Learning Materials

Joe Orton Book Cover Collages


In 2016 artist Ella Phillips worked with teacher Helen Roberts and Year 4 at Vittoria Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington.

Joe Orton Book Cover Collages

Vittoria Primary chose to be inspired by our famous artworks by Joe Orton. Writer Joe Orton and his partner and mentor Kenneth Halliwell in the early 1960’s created ‘guerilla artwork’ using collage techniques. The pair ‘borrowed’ a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books they considered dull or middle-of-the-road from Islington Public Library Service. They then added images and extra text to the covers of these books, subtly changing their meaning as a form of social commentry. In 1962 they were each sentenced to six months in prison for causing ‘malicious damage’ to seventy two library books. Later, Orton became a famous playwright.

Joe Orton, playwright,(1933-1967)murdered by his lover Kenneth H

Activity 1: ‘hacking’

  • giant piece of paper for class rules
  • writing materials
  • smaller labels to write ‘hacked’ rules on
  • printed text from favourite books (blurbs or interior)
  1. Introduce the idea of ‘hacking’: to cut up OR to use something in a way you shouldn’t.
  2. Made a list of absurd library rules as a class, subverting people’s ideas about what a library is.
  3. In smaller groups, if your school library allows, write down all the different uses of the spaces on labels, mix them all up and mislabel the environment. If you can leave the labels out and see how people react to them!
  4. Hand out the printed texts. Encourage pupils to began cutting up the text from the books and placing them in a new order to create a ‘hacked’ text. Encourage them to hack the texts to create:
    1. drama
    2. comic effect
    3. visual interest (different sizes, colours and styles of text)


Activity 2: collaging book covers

  • per person:  pre-existing book cover/ photocopy of a book cover it’s okay to collage
  • colour photocopies, postcards, magazines
  • scissors
  • glue
  1. Introduce the idea of adding new text or images to an existing book cover to subtly change its meaning/ to add drama/ to make it more amusing
  2. Collage the book covers.
  3. Remember you can also hack the text on the spine and at the back if you are using a real book. You might even want to use a computer to create new text to add on to your cover.
  4. Extension: you could discuss what stories/ characters/ genres might be in the books.

Activity 3: collage techniques

  • per person:  pre-existing book cover/ photocopy of a book cover it’s okay to collage
  • colour photocopies, postcards, magazines
  • black and white paper
  • camera
  • scissors
  • glue
  1. Look at the work of John Stezaker, Richard Hamilton & Kara Walker. Discuss what different collage techniques they have used including the use of negative space, splicing and colour. What do you like/ dislike and why?
  2. Created a series of collages using different techniques: silhouettes, negative space, & splicing. These could be experimental or linked to the story you are developing for your book.
  3. Extension: a fun project to do is to take portraits of your class. Then splice them either on the computer or once they are printed out to combine two faces.





Activity 4: our ‘hacked’ library

  • per person:  their book cover and collage experiments
  • large card
  • any more collage materials needed
  • scissors
  • glue
  1. Each pupil can bring together their collage experiments connecting them together with their book cover to create a book. A good way to join these is through creating a concertina book fold.Each end of the fold can be connected to the covers, while the interior pages can display the collage experiments.
  2. Embellish pages with hacked text and pop-up components.
  3. Bring together the books to create your own library art installation.


Want to know more:

Click here to find out more about the artworks created by Vittoria Primary School and Ella Phillips as part of the Imagine Islington Project.

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