I have recently returned from a trip to Vienna where I was lucky enough to visit the Hundertwasser House and Museum.  I must admit that I did not know a huge amount about the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser before this, other than seeing pictures of the amazing Humdertwasser House (see below)c5c8a59fe4694e1cf53dd810bfa6830e

The house is certainly a high point of any visit to Vienna but it is in the museum where I really began to find out more about this fascinating artist.  Looking at his  fantastical, dream-like  paintings , created with beautiful, vibrant colours, my main thought was, ‘my Art Explorers would LOVE this.’

On returning home I did a bit of research and found ‘Harvesting Dreams- Hundertwasser For Kids’ by Barbara Stieff (Prestel).  I was hoping for a bit more background about the artist and his paintings but this book is much more than that.  It is written for children but is in no way patronising and is a great and informative read for adults too. It is under-pinned by the importance of creativity in all its forms and sets about challenging the reader to think creatively, as Hundertwasser did throughout his life.  It takes the reader through the whole of the artist’s life, beginning in war time Vienna.  Each chapter relates to a different aspect of Hundertwasser’s creative output and also sets the reader creative challenges such as creating your own symbol, changing your name or designing a dream home.  These are brilliant starting points for creative thinking and would be great fun for adults and children to explore together.

The book takes us on a journey though the artists’s very unusual life and shows children that there are many interesting paths their lives could take.  It brings together aspects of visual art, nature, architecture and travel and presents a world view that challenges the status quo.  At the back of the book there are lots of ideas for practical activities that tie in with themes in the book. In a world where the education children receive at school is increasingly narrowing it seems that we could all do with a bit of Hundertwasser in our lives.

 

This week in our holiday clubs we have been focusing on still life drawing, using both pencil and chalk pastel.  We have quite an age range in these clubs (from 5 – 11) and so the challenge is always to come up with something accessible for the younger ones while also offering challenge to the older children.  As a bit of an experiment, I decided to let them build their own still life composition rather than restricting them to one I had already set out for them.  I took in a range of pumpkins and squashes of different shapes, sizes and colours, along with a selection of autumn leaves and conkers.  I set them all out on a separate table and told the children that they could pick one out, take it to the table and draw it and then return it and select another.  In this way they would gradually build up their own composition.

There are some downsides to this approach.  For example, it is hard for them to compare the sizes of the objects if they only have one in front of them at a time.  It is also a little tricky for them to think of the composition as whole as they are gradually adding to it.  However, despite these issues, I found that working in this way really freed most of the children up and seemed to minimise the stress that some children can feel when presented with a complicated selection of objects.  This method broke it down into much easier to handle chunks.  Some children actually went to to create quite complex compositions. thinking about layering and creating depth.  It seemed that, because they were selecting the objects themselves, they felt much more empowered to give it their best go.

The children were all very pleased with their results at the end of the two hours.

Using Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ as inspiration, the children in our art clubs have been busy making collages this week.  It has been very nice to see how they have brought in elements from previous sessions to enhance their work.  It is always heartening as a teacher to see children remembering what they have learnt and using this knowledge to reach for new heights.

One of the biggest challenges in this project was for the children to grasp the concept of layering.  This was particularly key here as by far the easiest approach was to put in the table and background first, followed by the vase and then finally the flowers.  Some children really struggled with this idea of working from the bottom up and as a result found that they had to fill in around their beautiful flowers to create a background.  Not impossible, but certainly challenging! I guess that, because the flowers were the main feature of the painting, it was those that they couldn’t wait to get started on, despite my frequent reminders to ‘do the background first’!

Not to worry, however, they all produced lovely work in the end.  It was pleasing to see that they all had the creative confidence to use the original painting as a starting point but take it in their own direction.  So many of them asked, ‘Can we do other flowers as well as sunflowers?’ and ‘Can we do our own background?’.  I wholeheartedly encourage this sort of open ended thinking so of course the answer was a resounding yes.  I hope you love them as much as me!

