Monster Portraits

Did you believe in monsters when you were a child? Lurking under beds or behind closet doors, these creatures provoke thrills of terror, shivers of delight, and endless fascination. They tend to embody our deepest fears, real or imagined.

Monsters have a particularly terrifying reputation among children. What makes them so scary?  Our children have all kinds of answers.

Products of our imagination, they can be great outlets for creativity.  So why not create your own monster? During the month of August, our Kimbell Kids Drop-In Studio participants will have the opportunity to do just that. 

Here are some conversation starters to encourage thinking about what makes a monster so frightening:

  • Have you ever seen a monster?  If so, what did it look like?  Was it scary or nice? 
  • Try imagining a monster of your own. How would you describe it to a friend?  Is it big or small?  Does it growl and scratch?  Does it have big teeth?  Is it hairy or scaly? Does it have a name?
  • Where do monsters live?

The Kimbell’s collection can be a great source for monster inspiration. Here are a couple examples:

Michelangelo painted this when he was only twelve or thirteen years old! Do you think he believed in monsters as a young child? He certainly had plenty of ideas about how they might look.   

  • How many monsters do you see?
  • Do they look scary?  Why? What do you think they are trying to do? (What about the man? Does he seem bothered? What do you think he is doing?)
  • What different animal parts do you recognize on these creatures? How would you describe them?
  • What noises do you think they make? Can you make those noises?
  • Where do you think these monsters live?


This terrifying creature comes from ancient China, where he guarded an underground tomb from intruders and evil spirits. You can see one of these evil spirits pinned beneath our protector’s feet. 

  • What different animal parts do you recognize on this tomb figure? What other parts catch your attention?
  • What words would you use to describe this sculpture? Which parts are especially scary?
  • What noise do you think he makes?
  • Where would you want to place this creature?  What might it protect?


This “mystery monster” sketching activity works best with two or more people. The results can be surprising!


1. 1 sheet of paper per person (8 ½ x 11 inches)
2. Pencil, pen, or colored pencils
3. Scissors 


Fold one vertical sheet of paper in half, top to bottom.  Unfold your sheet of paper.


Draw an animal or monster in the center of the sheet of paper (either horizontally or vertically). Be sure to position your creature so that the top half (head, shoulders, torso) of the animal is above the crease and the lower portion (lower torso, legs, feet) is below the crease. Label what you drew on the top and bottom of your sheet of paper. (Example:  Flying pig with fangs)


Cut your sheet of paper in half along the crease. Each artist keeps the bottom half of the drawing, and then trades the top half with another person. If there are more than two people, the group can shuffle all of the top halves before everyone chooses a bottom half at random.


Use tape to attach the top and bottom pieces to create a new monster, and give it a name.

Art-Making: Make Your Own Monster

Before starting this activity, think back to the conversation questions and artworks highlighted at the start of this post. They may spark ideas for your monster portrait.


1. Cardboard tube (find it at home: you can use a toilet paper roll tube or a paper towel tube!)
2. Markers
3. Paint
4. Glue or tape
5. Pencil
6. Paintbrushes 

Optional materials:

1. Pompoms
2. Pipe cleaners
3. Googly eyes
4. Yarn
5. Feathers



Select and paint a cardboard tube; allow time for the paint to dry. 



Once the first coat of paint has dried, pencil in other features to create a fun, simple, whimsical, or goofy monster face.


Add details with markers.


Use pompoms, pipe cleaners, feathers, yarn, googly eyes, or other optional materials to create little details for the monsters. You could even use the yarn to make hair!

Here are a couple samples from the Kimbell education studios: