devised for Key Stage 2 / Level 2 but may also be adapted for Key Stage 3 / Level 3 students. It includes some differentiation suggestions.
Art and design - Improve mastery of art and design techniques - Learn about artists and designers
Spoken language - Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas - Participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates
Reading Pupils should be taught to: - Develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding by listening to and discussing a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that at which they can read independently - Maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by: . continuing to read and discuss an increasingly wide range of fiction, poetry, plays, non-fiction and reference books or textbooks . reading books that are structured in different ways and reading for a range of purposes . increasing their familiarity with a wide range of books, including myths, legends and traditional stories, modern fiction, fiction from our literary heritage, and books from other cultures and traditions
Writing Pupils should be taught to plan their writing by: - Identifying the audience for and purpose of the writing, selecting the appropriate form and using other similar writing as models for their own - Noting and developing initial ideas, drawing on reading and research where necessary
Art and design - Produce creative work, explore ideas - Become proficient in sculpture and design techniques - Evaluate and analyse creative works - Know about great artists and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms
Spoken English - Expressing their own ideas and keeping to the point - Participating in formal debates and structured discussions, summarising and/or building on what has been said
Reading - Understand increasingly challenging texts through knowing the purpose, audience for and context of the writing and drawing on this knowledge to support comprehension
Writing - Write accurately, fluently, effectively stories, scripts, poetry and other imaginative writing
Art and design - Visualise experiences of the real world - Talk about artists' work - Use a range of processes
Language and literacy
Talking and listening - Listen and respond to a range of fiction, poetry, drama and media texts through the use of traditional and digital resources, - Participate in group and class discussions for a variety of curricular purpose - Formulate, give and respond to guidance, directions and instructions;
Reading - Read, explore, understand and make use of a wide range of traditional and digital texts - Represent their understanding of texts in a range of ways, including visual, oral, dramatic and digital - Consider, interpret and discuss texts, exploring the ways in which language can be manipulated in order to affect the reader or engage attention
Writing - Discuss various features of layout in texts and apply these, as appropriate, within their own writing - Experiment with rhymes, rhythms, verse structure and all kinds of word play and dialect - Write for a variety of purposes and audiences, selecting, planning and using appropriate style and form - Create, organise, refine and present ideas using traditional and digital means, combining text, sound or graphics
Art and design - Researching, gathering and interpreting information from digital sources - Developing creative thinking skills and personal creative outcomes through investigating, realising, designing and making
Language and literacy Through engagement with a range of stimuli including peers, poetry, prose, drama, non-fiction, media and multimedia which enhance creativity and stimulate curiosity and imagination, pupils should have opportunities to become critical, creative and effective communicators by: - Expressing meaning, feelings and viewpoints - Talking to include debate and group discussions - Listening actively and reporting back - Reading and viewing for key ideas, enjoyment, engagement and empathy - Writing and presenting in different media and for different audiences and purposes
Expressive arts - I have the opportunity to choose and explore an extended range of media and technologies to create images and objects, comparing and combining them for specific tasks (EXA 2-02a) - I can create and present work that shows developing skill in using the visual elements and concepts (EXA 2-03a) - Inspired by a range of stimuli, I can express and communicate my ideas, thoughts and feelings through activities within art and design (EXA 2-05a) - I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. I can give and accept constructive comment on my own and others' work (EXA 2-07a)
English and literacy
Listening and talking - As I listen or watch, I can identify and discuss the purpose, main ideas and supporting detail contained within the text, and use this information for different purposes (LIT 2-04a)
Reading - I can: . discuss structure, characterisation and/or setting . recognise the relevance of the writer's theme and how this relates to my own and others' experiences . discuss the writer's style and other features appropriate to genre (ENG 2-19a)
Writing - I consider the impact that layout and presentation will have and can combine lettering, graphics and other features to engage my reader (LIT 2-24a) - As I write for different purposes and readers, I can describe and share my experiences, expressing what they made me think about and how they made me feel (ENG 2-30a) - Having explored the elements which writers use in different genres, I can use what I learn to create stories, poems and plays with an interesting and appropriate structure, interesting characters and/or settings that come to life (ENG 2-31a)