Work by children aged 5 – 7

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One of the things I strive for most when planning our art sessions is to create a framework that allows children to create work they are pleased with and also encourages them to think independently and take their own path.  This can be a fine balancing act. Too much freedom in the ‘brief’ and they can easily lose their way and end up with a finished piece that they are not 100% happy with.  Whilst on the other hand, if the guidance is too specific and prescribed, creativity is stifled and it becomes more a test of following instructions rather than an opportunity for self expression.

I like to think that our most recent work has achieved this balance.  The creation of the pop-up element of the ‘Van Gogh Chair’ meant that every child began with roughly the same template.  From this starting point they were already all on a trajectory towards success.  Providing a range of inspiring collage papers also helped to spark their imagination.  I provided pens and pencils so that they could draw if they wished but this wasn’t essential – collage on its own was also fine.  I think that this flexibility helped all children feel confident that they could create what they wanted in their own way and removed the stress that some children feel when asked to draw something specific.

They all worked so quietly for this project, completely lost in creating a miniature world of their own.  Seated around a large table, they were also able to take inspiration from each other (something I encourage – I am trying to teach them that this is not ‘copying’ and that they should be flattered if someone else likes their idea).  The creative juices were really flowing for this topic.  Nearly every child came up with original ideas and it was lovely to see them developing their problem solving skills along the way.   They couldn’t wait to take them home to show their families.

 

Our new collage topic is underway in our after school and home education groups.  We have eased the children into the new term with a simple, one session activity that introduced them to some of the possibilities of collage.  In preparation for this lesson, I visited a travel agent (thankfully still on our local high street!) and managed to get a donation of lots of old holiday brochures that could be cut up.  Some of the children also brought along print outs of photos from their own holidays to add a personal touch.

Each child was given a piece of A5 card which I had folded in half.  They were told that they were going to use the brochures and photos to create a scene either reminiscent of their own holiday or of a fantasy holiday destination.  Many children, in the end, opted for a combination of the two.  Firstly they created their backgrounds, thinking about the setting.  Would it be a beach scene?  In the mountains? In a forest, or perhaps a city? Some children chose to also use pens to add details at this point which was fine by me.

Once the background was created I showed them how to make the ‘pop up’ element.  We did this by selecting individual buildings, animals, people or natural features from the brochures and gluing them onto some card.  Then they needed to carefully cut them out (this is great practice for cutting skills and challenged even some older children), remembering to leave a tab at the bottom that could be folded and stuck onto the postcard.  I demonstrated how to make sure it fitted into the postcard when flat by lining it up before gluing and checking the positioning.

Once they had the idea, they got very absorbed in making their pop ups and some of the more able children even started to think about perspective, placing larger things near the front and smaller things behind.  If they couldn’t find a picture of what they wanted to pop up in the brochures? No worries, they grabbed the pens and drew it themselves! A lovely example of building confidence and artistic expression. I think you’ll agree that they did a great job!

 

Preparations are well underway for the new term.  Planning is complete, materials are ordered and a new booking system is operational.  As last year, I am opening the new year with a collage topic.  This is a good one to ease children of all ages and abilities into art club.  I am always conscious that the last thing we want to do is scare children away in the first couple of weeks by asking them to do something they feel is beyond their abilities.  Collage is a great leveller and it hopefully teaches children that there is no right or wrong in art club, the main thing is just to have a go and have fun.  I find that children who haven’t come to art club before sometimes struggle with the having a go part but as they see their peers trying, sometimes failing, then trying again, they soon relax into it. One of our aims is the increase confidence, not just in art but more generally in day to day life.  When you remove the fear of being told that something is wrong or of being laughed at (absolutely no allowed at Art Explorers!) it is amazing what children start to create.  I am really looking forward to meeting our new artists this year and seeing what they can do.

This was a great session which combined a focus on line and shape with hands-on messy fun with tissue paper and water squirters!

We began by using a ‘Roll a Miro’ game to generate lots of interesting shapes and lines.  I used this one I found on pinterest but there are many, many other versions available online.  No point reinventing the wheel!  The children drew their designs in pencil first so that they could make changes in scale and positioning before tracing over their lines in black sharpie.

