Lesson 7: Edward Gorey
Students will discover the macabre and humorous illustrations of this experimental cartoonist.
To have students understand the use of texture and value to create mood and setting for a sinister/scary story with a touch of satire.
Opening sequence from Mystery! PBS series, sketchbooks, black pen.
Helpful resources include:
www.fuddytv.com/blog/books/edward-gorey-and-his-alphabet (Edward Gorey and his alphabet from The Gashlycrumb Tinies)
Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey
Brer Rabbit and His Tricks by Ennis Rees, illustrations by Edward Gorey
SET UP AND PREPARE
1. Play the opening sequence from Mystery! PBS series, with illustrations by Gorey, animated by Derek Lamb. Ask students what they see. Black-and-white drawings, animated in what appears to be a variety of settings where foul play is about to happen, or has just been committed. Weather is usually depicted as a dark and stormy night, and well-dressed people are involved in a variety of social scenes. The camera introduces the series and takes you through the image of a skull to a room inside a house where someone is apparently dead on the floor. Then the series logo appears with a distinctive voiceover announcing that Mystery! is provided by viewers like you. Music and the sounds of a woman moaning are part of the experience.
2. Discuss with students how distinctive the bizarre world of Edward Gorey is. Have students describe how his signature style is created: Texture techniques of hatching and cross-hatching in ink with accents of white move over a background that is richly patterned or inked in.
3. Ask students to identify the style of human figures presented. They might say they are well dressed, with accessories (top hats, gloves, scarves) as if attending the theater somewhere between the Edwardian era and the 1920s.
4. Provide students with background information about Gorey. Edward Gorey was born in Chicago in 1925. An author and illustrator, his work was not always well received or understood. Often considered eerie and morbid, with a twist of maniacal tossed in, his writing and illustrations are hard to concretely label in one category. Vanity Fair stated Gorey's work could be summed up as "dark masterpieces of surreal morality...beautifully depicted."
Gorey briefly studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was practicing his art in New York, when his style of illustration was still considered to be suitable only for magazines, children's art, and book jackets—areas that Gorey did work in. A bit of an eccentric, he loved fur coats and cats. Eventually, he shed his fur coats and contributed to animal-welfare organizations, which continue to be supported by his estate and Edward Gorey House.
5. View various examples of Gorey's works. Ask students to discuss the continuity of texture in all of Gorey's illustrations. Note his use of value and his composition layouts. Draw attention to his wry humor in written description and imagery. His tongue-in-cheek comments often make us unsure if he is laughing at us, or asking us to laugh at the presented situation.
6. Have students discuss his background and use of significant tiny details.
7. Ask students to practice hatching and cross-hatching in black pen in their sketchbooks. Give them enough time to create gray tones and shading as seen in Gorey's work.
1. Explain that students will be creating a work in the style of Edward Gorey and his Mystery! introduction.
2. Ask students to think of a current or past television series that has a drama/crime focus. They should be familiar with the series. Explain that they will create the opening credits for the show in three panels using people drawn in Gorey's style and include his deep use of texture and backgrounds to support their opening credit events.
3. Students should use Gorey's storyboard approach as if for a silent film. Amy Benfer of Salon.com describes his work: "Each vignette alternates between panels of painstakingly ornate hand-lettered text and black-and-white illustrations."
Students may want to think of music that represents their illustrations and the show they are introducing, using the Mystery! theme as an example of how music supports the image. Remind students to keep examples of Gorey's work nearby for reference.
4. Using only paper and black pen (card stock works well for heavy textures) students should frame in three panels and depict a progression of images that give the basis of the drama/crime series they have chosen.
5. Display finished work and have students discuss positively what they see in each work. Have each artist present their introduction. Afterward, have them write an essay on how their work demonstrates Gorey's style of illustration.
Extension or Alternate Lessons
Note that Gorey illustrated Ennis Rees's version of Brer Rabbit and His Tricks, based on African folktales often retold in the American South.
Have students illustrate one of Brer Rabbit's stories or another folktale in the style of Edward Gorey.
For an integrated unit with language arts: Collaborate with language arts teachers to have students read Edgar Allen Poe's works. Have students select their favorite short story or poem to illustrate in the style of Gorey. Have them choose the most descriptive scene to illustrate, letting Poe's words guide them in their depiction and details. Using black ink and perhaps one color (like red for "The Masque of the Red Death," or other details as needed) have students use hatching and cross-hatching in their illustrations. Encourage them to use unusual angles for their compositions.