Trees in Town

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



Art Club, winter twigs

p1010013Storm 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.

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?

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.


After School Art, rocks

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.


Enchanted Heath, West Stow


Enchanted Heath at West Stow Anglo Saxon Village launched the newly installed Beowulf Trail and Rojo Art offered interpretation and art activities for the day and evening events. During the day we invited people to explore natural materials from the Brecks to make imaginary landscapes inspired by the local environment. Our participants, mainly under 5, got stuck into the clay and used local flints, cones, sand, chalk, snail shells, bark and bones amongst other things to work with. Thank you to Breaking New Ground for these photographs as we didn’t have a camera with us.

In the evening we transformed the education centre into a lantern making workshop and worked with 300 people to make lanterns that would alert the inhabitants of the woods to their presence as they set out on the night time trail. We worked with collected milk containers which were cut to allow the light to shine through and embellished with willow sticks and ivy.

Art in the Park

A morning introducing printing as a way of recording and exploring the natural world of the copse. Sun prints showed fascinating silhouettes and roller printing exposed the intricate patterns and edges of leaves and feathers. To capture the textures of immovable objects such as tree trunks we took a lump of clay (recycled from Florian’s casting workshop) for a walk  pressing this into surfaces to make an impression and then  using it as printing block.

This same clay  was reused in the afternoon session, modelled into woodland creatures with the materials of the woodland floor forming spines, feathers, fur and scales.

Art in the Park, Outdoor Studio


First of six art sessions with families in Nowton Park, exploring and engaging with a woodland copse through art making.

The morning started with feltmaking on the woodland floor adding in natural materials, sometimes on purpose and sometimes accidently. We looked for good textured surfaces onto which we could roll, or full, the felt. The tree trunks were a perfect solution. Feltmaking in the outdoors appeared to offer more opportunities to experiment and felt a much easier process.

The afternoon was a more experimental session than the skills-led morning. I offered small notebooks and materials and equipment for observing, recording and collecting. The children set off into the copse with a ball of yarn to mark their trail through the space and found places where they could sit and closely observe.

I imagined the yarn trails would be the starting point for a follow up activity making maps of their journeys but they proved to be a good starting point to encourage exploration and spatial mapping.

Some fascinating field journals emerged with notes written on leaves; poetry inspired by trees; careful measurements of found specimens; secretive collections and innovative visual records.

Art Club: Exploring soil

We started out by examining a large clod of soil under magnifying lenses and making detailed pencil drawings imagining we were soil scientists making an investigation. This activity proved to be quite captivating with many discoveries in the soil such as small insects and tiny shiny particles.

Next we thought about how people worked with soil in the garden and made some garden workers that we photographed in the school vegetable garden. With the next group I think I’ll expand this question to think about other people who work with soil and encourage more thinking about the tools used.

The following week I’d asked the students to bring different types of soil they found in their own environment. We started out by making a sample collection and naming the different types. It was the day of the England match and one of the soil collections was named after the team. The students examined the soils very closely and were able to distinguish between types that were visually very similar.

We experimented with using the soil as a pigment thinking about how paints are made using water and PVA as the medium. This activity gave the students a chance to really appreciate the colours, textures and components of each soil.

After exploring how it felt to use the paint and how to make marks with it I suggested that the children use the soil paint to imagine the underground world under a large tree. We started with a shared drawing to warm up and then moved on to painting, extending ideas by adding finer details with pens after the paints had dried.