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Family how-to: shadow puppets

Published 28 July 2020

Follow these instructions to design your own puppets and put on a play in a cardboard theatre.

  • Family how-to: shadow puppets

    Tell a story with shadows

    We’ve taken inspiration from a Robert Austin RA illustration called The World’s Justice that shows a forest full of all kinds of animals. What do you think is happening in this scene? Could you tell a story about the lion, the mouse and the jackal?

    Why not have a go at designing some of your own puppets - you could animate Austin’s characters like us, or explore our Collection for more ideas. Try typing in the word ‘animal’ to discover a whole host of animal related artworks and illustrations.

    • Shadow puppet materials

      What you need

      • Cardboard box

      • Masking tape

      • Black card & white paper

      • White pencil

      • BBQ skewers

      • Scissors

      • Stanley knife

      • Torch

      • Glue

    • Step 2

      Step 1

      Sketch out your background features such as the trees and plants, as well as any animals and other aspects of the scene that you would like to animate.

    • Step 3

      Step 2

      Cut all of your pieces out and experiment with the composition of your background features.

    • Step 4

      Step 3

      To make your puppets - tape the skewers onto the back of any elements you would like to animate - like the animals, wind or waves for example. Be careful not to hurt yourself on the skewers’ sharp ends.

    • Step 5

      Step 4

      The cardboard box will become your theatre. Measure out how large you would like your theatre window, or stage, to be. It might be useful to use the piece of white paper as a template. Later this will become a screen.

    • Step 6

      Step 5

      Cut out the window using a Stanley knife. Make sure an adult is there to help with this!

    • Step 7

      Step 6

      Now cut another window in the base of the cardboard box for the puppets to enter through.

    • Step 9

      Step 7

      Turn your box over and tape the white paper screen onto the inside of the box.

    • Step 9

      Step 8

      Arrange your background features in a composition that you are happy with. Remember this will appear in reverse when you put on your play.

    • Step 8

      Step 9

      Turn your box over, lay the lit torch inside and get ready to turn the lights off!

  • Put on a play!

  • Shadow puppets
    • Families working on an art project in the Clore Learning Centre

      Whether it’s a free drop-in workshop or one of our fun and engaging Art Detective trails, the RA is brimming with colourful paintings and sculptures that are waiting to be explored. Everyone is welcome at the RA – and kids under 16 go free to all our exhibitions.

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