Expressive arts - I have experimented with a range of media and technologies to create images and objects, using my understanding of their properties (EXA 3-02a) - While working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative design solutions (EXA 3-06a) - I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. I can give and accept constructive comments on my own and others' work (EXA 3-07a) - By working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative and original design solutions (EXA 4-06a)
Literacy and English - When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can: communicate information, ideas or opinions; explain processes, concepts or ideas; identify issues raised, summarise findings or draw conclusions (LIT 3-09a) - I enjoy creating texts of my choice and I am developing my own style. I can regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to suit the needs of my audience (LIT 3-20a) - I can consider the impact that layout and presentation will have on my reader, selecting and using a variety of features appropriate to purpose and audience (LIT 3-24a) - I can engage and/or influence readers through my use of language, style and tone as appropriate to the genre (ENG 3-27a) - I can recreate a convincing impression of a personal experience for my reader, sharing my feelings and reactions to the changing circumstances with some attempt at reflection (ENG 3-30a)
Art and design - Be stimulated and inspired by other artists - Design and make three-dimensional objects for a variety of purposes - Apply the elements of the visual, tactile and sensory language of art
Oracy - Express opinions clearly about topics and written texts and include supporting reasons
Reading - Confidently recognise and understand the characteristics of a range of different texts (continuous and non-continuous) in terms of language, theme, structure and presentation
Writing - Use the characteristic features of a range of continuous and non-continuous texts creatively in their writing, adapting their style to engage the reader, using imagination where appropriate
Art and design - Students use their knowledge about the work of other artists to enrich and inform their work - Students explore, experiment with and apply the visual, tactile and sensory language of art
English Oracy - Respond orally to continuous and non-continuous texts - Respond orally to a variety of stimuli and ideas, including written and dynamic texts, e.g. paintings, music, film, still and moving image - Communicate for a range of purposes, e.g. recount and present information, instruct, argue and explain a point of view, discuss an issue, persuade, question and explore interpretations, convey feelings - Speak and listen individually, in pairs, in groups and as members of a class
Reading Learners should be given opportunities to read a wide range of continuous and non-continuous texts, in printed and dynamic format, as a basis for oral and written responses. These should include: - Traditional and contemporary poetry and prose–classic children’s fiction and poetry - Texts with a variety of structures, forms, purposes, intended audiences and presentational devices - Texts that present challenge - Develop appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, poets, peers, in written and dynamic texts
Writing - Produce poetic writing, using imagery and poetic devices, e.g. rhyme and form - Use a wide range of written and dynamic stimuli, e.g. stories, picture books, images, poems, experiences, film, paintings, music
Although he studied at Glasgow School of Art, he was always interested in writing and words and published his first book of short stories in 1958 (while working as a shepherd in Rousay in Orkney). He went on to write more poetry books, as well as starting his own publishing press.
His artworks, which often combine image and text, explore history and philosophy and also nature and our relationship with nature – especially the sea and fishing.
In 1966 Ian Hamilton Finlay began to create a garden, called Little Sparta, at his home in the Pentland Hills. The garden combined his love of nature and his interest in visual art, words and ideas.
Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) and Tarasque Press (active since 1964)
The Pier Arts Centre
Activity: explore and experiment with concrete poetry
Look at this print by Ian Hamilton Finlay with your students. Encourage them to discuss their responses to it.
Use these nudge questions, if helpful:
What can you see?
Do the letters make a word?
How has the artist arranged the letters to suggest the meaning of the word?
Does this make you see the word in a different way?
Do you think this artwork is about words or pictures?
The letters in this print spell the word 'acrobat'.
By dotting the letters around the page Ian Hamilton Finlay suggests the lively jumps and tumbles of acrobats.
This arrangement of the letters animates the word and adds a sense of fun and excitement to it.
(Imagine how different it would look if the word 'acrobat' was just written on the page in a straightforward way!)
Words and shapes
Here is another concrete poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay. Notice how some of the words are written smaller, adding visual interest to the image.
Discuss the artwork with your students.
What words can you see in this concrete poem?
What do you think this poem is about? What does it make you think of?
Does the shape of the poem suggest anything about the words and the poem's meaning?
How has the artist changed the letters from 'star' to make the word 'steer'?
The poem perhaps suggests a sailor, steering his boat by the stars at night.
