Meeting the children for the new phase is exciting. It was great to see Aimee H again. She was able to show the webcam to the younger children from P3 and P4. I recognised some faces from recording children’s voices for the Every Voice in the School piece and some people had come in for portrait sessions last year. They have grown up a lot in between.
Before the first session, I had sent a letter and an 8-page fold booklet to the children to introduce some of the ideas and themes for this phase. They fed back some ideas about the booklet. Some of them had figured out who the letter was from. I had used some Roald Dahl words like “human beans” in the letter and they caught the link to the book that they were reading as a class: The BFG. We looked at Quentin Blake drawings and experimented with drawing and painting. We talked about words like ‘focus”, “sketching”, “dreams”, “age” and “portraits”. Time, as ever, flew in very fast. The group tuned in immediately and didn’t seem to be phased at all by the virtual connection.
I showed the children examples of Blake’s work and also showed them how other artists used watercolours. We experimented with colour washes inspired by these artworks.
Lucerne, JMW Turner
Sun Setting over a lake, JMW Turner
Crimson Sunset, JMW Turner
Foot of the St Gothard, JMW Turner
I had ordered jars to keep the children’s work safe. Everyone has one and the plan is that throughout this phase of work we can use these vessels to store imaginative work of all kinds.
In preparation for our next phase, Mrs Wilson and myself have been spending time working out our new direction. We have been sharing inspiration and finding new threads within the curriculum. Our common ground stems from the portrait work in the last phase, the wonderful work of Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl and the idea of developing identity over time.
To round off our 2015/16 project the children spent time reviewing their work, laying out everything that they had created in the school hall. The rest of the children in the school had an opportunity to look at the work with children from P1 to P7 coming in to see what we had been doing throughout the phase. The children in the project received very positive feedback from other students and teachers. They were particularly interested in the views of older children who had been involved in Virtually There themselves.
From all of this work -and the volume of artwork is impressive -the children selected the artworks that they wanted to share with the wider school community and worked with Mrs Wilson and Tanya to create two noticeboards of artwork. Every child’s work was represented and there was a real sense of achievement. Events like this allow the children to understand that their work is taken seriously and valued outside the context of the sessions.
I am constantly inspired by the children’s artwork and this phase has produced some incredibly beautiful work. The children’s drawing skills have developed considerably and they have worked so freely taking risks and expressing their own vision. The project doesn’t just happen in a vaccum: Mrs Wilson’s commitment continues to underpin the work. It is a partnership that I prize very highly. Tanya has been a wonderful asset to the project and in all of our work been supported by the school principal, parents, grandparents and siblings. Thanks to all in the Donaghey Primary School family for everything and to Kids’ Own for keeping the project rolling through the ACNI and Arts Development funding.
Great excitement greeted me in the room this morning. Between last week and this week the children had invited family members to come along and pose for portraits. The whole room was cleared out and the couple of tables left inside were laden with lovely papers and drawing materials. We had guests of all ages including grannys, grandas, mummies, siblings from the school and an aunt who brought her 10-week old baby with her.
It was a little bit pressurised to start with -I think that the children felt a bit nervous about drawing people from outside the class but as the morning progressed they relaxed into it. There was more pressure if a particular child had invited someone into the session as they felt that they wanted to make a really strong piece of artwork about that person. The children decided if they wanted to do longer or shorter poses and helped to reassure their sitters and advise them on how to behave. At times there were 6 people posing simultaneously in different parts of the room. I encouraged the class to use the full range of available materials and we revisited some of the techniques and inspirations that we had been looking at over the weeks: scribbly lines, shading, close-ups, profile portraits. Mrs Wilson and Tanya were so attentive to visitors and children alike. They carefully filed away images between sheets of paper to keep them safe and distributed tea and coffee and biscuits to the guests and documented the whole morning.
For our final week the children would like to use the materials we have been working with plus pen and wash, paint and drawing with bread. Some of them are very keen to do self portraits and some might return to subjects that they have already done. There is time for them to take photos to work from if their subject isn’t available.
Leandra: “The more we did the more confident we got.”
