Once a week I run a one-hour art class for under 5s. It’s attended by a group from a local nursery, and there is no nicer sound than hearing the children laughing with excitement as they come along the corridor towards my room. It’s great fun to spend time with three-year-olds – they are such charming, funny and entertaining people. It’s lovely to dip into a world where the only problem is whether to play ‘Wheels on the Bus’ or ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ at the end – this choice seems to be loaded with a great deal of emotional significance and has been known to cause tears.
I’ve filled a noticeboard in the room with past projects – they are usually collage-based and inspired by a different picture book each week, which I then read to the class. Can you spot work inspired by Petr Horacek, Jenni Desmond, Karin Littlewood, Leigh Hodginson, Ed Vere, Yasmeen Ismael, Neal Layton and Chris Haughton?
I make a lot of use of novelty hole punches from Blade Rubber, a shop just near the British Museum – they have a tremendous range to choose from, with leaves, stars and flowers being especially useful.
I’ve had another lovely afternoon with the “Recycled Teenagers” – the Over 55s group at National Trust property Sutton House in Hackney. We were making decoupage plates with a message, loosely inspired by the campaigning work of Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon (Doreen Lawrence). I invited everyone to think of a simple campaign slogan expressing something close to their heart, and create a suitable background with images from magazines. The results were fantastically varied and very inspiring.
The exhibition I have been creating with local Hackney Primary Schools at National Trust property Sutton House, inspired by Influential Black Londoners, is continuing to grow week by week – it’s a fantastic place to display children’s work, so much more interesting than a gallery. Last week we focused on Ignatius Sancho, and transformed the Tudor Kitchen into a grocery shop. Each child created their own product and made some original packaging for it, complete with some marketing information – I like ‘Have some fantastic peas and sweet corn, also dry beautiful beans’ and ‘These peas taste amazing, they are the best in the world’ as well as ‘Enjoy a block of bread’.
This week we looked at Francis Barber, and inspired by his connections with Samuel Johnson as well as his teaching work, I asked the children to think of their favourite word, make a printing block and then print onto a tissue collage background. It was interesting to see what words they chose: the girls – nice, love, pretty, happy; and the boys – fast, hero, amazing…
This week’s class also made a library of miniature books – my favourite is Francis Barber’s Christmas, where he is given a large parcel by Samuel Johnson. What was inside? A lovely dictionary!
The exhibition will continue to grow week by week until the end of November.
Yesterday was the official launch of the Black History Month exhibition I’ve been involved with at Sutton House, a Tudor National Trust property in Hackney. The project began for me when I designed a set of commemorative stamps for nine Influential Black Londoners, which go with letters written by historian Miranda Kaufmann based on research by a team of volunteers led by Patrick Vernon OBE.
The second part of the project has now started, where I run a weekly workshop based on each of the historic figures with a different local primary school. The first looked at Henry VIII’s trumpeter, John Blanke, and the children each made a woven paper square with their own invented heraldic emblem on it, which I’ve mounted as a group hanging from a trumpet. Then the children each wrote a letter to John Blanke, and posted it in the giant envelope. Week 2 looked at the Lascars, and we had a total of 60 children making paper boats to represent the cargo-laden ships the Asian sailors travelled on. I like the one with the tiny lifeboat on board.
The exhibition will continue to grow each week until the end of November.
I’ve just spent two days in the Elephant and Castle, at London South Bank University with 9-13 year-olds from various local schools. It was all part of ShoutSouth!, a children’s writing festival organised by CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London). All sorts of writers and illustrators for young people ran workshops aimed at getting the children enthused about writing stories – and the pencils were flying! Many exciting stories emerged in the group I was with, and my job was to get them to design covers for their master-works in the final session.
