At Barrow Primary School today working on an Art Branches led arts and environment project. The Woodland Trust have sponsored Art Branches to run a competition and series of workshops that encourage people to connect to their local trees.
After an assembly to launch the competition we worked with years 3 and 4 using art techniques to look more closely and explore some ideas about winter twigs and bark.
I worked with some enthusiastic groups looking for and drawing the shapes and patterns in the negative spaces between bare winter birch twigs. The children looked at their drawings from all angles deciding whether they represented twigs and trees or whether they had taken on another form. We discussed the similarities between the twigs and other networks such as rivers, roots and veins of the circulatory system.
The drawings were coloured highlighting either the positive or negative spaces or in a way that reinforced the ideas the children wished to express.
At the end of the morning we left the school with a drawn record of all the twigs the children had identified
Black hole swallowing up solar system
Alien to alien communication
Today the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds launched their annual Children’s Festival and we teamed up with theatre educator David Whitney to offer some activities for local schools.
We’ve been developing ways to tell stories or investigate ideas through integrated performance and visual arts. Today we took short written excerpts from a play to be staged at the festival and worked with the children in fast moving activities that used freeze frames and drawing to imagine what happened before and after the event described.
On June 11th there will be a full day of visual arts activities and theatre exploration for families.
Storm Doris left us with a trail of winter twigs with early buds strewn across roads and gardens and plenty of ideas and materials for this terms art club.
Scroll observational drawing
Very long scroll drawing of twigs
Observational drawing and material exploration
We started with The Woodland Trust‘s winter twig ID sheet. The twigs were tricky to identify at this time of year but the close looking helped observational skills noting layout of buds, presence of catkins and, the children’s favourite, the stickiness of the horse chestnut bud.
I had prepared long scroll lengths of paper and supplied brush pens filled with diluted ink (a new tool for the children) and watercolour pencils and encouraged them to make observational drawings of the twigs using the length of the paper.
Some of the children used magnifying glasses for close looking identifying patterns and an array of colours within the bark and buds.
In the second session I brought short cut lengths of twigs that would be painted and become a material to use for 3D work the following week.
We started with some colour theory, mixing bright primary colours in acrylic then set to the painting. This simple painting task offered a calm time to talk about the relative vibrancy of colours, how the paint transformed the twigs (would we look at them differently) and what size and shape twigs would we need to make the 3D work.
As the children finished painting I asked them to look at the underlying paper: what shapes and images could they find; what happened if they turned their paper?
Figure, snake and waterslide found in the paint
Paint patterns emerging from activity
Bird flying out of discarded brush stroke
The following week I demonstrated joining the twigs with wire and talked about making a hanging or free standing structure. The children joined their twigs to create tree or birdcage like structures using the more pliant materials to create curves. I was very impressed by their achievements but photographing the delicate structures proved very tricky against the classroom backdrop.
We were invited to make art with the entire school of 220 students for a whole day this week. This is part of a week dedicated to art in the school so we were wanted to allow each child a day of making. Logistically it would be impossible to spend much time with each class so we decided to set up three activities that we would introduce in the classrooms and invite the children in small groups to draw on the background and gain an overview of the larger artwork taking shape on the wall.
The theme of an ‘enchanted forest’ was one of the school’s suggestions and we created a narrative for this by asking the children to imagine a forest growing out of thrown away plastic. We asked about the material starting a discussion about what plastic is and where does it go when we’ve finished with it. They worked with collected plastic milk containers cutting intricate patterns to create foliage. Next they studied characteristics of native birds seen around the school grounds and made preparatory sketches. In the last session we asked the children to imagine how these birds might adapt to their new surroundings and to create a bird for the installation a wide array of printed cardboard and junk mail that they had brought from home.
It was difficult to communicate collage techniques to this amount of children: some favoured small torn pieces of paper to create a texture while others could envisage images and patterns used in a new context. One of the youngest children recognised a large swirling camouflage print as a perfect beak for a ‘jungle bird’. The children that worked with the small pieces became frustrated with the slow progress and were happy to be encouraged to work with larger shapes or to focus on areas such as eyes or beak to let the image read as a bird. It’d be interesting to try this activity again in the small art club group.
The artwork was installed the same day against a backdrop of small drawn images of things that might be floating or flying in the forest air.
Something is growing out of Bury Sketchers and the Big Draw project which we can’t really define yet. It has the shape of an experimental space: people come and offer drawing activities that challenge the idea of drawing, others come and play vinyl and the majority turn up to draw. We reflect and change a few things after each event but we’re trying to not to plan too much and to see what emerges
Next event is on June 1st with a body and movement theme.
September 1st was the deadline for my practice-based project to complete my MA at Goldsmiths.
If anyone would like to wade their way through it, I’ve attached the written report which focuses on the work that Liz and I were involved in at a local residential home for people with mid to late stage dementia. It was interesting to revisit and reflect on this project while being immersed in our continuing inquiry at Saxon House.
Our current work with Age UK Suffolk culminated in an exhibition at the Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Sadly the day club at Saxon House closed its doors for good in December and we were unable to install the artwork the group had made in the day centre or set up opportunities for on-going art activity.
Liz and I spent most of January reviewing our time in the day club, creating a working document that we will inform our continuing collaborative enquiry into art and ageing.
We are grateful to Smiths Row Gallery, Suffolk Artlink and Barbara Dougan (Grove Projects) who have helped us critically review this work from a range of perspectives.
Please take a look at the attached document if you’d like to find out more about the work. We’d prefer it not to be shared or reproduced as its a working, unfinished, document for our personal use and not an academic or referenced report.
This term our art is taking us down a geological path, maybe visiting some soil science along the way. The children unwrapped and examined a collection of rocks picking out surface textures and patterns. On a long sheet of brown paper we used chalks and charcoal to explore how these materials could be used to explore the rock surface. In some cases the chalk was applied to the rock and the rock to the paper. The rocks were also used as tools to grind the chalk into powder. This might be an interesting way of thinking about rock particles in the soil.
We moved looked at other ways we could make surface textures, preparing papers to move the artwork in a new direction next week. We used oil crayon resist with ink wash on crumpled, pleated and punched surfaces. The children learnt about the amount of resist needed and how dilute the ink should be to expose their layer of texture.
We talked about how we could make 3D rocks from our paper. Origami was mentioned: it sounds challenging and we didn’t have an expert in the room. I’ll have to do some research.