Rachel: ” I wasn’t that sure before about drawing real life people but now I think that I can.”
Euan: “I didn’t think that anything was a challenge this week. It made you feel like a proper artist.”
In following on from last week’s session, it seemed like a good idea to continue experimenting with different drawing styles. From the collected portraits the image of a boy by Colin Davidson was around the same age as people in the class and his work had inspired the class. We looked at it again, discussed the age of the subject, the fact that it was black and white. I had taken a photo of myself in a similar pose and encouraged the children to work in pairs to pose each other as closely as they could for a photograph. The class used chalk and charcoal on tea-coloured wax paper to play with smudging and blending. The work was really different from other portraits that the class had done. While they were working Mrs Wilson printed out their photo portraits. These became the basis for self-portraits in the style of Colin Davidson. I only saw them through the computer when everyone held them up but they looked incredible.
Pose after Colin Davidson
Donaghey -Pose after C. Davidson
After break we moved on to a wholly different approach and made drawings after a Rembrandt self-portrait. The children had responded very positively to this work and it was remarkable how they adapted to this very different style. Again, they had the challenge of applying this style to their own original subject. The children picked some work to show me and it was really strong. Individual styles were coming through and the marks were energetic and free.
Aux yeux hagards
Feedback from the children noted that the Colin Davidson style was harder than last week but they thought that they had started to differentiate between line drawings and shaded or smudged drawings. Also they had discovered that shading was different from colouring-in. That’s quite a big thing to get the head around. Some of them are really getting to enjoy working with charcoal and they liked combining it with chalk. They thought that the pen drawings were messy and fun and really easy to draw, describing Rembrandt as ‘crazy’ and looking ‘like a lion’. They liked making all of the scribbly lines.
After the previous week I had contacted Eddie Rafferty to let him know that the children had made drawings after his work. He thought that it was fantastic that they could draw with such ease and confidence. I don’t think that they realise just how good they are.
Over the course of my research for this phase I have collected a set of portraits representing different styles and using different media. We have looked at some of them in previous sessions but today the children’s first task was to find all of the images that showed a profile. This was the cause of controversy as different children recognised different images as profile portraits and so we discussed the key things that designated a profile image. There were a few tricky ones -e.g. one image contained both full face and profile. There was a lot of thought about the media and about what images appealed to the children as well. This has opened up lots of other ideas about how we can be inspired for future work. We even tried creating one of the Carravaggio poses. Quite a dramatic posture.
The morning continued with some profile drawing in chalk on black card. Whether it was the unfamiliar background colour or the medium itself that the children enjoyed, I’m not sure but the work that they produced was full of detail and spontaneous shading broke out unexpectedly. It seemed as if the class had been inspired by the work that they had been looking at and ideas and possibilities had been absorbed.
Eddie Rafferty Untitled
Continuing with the inspiration, the next adventure was to make a pencil drawing inspired by Eddie Rafferty’s print. The results were really strong and individual pieces of artwork. Lots of detail and delicate mark-making were visible and the children were confident enough to shade and smudge with the pencil. We were all very excited by the results and looked at everyone’s work.
Looking at everyone’s work
We pushed on even further by experimenting with composition. Inspired by the Eye of Lotte image, the children took turns to draw each other with a similar cropped composition. Not an easy ask, admittedly. There was less confidence in shading and the children seemed to be a bit more inhibited than in the previous exercise but some of the results were still fantastic. It’s great to push beyond conventional framing and look at other ways of composing images. Some of the children thought that they might like to try drawing people with different facial expressions. So many possibilities are opening up for our precious remaining weeks.
