Sunday, 30 October 2016

Forest Dwellings

In our busy 21st Century lives, it can often be helpful to take a step back and enjoy a quiet moment. With this in mind, I often ask my students to depict their ideal forest cabin where they might find peace and sanctuary. This idea of a rustic dwelling resonates with a great many people and often leads to beautifully rendered images. These watercolour pieces show a variety of cabins and some associated details. I'm going to include this activity as part of a longer unit on nature, and combine it with these other lesson plans, organic forms and leaf prints 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Talitha Creative Arts

I recently had the pleasure of conversing with Amanda Root, the founder of a therapeutic arts organisation called Talitha. I'd recently become aware of the Talitha approach and, as a fellow advocate of the healing potential in creative activity, I was eager to find out more about Talitha, its history, aims and methods.

Amanda told me that the first project Talitha was involved in was in India, where her group had worked with a number of women who had suffered traumatic experiences related to human trafficking, I got the sense that, as these women worked through a series of creative workshops (involving various disciplines - Amanda's background is in acting), they'd found the means to express, analyse and - in some cases - begin to move beyond their difficult experiences.

I sensed Amanda's obvious commitment to the therapeutic potential inherent to artistic practice. I was intrigued to hear how Talitha had broadened its original scope, recognising the beneficial impact that expressive arts can have on people's lives. Amanda noted her organisation's involvement with Pret a Manger's Foundation Trust, explaining how Talitha had taken its practice to where it might be needed. A great number of clients from different backgrounds have found purpose, agency and an enriched sense of identity from working with the creative arts in a warm, supportive environment.

The Talitha approach places great emphasis on group activity where clients can explore the virtues of communication. discussion and leadership. My own work with Red Balloon has often shown me the importance of group activity; I've written on this subject here and here.

As Amanda and I chatted, she made mention of a number of activities Talitha practitioners use. In one activity, clients might be given the prompt to depict themselves as a garden. This they might do through application of a range of art media. In another activity, clients could be asked to construct a tableaux representing courage - and the physical movements involved in the creation may well become a part of the artwork.

I was greatly inspired by my conversation with Amanda and keen to further investigate her organisation and the projects it gets involved in. If you'd like to find out more about Talitha and their upcoming training courses, they can be contacted here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Illustration Course Week 4

It's half term week at Red Balloon, and the young people are having a well-earned rest. The only teaching I've had to do this week was my adult learner group, who now are up to week four of their illustration course. I've noticed huge progression from them all over the past couple of weeks and I'm really excited to see what their work will be like by the end of the eight week course.

This week's workshop was particularly focussed on drafting and re-drafting, which I think is especially important for illustration as you want your image to communicate its message clearly. I think it's quite a discipline to re-draw the same image more than once, so I was really pleased to see how keen the group were to continue to develop the same picture.

I'm still bringing different media to each session, and this week the students' were provided with some Neo Colour water soluble crayons to work with. These are a favourite of mine and it was a pleasure to demonstrate them for the students.

Here's some pictures from last night. The black and white pencil/pen drawings are examples of the students' work from their individual themes and the coloured pieces are experiments with the water soluble crayons.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Personal Mythology

All cultures of the world have a rich tradition of mythology. The themes of courage, honour, loyalty and treachery continue to resonate deeply within us and often find their way into modern movies, novels and video games.

I've been planning and delivering a lengthy unit on identity this term, and this seemed like a good place for students to create some artwork inspired by their own personal understanding of mythology. Other lessons that have formed part of this unit are secret diary sculpture and reverse collage.

These pieces were created by working in watercolour on pre-dampened paper. Students should be encouraged to let the colours flow with the water, allowing the spontaneous creation of shapes and lines to suggest imagery.

In the early stages of the work, students should let the physical act of creation take precedence and try not to bring too much conscious decision making to the process. As an image begins to form, students can turn their minds towards their own personal understanding of mythology. At this point they can begin to create resonant scenes incorporating their own archetypal figures.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Dr Seuss Cryptozoology

These oil pastel drawings were inspired by Dr. Seuss' fine art. Students viewed some of these fantastically imaginative works online and then considered how they might create their own cryptozoic beasts by mixing and matching the different visual features of a variety of animals. Students drew their pieces first in pencil and then used oil pastel to fill in the colours. When each piece was complete, a PVA glaze was added over the top to fix the pastel in place.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Illustration Course Week 3

My adult learner group came back together again this week for another illustration lesson. This week I wanted the students to start to focus more on finding their own individual subject matter and to gain the confidence to undertake longer drawing projects. A good portion of the session was given over to creative mind mapping, with the students choosing a prompt word and then free associating from that starting point.