To begin the workshop I showed everyone a set of images from the fantastic 50 Watts website, which is a tremendous resource for those interested in the history of graphic design. Recently they posted the results of a competition to design book covers influenced by Polish designers of the 50s and 60s, and I thought these could act as a good point of inspiration with their bold designs, simple lines and striking colour choices. A small selection of the children’s work is shown above: I specially like the highly ornate golden treasure chest watched by a sinister pair of red eyes, and the cover for ‘Waiting for the Wind’ where a whole village is encased in a bell jar with mysterious footsteps leading out of it. The bottom-left cover is for an as-yet untitled work about a homeless man and his dog, and the cover really sets the scene for a sense of urban alienation. ‘The Soul Keeper’ tells of a tribe who have seahorses tattooed on the back of their skulls, while ‘Shhhh…’ is about a carved elephant containing secrets of the French revolution. Meanwhile ‘The Giant Mutant Monkey’ has a secret weapon – pinecones which are filled with tiny knives.
It was great fun working with everyone, children, authors and illustrators, and I hope one day I will be able to read the full stories.
This afternoon I’ve been at Sacred Heart Primary School in Battersea making books with Year 4 – and a very enjoyable afternoon it was too. I gave each child a little surprise lucky bag with a mixture of collage scraps and random words, and the challenge was to invent a story and make the spreads into different scenarios for a character to discover. They were a terrific class, full of exciting ideas and bold in their vision, and they created some remarkable work in the two hour session.
I specially like the title ‘The Trees happened to turn Yellow’ – it sounds like a chilling sci-fi novel from the 1950s. And I would love to read ‘Ruby and Sunshine Swoop Through Town’, with its boundary-busting 3-d design, it looks full of fun. The stark simplicity of ‘Dog’ rather appeals too, and the 3-d ladybird emerging from behind a leaf is genius!
The project was part of an arts week at the school organised by Pinksie the Whale, and the school had been beautifully decorated for the occasion, with fabric-wrapped trees and plastic bag blooms creating a wonderful welcome.
I’ve spent the last two days at Meadlands Primary School in Ham working with Nursery, Reception, Year One, Year Four and Year 6 on a big Olympics-themed frieze.
The younger classes began by mixing colours and creating printing blocks with foam sheets from the marvellous Work and Play scrap store in Tooting.
Next we cut out the printed waves and pebbles and stuck them on a huge blue roll of paper, also from the scrap store. These represent the swimming pool and running track. The collage also included bits of old maps and circles cut from catalogues with my badge-maker circle-cutter.
Next Y4 and Y6 looked at reference pictures of sports and created their own running and swimming printing blocks. We inked them up with rollers and printed them on the paper overlaying the background collage.
Finally we added some text in a flowing line using some old letterpress blocks lent to me by mosaic artist Sue Edkins. I also did a Q&A session in assembly about being an illustrator. Lots of budding illustrators at that school are already making their own comic books at home – wish I could have seen them.
I’ve just finished a two week project in Whitechapel for English Heritage, with Year 6 at Canon Barnett Primary School.
Equipped with sketchbooks, the class have been walking and drawing the built heritage of the area, as well as making collages, seeing behind the scenes at the renovations at Altab Ali park, and making a presentation to professionals from English Heritage and Tower Hamlets council about which local features they would like to see listed. We also visited the Ian Berry photography exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery, which is practically next door to the school.
It’s been a very enjoyable project and the next step is for me to design then screen print a poster with the children’s drawings, which we will present to the chair of English Heritage in July. Looking forward to going back already.
I’ve been doing a series of education workshops at The Mall Galleries with different visiting schools from Lambeth. The children get to talk about paintings, choose a character from a piece of work in the current exhibition, then make their own book featuring doors into other worlds. The children have been so enthusiastic, it’s been great working there.
This week I’ve been working at the Mall Galleries with schools visiting from nearby Lambeth. I devised a workshop for them which involved looking at the paintings on display and sketching their favourites, then using that to inspire a book based on magical, mystery doors. Working with Elli from the gallery, we pre-folded A2 paper into a simple book form, then showed the children what was possible with a demonstration book featuring doors peeping on to the next page. Then the children got to work with scissors, glue and a big selection of tempting collage materials, together with coloured pencils. The results were incredibly inventive, with several children going straight into 3-D and others showing a tremendous innate sense of colour and design. You can see the demonstrations book I made to show the children here.