There has been a long gap between the previous session and today so I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back into the swing of things. Not long, as it turned out. The children were keen to show me some of their homework from over Easter. They were sent home with some different kinds of paper and asked to do some life drawings with charcoal and pencil during the course of the holidays. I didn’t get to see everyone’s work but throughout the morning we paused to look and learn from it. There was plenty to admire. I could see that most people were making good use of the space on the page and that there was more detail coming through. We tired to guess ages and relationships of the sitters to the artist. A lot of the children said that they preferred pencil drawing to charcoal as it didn’t break so easily and was less messy. They did observe that for hair and shading charcoal was easier. There were some strong resemblances coming through the work and it was definitely easier to tell the age of the subject. The children said that they had to bribe much younger siblings to sit still with biscuits and chocolate. Joseph had drawn a profile portrait of his Dad using a torch to cast a shadow on the wall -reminiscent of our work long ago in the Drawing with Light phase. Courtney had drawn a profile on one side of the page and a full face portrait on the other and when she held it up to the light there was an intriguing, if unintentional, overlap -might revisit that idea at a later stage. Some of the parents have been really supportive of this work at home, encouraging the children to look for details like shape of face, freckles, stubble and even wrinkles.
Easter homework -charcoal
Easter homework -pencil
I have been encouraging the children to use shading but they often revert to line drawings. Since they do this so beautifully, Mrs Wilson and I have decided to cultivate the line drawings further and not worry too much about light and shade at the moment.
We wouldn’t normally look down our noses but we made an exception today. Some of the class have very interesting cartoon-like styles when it comes to drawing noses and so we experimented with different ways of tackling them by feeling the shape of our own profiles and drawing that. Most of the class reckoned that they had been underestimating the distance that the nose stuck out from the rest of the face when doing profiles. Face on is harder to master -we tried tipping the head back so that the nostrils became more noticeable. There was some mirth at this. We also looked at ears in detail.
Giving out the drawing boards
Painting without looking
After all of the experimentation, it seemed right to apply the fresh observations to a larger scale piece of work so the children used the drawing boards that I had improvised for them from thick corrugated cardboard and packing card. This helped them to work on bigger scale paper and allowed them to keep looking at the person they were drawing. In this case the children made a few light sketches and then “drew” boldly with paint on tea-coloured wax paper using two different sized brushes. The very silence in the room when they were working spoke volumes about the concentrated quality of the work. To free everything up even more the final few minutes of the session were spent using the brush and paint to do some “not looking” work where the children were encouraged to keep their attention on the person they were painting and not to look at the page at all. They still keep cheating at this. We will keep trying as the results are always fantastic, especially when they genuinely don’t look at the marks they are making until they finish.
Mrs Wilson and Tanya remarked that the drawing boards had made a big impact on the day’s work, giving the children added confidence and even changing their posture when they were working. There are so many potential directions with the work now -the class are freeing up. I’m not sure if there will be time for another homework before the next session.
How did we get to this? It all started off innocently enough today but plans were afoot to push into new drawing territory and it was about to get a little messy…
We began to experiment with drawing pencils, seeing which was darker, a HB, 2B, 4B or 6B. I had sent some new pencils in the post since the previous online session.
It started off innocently enough
HB to 6B
Starting to add shading
Colin Davidson Study of Seamus Heaney
Aux yeux hagards
We looked at drawings by artists like Colin Davidson and Rembrandt to see how they drew shadows and tried to find dark and light areas within these images. The children were predominantly drawing with line at this stage, although some had started to add shading.
The class came up with reasons why we might use bread:
To dab the pencil with
To draw on
Instead we covered sheets of paper with charcoal, shaped the slice of bread and used it to erase the charcoal and show the light areas were in our portraits. We did short studies with different sizes of paper and worked on freeing up arm movements to fill areas more quickly. One of the other teachers in the school came in at the end of the session and her face was a picture of horror when she saw the charcoal and crumbs. Mrs Wilson had a large smile on her face -perhaps it was a grimace. It will all wash off….eventually….
A parcel arrived from Donaghey PS. Always a treat. Inside were the childrens’ drawings from their homework. Mrs Wilson is in America but she posted it before she left. I opened it with excitement. There was beautiful work inside. Each child had drawn a “not-looking” drawing and a “looking” drawing. I scanned in each image -some of them needed a little bit of flattening.
Once scanned, I considered each image and made a note on a post-it for the children of what I noticed within it. Then I posted them all back to Donaghey and made some adjustments to the plans for the next session.