I also introduced the group to the basics of colour theory and gave a demo on using oil pastels. Before coming to the session, I'd printed off some simple colour wheels so that students would have something to refer to.

Peer critique is always a key element of my teaching practice, both with adults and with teenagers. It's been great to see this adult group respond so well to this, readily giving each other sensitive, encouraging and insightful feedback.

Here's a few pictures of some of the work that was created this week.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Illustration Course Week 2

My illustration group reconvened this monday evening for the second of our eight workshops. The group is really starting to gel now and its great to see increased confidence from everyone. As I mentioned in my last post, I've never really taught adults before, so I'm getting used to the different feel of adult education. The biggest difference is how eager to learn this group are! We're covering a lot of ground in these classes and each student filled between six and eight sketchbook pages over the course of a two hour class.

I've decided I'll try different media with each session and I'd initially planned to bring watercolour paints this week. I rethought this at the last minute and decided we'd use chalk and oil pastels instead. I also brought in some irregularly cut pieces of paper for the students to incorporate into their work. I thought this would give them a good opportunity to think about positive and negative space.

Here's some of the students hard at work.

And here's some finished work from the session!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Reverse Collages

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy collage as a medium. Something about collecting and assembling a wide array of subject matter and visual textures really fascinates me. When teaching I use collage activities in a number of ways; sometimes they can provide a springboard to other creative ideas, other times they can function as complete pieces of work in their own right.

If you're planning a teaching unit on collage, I've got another lesson plan that can easily be combined with this one.

Reverse collage requires a transparent surface that is strong enough to hold glue. For this lesson, students used clear sheets of acetate. These sheets were laid out flat on the table and a 50-50 dilution of water and PVA glue was spread over them. This acetate sheet formed the front surface of the completed work, so it was important to use clear drying PVA. 

Students then hunted through a collection of sporting and fashion magazines to find the central figure for their image. These were cut from the magazines and placed face down onto the glue on top of the acetate. Additional layers of farbric, coloured card and glitter were added on top of the central figure. Finally, a background layer of text was added. These background pages were actually recycled from unwanted materials used in this project.

As each collage began with the sourcing and placement of a central figure, it would be quite possible to use this lesson as part of a larger unit on identity, portraiture or self-esteem.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Illustration Course Week One

This week I started teaching an evening class in illustration, facilitated by a great community education organisation called The Public House. I've not done a huge amount of teaching adults before, so I was a bit nervous at the prospect, I'm happy to report the first session went really well. My students are a great bunch and happily joined in with all the activities I set for them. They all worked really hard and each of them produced about four sketchbook pages.

I've decided that each week I'll provide a different range of media, as well as different creative prompts. This week was concerned primarily with shape, line and the basics of visual storytelling. The media we worked in was pencil, coloured pencil, felt tip and collage. The results were great, and it seemed like the group had a fun time.

I'll report back next week on how the session goes. The theme for next week is 'Word and Image' and I think I might provide some wet media like water colour paints and water-soluble pastels.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Inspiring Practice

We all know there are some fantastic art educators out there, many of whom I've had the opportunity to get to know through various online communities. I thought I'd dedicate a blog post to sharing videos of some outstanding classroom practice. Both the clips I'm about to share show how vital and dynamic a creative education can be, with lessons that extend far beyond the confines of the art room.

The first clip I'd like to share with you is of Barney Saltzberg, creator of the fabulous book Beautiful Oops! Though aimed at a younger audience, Barney's message of using mistakes as a springboard for creativity is a great message for anyone of any age.

Another artist-turned-educator that I find really inspiring is Lynda Barry, who teaches at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery. I highly recommend her books Syllabus and What It Is, both of which share her insights into the creative process. Here's a video of Barry at work in Wisconsin.

These are videos I've turned to time and again when in need of inspiration. I think they both share a powerful and transformative message about the real value of creative education.