The zigzag shape of the words suggest the points of a star. But the shape could also look like the path of a boat, zigzagging its way through the water.
Hamilton Finlay has changed the vowels to make the word 'star' into 'steer'. He has replaced the 'a' with two 'e's. The consonants have remained the same. The words sound similar, but they have a very different meaning.
Have a go!
Task your students with creating a concrete poem, by using words to form a picture.
Use nature as inspiration for this task.
Step 1. Starting points: nature and words
Go outside (or look out of the window). Choose something from nature. (For example a tree, the sky, or even the weather.)
Write down some words or short sentences about your chosen subject. These could be about:
what it looks like
how it makes you feel
what it makes you think of
The words don't have to be a poem in the traditional sense but could be a series of observations, thoughts and ideas.
It might be easiest to write five short sentences about your chosen subject. For example:
The tree has no leaves. Its branches are wavy. It moves in the wind. Its bark is rough. It looks like a skinny person with their arms in the air. It stands by itself with nothing around it.
The rain pours down. It soaks me! Its been raining all day. The pavements are wet. I hate it!
If your students are struggling to get going, you could use these questions as prompts:
What are you going to write about? What does it look like? What colour is it? Is it rough or smooth? Is it moving? Where is it? What is around it? Does it remind you of anything else? What does it make you feel? Do you like it?
Step 2. Arrange your words
Use the words you have written to make your concrete poem.
Arrange the words on the paper to suggest your subject – as Ian Hamilton Finlay did with Acrobats and Star/Steer.
For example, if your poem is about a tree, write the words so that they look like a tree's branches. If it's about rain, you could write the words so that they tumble down the page like raindrops.
Tip: Change the order of the words, make the words BIGGER and smaller, split the sentences up and repeat words to make them fit the shapes that you want.
Younger or less able students may find it easier to draw the outline shape of their subject and fill it in with their words.
If you are teaching older students, you could task them with exploring the interaction between words and images by juxtaposing unlikely words and images as Ian Hamilton Finlay often did.
In Sea Poppy I, letters and numbers have been arranged to suggest the shape of a flower's head. The letters and numbers may look random but they are in fact, the registration numbers of boats. Sea poppies are a type of flower only found near the sea, so the boat numbers make sense – but the connection is not immediately obvious. By organising the business-like letters into the shape of a flower, Hamilton Finlay gives them a kind of poetry.
Encourage your students to think outside the box.
As well as forming images from words, Ian Hamilton Finlay often juxtaposed unlikely images and words to make us question the meaning of what we are looking at. He also playfully experimented with words and what they sound like or suggest.
Look at this print with your students.
Ask your students:
what does the shape in this picture look like?
what do you think a 'catameringue' is?
The print shows a simplified outline of a meringue with cream spilling out at either side. Underneath is the word 'Catameringue'. This is a nonsense word made up by the artist and combines two words – catamaran and meringue.
A catamaran is a type of boat that has two hulls – so it might look a little like the two halves of a meringue. By combining the words, Hamilton makes us think about the sound and meaning of both words.
The simplified outline could cleverly be a drawing of a meringue or a catamaran. Or it could be a combination of both objects – the hulls of the catamaran with added cream in between!
Activity: playing with words
This activity encourages students to think about the meaning and structure of words.
Ask your students if they can think of:
words that sound a bit like another word (these could be words that rhyme such as 'people' and 'steeple' or words that have similar letters and syllables such as 'chicken' and 'checking')
words that mean something completely different by changing one letter (such as 'house' and 'mouse')
words that sound the same but have very different meanings – such as 'plain' and 'plane'
words that include parts or syllables within the word that sound like other words – such as 'garden' ('guard' and 'den').
Task your students with drawing a picture inspired by their wordplay ideas.
For example, it could be a drawing that combines a house with a mouse... Or it could be a chicken checking something, or a drawing of a 'guarden' (what would that look like?!).
Write the word or words that inspired the drawing alongside it. Think about how you can arrange the letters on the paper to reflect your wordplay.
Make a print!
Ian Hamilton Finlay often presented his visual poetry in the form of prints. Students could develop their drawings into relief prints or monoprints.
Use these activity links for simple printmaking ideas: