Wednesday, 6 December 2017


A number of my students have been producing creative responses to the theme of folklore. Many of them opted to interpret this prompt in the widest possible sense and began to research oral traditions and folk tales from all over the world. I placed no restrictions on the media they used (a definite plus point of only ever teaching small groups!) and allowed them to create work in whatever materials they felt suited their ideas.

A number of fantastic pieces were created, including a ghost train rendered in pencil, paint and collage, a scene of death and growth centered around some mysterious mushrooms, a Day of the Dead-inspired skull wearing a crystal crown, a gothic seahorse and a ghostly, floating clown.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Assemblage Illustration

I'm a huge fan of the illustrator and art educator Hanoch Piven. I've been wanting to teach a lesson based on his found object assemblages for quite a long time. This week I finally got around to it and the results were fantastic

I started the lesson by introducing the student's to Piven's work through this short video...

The students then worked in coloured paper, lego blocks and metal wire to produce human portraits, animal portraits and landscapes. Here's an assortment of student work!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Sharratt Silhouettes

These silhouette pieces were inspired by Nick Sharratt's book 'The Foggy Foggy Forest.' This is a really fun, interactive picture book which invites the reader to respond to simple outline shapes rendered in opaque black on translucent plastic pages. My students really enjoyed looking through this book as a group. The illustrations are often funny and contain many surprising little details. After reading it, the young people were keen to create their own dusk or sunset silhouette pieces using tempera paint. The activity really helped students develop their contour drawing skills and also allowed them to see what can be achieved with a limited colour palette.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Art from Old Books

I'm continuing to work through a pile of old books that were set to be thrown out. The students and I have been considering ways in which the printed pages (and the books themselves) could be used as an art material. This session saw students working through a variety or activities. The starter involved making abstract drawings by highlighting certain words on the pages, connecting them, and then filling areas with colour. The next activity was a process I call "unwriting." This involves using a marker pen to black out words on a page, creating prose and poetry from the words left over. The results for this were absurd, hilarious and, in some cases, challenging. Finally, students created figurative collages by ripping up pages and arranging them on to a surface.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Creative Responses

I decided to start this academic year with a very open project. We have a lot of new students in at Red Balloon this year and so I didn't know much about them, their interests, or their art experience. With this in mind, I planned a project that would give students a large amount of flexibility but would still meet one of the standards of Art education.

The lesson began with students investigating a range of art books I'd put on the tables. They had the simple instruction to choose an image that inspired them. It didn't matter which artist they chose, or what they liked about the image. I just wanted them to make a choiceful connection with an existing artwork. Once each student had selected an image, they were given the brief of making a creative response to this piece. The media they worked in was up to them, as was the scale of the response.

The results were beautiful and I'm very pleased to share them here.

Inspired by Anne Buck

Inspired by Jackson Pollock

Inspired By Cai Guo-Qiang

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Sketchbook Library Beginnings...

As mentioned in this post, I'm in the process of building up a new Art library for the students' use here at our Learner Centre. To complement the published books in the library, I've decided to also include a sketchbook section. This will feature completed sketchbooks submitted by a variety of creative friends, many of whom are practicing professional artists. The inspiration for this came from the fabulous archiving of sketchbooks at the Brooklyn Art Library.

I've had some submissions for the project already and thought I'd share some sneak previews of the sketchbooks I've received!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

End of Year, Fly Festival and Debs Newbold

We're so close to finishing this school year now and our Year 11s are preparing to move on. We're also welcoming a group of new younger students to Red Balloon and starting to get a feel for what our learning community will be like come the autumn.

Last year we marked the end of the summer term by spending almost a full week at the University of East Anglia's excellent Fly festival. Though we haven't made it to as many events at this year's Fly, we have managed to take in a few of them.

One of the standout sessions this year was Debs Newbold's amazing one woman performance of Shakespeare's King Lear. I was particularly impressed by her expressive energy and dynamic movement - not to mention the almost conversational manner in which she re-told Shakespeare's story. As I had my sketchbook to hand, I made a few scribbly drawings as she performed.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

New Art Books!

Our Learner Centre recently received a generous donation, which has allowed us to develop our library facilities. This means we now have a far wider range of books than previously, and were also able to purchase some Kindles for the English department. Most excitingly (for me, anyway!) I was given a budget to order some new reference books for the Art room.

Though I've only had them for a few days, some of them have already been useful. For example, Barney Saltzberg's classic Beautiful Oops! has provided delight to students and staff alike. People have also been enamoured with Bimba Landmann's exquisite use of unconventional materials in I am Marc Chagall,

I also ordered a number of books from Taschen, some on specific artists (Kahlo, Ofili, Miro) and some on particular styles (Pop Art, Portrait Illustration).

My next project is to further build up my Art room bookshelves with a mini version of the Brooklyn Art Library. I've already got a number of creative friends working on this project. Expect a blog post soon!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Clay Head Grotesques

This session began with an exploration of the 'grotesque' in art work from various medias. Students looked at images and artefacts from Hieronymus Bosch, Diane Arbus and Kris Kuksi. These pieces led to lively discussions about what the idea of grotesque might actually mean. Young people quickly came to  realise that 'ugliness' and 'beauty' aren't quite as opposite as we sometimes think.

A practical activity involving air dry clay was then introduced. The images below are some of the artefacts that were created.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Totem Poles

Totem Poles are created by many of the North American native tribes, and are usually situated close to the homes of prominent families. They often serve  the purpose of telling a visual family history through symbolism, shape, markings and colour. They possess a striking visual presence and people of all cultures and background can respond very strongly to them.

I often use totem poles as a prompt for educational and therapeutic activity. They can provide great insight into the ways of an ancient but still active culture.As a discussion point, they seldom fail to get people talking about what the various symbols might mean. When people are given the opportunity to create their own totem pole, they often create highly distinct, powerful, intriguing artefacts.

The following pieces were made from air dry clay and painted in tempera.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Jeannie Baker Landscapes

A few years ago my Sister-in-Law bought me a particularly beautiful and thought-provoking picture book called Window by Jeannie Baker. The book explores themes of urbanization, the passage of time and environmentalism through some elaborately constructed collaged landscapes.

I re-discovered this book recently and was moved to carry out a lesson on it. Students used wall paper, painted paper and magazine cuts outs to create their Jeannie Baker inspired landscapes.

Other Mixed Media Musings landscape projects...

Folk Art Landscapes

Hundertwasser Decorative Landscapes

Summer Day and Winter Night

Forest Dwellings

Salvador Dali Dream Landscape

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Guest Lecture at UEA

I was invited back to speak at the University of East Anglia today, having given a guest lecture there a year ago. I spoke to the Education undergraduates on the subject of creative education in a non-mainstream setting. They were a very engaged group and had a lot of questions for me - so many that I stayed at the University for longer than I initially intended. I asked that the students participate in a practical exercise, which they responded really well to. The activity led to some really interesting discussions about the nature of creativity and its place in education.

Here's a few photos from the lecture.