Once they were happy with their designs (we spent a while looking at the way Miro varied the size of his forms and lines for maximum impact) it was time to make the background.  I had the children decide roughly on a colour scheme for their work and then rip up tissue paper and cover their drawing with it, making sure that there was no paper showing.  If the tissue paper over lapped it was all the better.  I then handed out water sprays (I recycle old sprays from the kitchen for this, they seem to work much better than ones you buy) and set them to work soaking their pictures.  As you can imagine, they enjoyed this bit!

One the paper was fully soaked, we patted it down gently (hands WILL get messy!) and then very gently peeled off the tissue.  The children enjoyed revealing the lovely blurred version of the tissue paper colours underneath.   We had a short break while we left them to dry off a bit (some of the soggiest needed a bit a a pat dry with kitchen towel) and then we set to work on the final stage.

We looked again at the Miro painting and saw how he had used solid blocks of mainly primary colours to contrast sharply with his soft, textural backgrounds.  I handed out ready mix paint in primary colours and small brushes and the children set to work picking out areas of their drawing they wished to stand out.  A few of them also added in a couple more sharpie lines and shapes at this stage too.  We were pretty pleased with the finished results.

 

Crazy for Clay

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One of the reasons that I love what I do is that there is always something new and exciting to look forward to.  This half term the children in our After School Clubs and Home Educated groups are going to be getting to grips with clay.  This is so different from our previous topic of painting and I am intrigued see what they all come up  with.  Will those that excelled with colour theory also excel with clay, or will this new medium give other children a chance to really shine?  This is the wonderful thing about art; it comes in so many guises there is something for everyone.  I am planning to keep this topic as open ended as possible and really allow the children to get creative and use their imaginations.  Many of the children will never have worked with clay before so I want to ensure that they have plenty of time to discover its possibilities for themselves.  We are beginning this week by working on a flat surface, making patterned tiles and then we will move onto 3D work with coil pots and, eventually, animals.  When I told them my plans before the holiday they were already bursting with ideas so I am sure that they are going to produce some truly lovely things.  Watch this space…

Art for Autism

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Over the last few months I have had the privilege of working with Zach.  Zach has severe autism and is non-verbal but had always enjoyed art activities when he was at school so his mum got in touch and asked if I would be able to provide weekly art sessions.  A fantastic aspect of art is that it really is for everyone.  Experimenting with colour and texture can bring joy on an enormous range of levels.  One of the brilliant things about the way Zach enjoys art is that he is solely interested in the process; what captures his attention are the sensations involved in stamping, squishing, sticking, spreading, sorting.  The finished product is of little importance to him which means that I have also had to cast aside any concerns about what we will be left with at the end.  This has been quite a steep learning curve for me and one that I have found really quite liberating.  I have come to realise that my role is to facilitate his experimentation and be willing to go with the flow.  If he is particularly interested in squishing a sponge in paint then the whole session may consist of this is various guises.  While I know how important the process is to all of the children I work with, it can be hard sometimes to not get distracted by a pressure to ensure they produce a high quality finished product.  My weekly sessions with Zach are serving as a handy reminder that art is ultimately about pleasure, and enjoyment of the various processes involved in making art can be extremely powerful in the development of all artists.

Happy New Year!

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It has been quite sometime since I last updated my blog.  Time has flown by since the summer with lots of new after school clubs getting underway and the excitement of Kate joining the team to help us expand further.  I am now getting organised for the new term and I can’t wait to get cracking with our new topic of painting.  Painting is the topic that nearly all children ask for and look forward to the most.  I love it too as it allows for such freedom of expression and experimentation.  (I’m not so keen on the cleaning up afterwards but I guess that’s a small price to pay!)  I have become aware that there are very few opportunities in normal school time for children to paint.  It seems that even when the paints are brought out the use of them is quite controlled, with a keen eye on the finished product rather than the process.  To me, the joy of painting is all about the process, particularly with younger children who love to slap layer upon layer of paint down onto the paper until the paper eventually gives way.  It is all about them seeing for themselves what happens when colours are mixed together even is the outcome is sometimes rather…brown.  So with this in mind we will be having lots of experimental fun in our art clubs this term with the emphasis firmly on the experience. Ok, some of the paintings may end up looking rather abstract but what is hidden beneath those shapes and swirls will be layers and layers of learning and that is what we are all about. Now, where did I put those aprons…