Adventures in Toyland

Lesson Plan


Students will watch a short clip from the Disney-Pixar movie Toy Story and compare it to the toy in Richard Patterson’s painting If. Inspired by adventures in the movie, they will brainstorm a list of ideas that describe how Patterson’s toy might have ended up under layers of paint. They will then write a creative short story documenting the adventures.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 55 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • make connections about what they see in film and visual art;
  • brainstorm scenarios that explain how Patterson’s original toy ended up under layers of paint; and
  • write a creative short story based on their brainstorm list.


  1. Warm-up: Ask the students to imagine they could spend a day with their favorite cartoon character or TV star. What would they want to do with this character? What adventures would they want to go on? Have them share their ideas with a partner.
  2. Watch the first three chapters (6 minutes) of Toy Story, which shows the toys coming to life.
  3. Display Patterson’s painting If and ask students what they see. What pops out to them in the painting?
  4. Tell students that there is a toy figure underneath all those layers of paint. What might the figure be (a tiny toy soldier)? How might it have gotten covered in paint? Remind the students of the clip from Toy Story and have them brainstorm what kinds of adventures a toy might have gone on to end up covered in paint.
  5. Make a list on the board of the students’ responses. Have older students write creative stories describing how the toy soldier might have ended up covered in paint, using one of the brainstormed responses listed on the board. Have younger students write a story as a class. Each student should contribute an idea. Write their ideas on the board so everyone can see how numerous ideas can come together to create to a whole story.
  6. If time allows, invite students to share their stories in small groups or with the whole class.


  • Copy of the movie Toy Story
  • Paper and pen/pencil
  • About the Art section on If
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art




Richard Patterson, England

Who Made It?

“To become a serious artist…there’s a feeling that you abandon your former self. It’s a decision you suddenly take,” says Richard Patterson, who decided he was going to be a serious artist around the age of 31. Patterson grew up in England and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Goldsmith College in London in 1986. In the early 2000s, he moved to America to experience something new. He now lives and works in Dallas, Texas. In much of his work, Patterson combines photography and painting in a unique way. For If, he began with a tiny toy soldier and slathered it with various colors of paint. He then photographed the figurine and painted the image from the photo against a background of theater marquees and city lights. Patterson paints with incredible precision, staying very close to his original photo.

What Inspired It?

This painting was part of Richard Patterson’s first exhibit in New York City, which consisted of a series of what he calls “soldier paintings.” Patterson describes these paintings of small plastic soldiers covered in paint as “figurative but abstract.” We can tell that there is a figure in the center of the painting, but by covering this figure with layers and layers of paint, Patterson has created a more abstract image. The soldier now appears as a more generalized shape, one that doesn’t seem to represent anything in the real world. Of his soldier paintings, Patterson says, “Somehow they can feel like they sort of hover in space a bit. So I wanted them to feel like hallucinations.”

This soldier is set against a background image of Times Square in New York City, which Patterson copied from a photo taken by his father in the 1970s. He covered the figure with the same colors that are found in the background image.



Drawing upon popular culture, Patterson often uses movie titles or music lyrics to name his artworks. This painting is based on a British film from the 1960s called If. The film tells the story of a group of rebellious boys at a private high school.


Patterson used light and shadow to give the globs of paint a three-dimensional quality, even though the actual painting has a smooth, flat surface.


In the background we see the lights and marquees of Times Square in New York. The background scene is blurry, showing the effects that a camera would have when focused on the figure in the foreground. Patterson used a photograph taken by his father in the 1970s as inspiration for the background scene.

Figure & Scale
Figure & Scale

The figure’s back is facing us as he moves toward the city lights in the background. The shape of the soldier is practically unrecognizable under the many layers of paint.

Though Patterson began with a tiny toy figurine, the final painting is nearly life-size.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.