Making an icon

Scottish identity: Who decides who we are?

This is one of a series of resources exploring the theme Scottish identity: who decides who we are? This section uses Monarch of the Glen and other relevant artworks to focus on making an icon*, offering images, questions and activities for learners of all ages to explore.

Sir Edwin Landseer, The Monarch of the Glen, (about 1851)

Monarch of the Glen has been reproduced in many adverts and Scottish souvenirs.

The first person to use it in an advert was Thomas James Barratt (1841–1914), a highly successful businessman and the chairman of a soap manufacturer called Pears.

He is mainly remembered as a pioneer of the advertising industry. He is reported to have said ‘any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it’. He invested a great deal of money in adverts and developed the idea of celebrity endorsements.

Barratt recognised the benefits of associating his products with Scottish imagery. He used Monarch of the Glen to promote Dewar’s whisky in numerous adverts, using catchphrases such as ‘Dewar’s The Monarch of Whiskies’.

After that it was used by many other advertising campaigns, including shortbread biscuits and butter, as well as being used on innumerable Scottish souvenirs.

At the time there was debate about whether this was a good thing, as it made art available to more people, or if it made art less meaningful and compromised an artist’s integrity.

*The Cambridge dictionary gives the following definition of ‘icon’:

  • Icon noun (famous person/thing)
  • A very famous person or thing considered as representing a set of beliefs or a way of life:
  • Beckham has been one of the country’s best-loved sporting icons.



We wonder…

  • how does an iconic image end up on a tin of shortbread?
  • if a work of art can change its meaning, can I change how people see me?


What do your students wonder about icons?

Ask your students to come up with questions, or try some of the questions below.

About you

How many icons can you recognise / draw?

Which icons would best represent your class, school or community?


What images of Scotland are used on souvenirs? Are they accurate? What story do they tell of Scotland?

What other art has been used in marketing campaigns?

What other images could we include on a tin of short bread?

Does the reproduction of art devalue the original?


What is an icon?  Who decides what becomes iconic?

What brands have iconic figures or motifs?  E.g. Nike, Mcdonalds

How do the media and advertising influence what we think and do?

Who controls the media?

Who decides who we are?


Here are three activities that use icons to explore the curriculum.  We have purposely suggested activities that are not aimed at a particular level as we believe in teachers’ professional judgement; you can adapt activities to suit any group and any time frame. 

Market it

David Shrigley, Sculpture of a Piece of Paper, 1997, © DAVID SHRIGLEY
  • Ask the pupils to find something in the classroom which they will create a marketing campaign for.
  • Make it something small and insignificant like a pencil, rubber, piece of paper etc.
  • Now ask the pupils to choose something else that would help sell it, i.e. try using superman to sell a pencil or the Mona Lisa to sell school lunches.

Creativity skills being developed include imagination, problem solving and making use of previous knowledge.

Possible links to the Curriculum for Excellence are Literacy, Expressive Arts and Enterprise.

Sell, sell, sell

Walkers Shortbread packaging
  • Consider some of the products that Monarch of the Glen has been used to sell e.g. shortbread/ soup/ butter/ whisky.
  • List positive words to describe soup and positive words to describe the painting. What do they have in common? 
  • In groups look at existing advertising campaigns for household goods to see how images/icons have been manipulated to fit a product.
  • Ask everyone in the class to write down a household product.  
  • In small groups ask them to choose some of the household products and challenge them to use Monarch of the Glen to create advertising campaigns to sell seemingly unrelated items.  E.g. how could they use Monarch of the Glen to sell cat food or garden furniture?
  • Ask groups to pitch their ideas to the rest of the class to see who has made the most ‘convincing’ campaign.

Creativity skills being developed include imagination, exploring, investigating, problem solving, divergent thinking  and collaboration

Possible links to the Curriculum for Excellence are Literacy, Numeracy, and Health & wellbeing.

If we were a mascot we would be…

Damien Hirst, Away from the Flock, 1994, © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2017
  • Ask small groups to research the use and meaning of mascots around the world to help build an understanding of why we have mascots.
  • Ask pupils to consider how mascots could be a tool for communicating certain values e.g. the Olympics, a sports team, a city.
  • Ask the class to create a list of values and beliefs, or give them a list and ask them to rank them in order of importance. 
  • Play Pictionary to find quick ways to translate these words into pictures or use drama to act out the words.
  • Use these pictures to develop ideas for the mascot and how it should look.
  • Ask the class to think about what style and characteristics your mascot adopts and how you can use the design to communicate meaning. Think of the mascot as a ‘brand’.

Creativity skills being developed include registering patterns and anomalies, researching productively, imagination, problem solving and collaboration. 

Possible links to the Curriculum for Excellence are Literacy and Health & wellbeing.

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