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The Art of Poetry

Two paintings, ‘Blue Salute Sunset. Turner Speaking From Beyond the Horizon’ & ‘Black Nene Willows’, included in a diverse exhibition of art inspired by poetry and accompanied by the poetry that inspired it. The exhibition, at Obsidian Art Gallery in Stoke Mandeville, will be open from Friday 21 March – Wednesday 23 April 2014.

In addition, a specially commissioned book featuring selected work from the show will accompany the exhibition, and includes a haiku and colour illustration of ‘Black Nene Willows’

SLATER-Blue Salute Sunset

Blue Salute Sunset. Turner Speaking From Beyond the Horizon
Oil on Board    55 x 55 cm

Learning from a Master

A daunting prospect
Following giant footsteps
And reputation

Walking in a dream
And looking through Turner’s eyes
With captivation

SLATER-Black Nene Willows

Black Nene Willows
Oil on Canvas    65 x 55 cm

Dusk falling
Black willows weeping

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary


Perhaps my last session in the classroom with my year 6 group at NHPS and this week our approach took a different tack, with design playing the central role.

I began the workshop by showing a selection of images on my MacBook of the drawings produced during the past few weeks, then I asked the children to imagine these drawings on a completely different scale. Rather than 30cm x 42cm, to think of them being 30′ x 42′. Next I suggested they should consider these previously drawn images as the basic ingredients for a design which would be reproduced on a monumental scale, as a mural. To help them envisage this process I showed some examples of my own work; scribbled ideas in pencil for mural projects which were then modified, revamped and refined using colour, followed by an illustration of the end product.

Using pencils and pencil crayons the challenge today was to produce ideas for a basic composition for a mural which would be painted to celebrate the school becoming an academy. It was not intended that the mural would necessarily be based on the design of one child but that elements suggested by the group as a whole would be recomposed to form the final painting.

A very loose and energetic approach was encouraged, the emphasis being the production of ideas rather than accurate drawing. Likewise colour was applied in the same liberal manner. Speed was key in order to stimulate a quick rather than laboured thought process.

In a perfect world the painting would be completed in time to be unveiled on the actual date when the school will become Newark Hill Academy, on 1st April, however an outdoor project has several factors to take into account, especially at this time of the year. A very wet period has delayed preparation of the wall and recent mild weather was much needed in order that the foundation priming coat could be applied to a dry surface. Conditions for working outdoors in Spring are hit and miss, but I would prefer the painting stage of the project to be an enjoyable experience for the children. Even with this recent relatively settled spell one can be lulled into a false sense of security. My mother would say, ‘March – in like a lamb, will roar out like a lion!’ and like many old sayings she recounts, they often ring true. The weather has the final word, so a delay to the preferred completion date is understandable.

Regardless, the subject for the painting has been successfully explored in a number of workshops over the past few weeks, and the children have suggested elements to be included in the layout. We have not reached the end yet, but the end has a start.

The actual painting may not have begun but if the children had their own mural, they would look like this…………….

…………..and I have used their drawings to develop a design for the final composition…………….

SLATER-NHA drawing white

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary


To bring my charcoal & chalk pastel workshops at NHPS to some sort of conclusion, this morning the group used the whole session to work on the same drawing. An owl in flight was our subject again. There is a good reason why I have repeated this theme and it will be revealed to the group next week. Time has been an issue in previous sessions and it was interesting to see whether the extra time would benefit or be detrimental to their work.

I’m often asked how I decide when a painting of my own is finished and it’s a difficult one, however I certainly know when I’ve killed it. It’s important to push the envelope, to move an image around to get the best one can out of it, but it’s easy to be tempted to go too far and then it’s a matter of repairing the damage. With digital work the ‘undo’ button can be a lifesaver, and sometimes I wish this facility was available with oil paint. Today, on the whole, I think the group took advantage of the extra time although it’s interesting to compare the images at break with the final results.

Break time…………

Full time…………..

The children employed many of the techniques explored during the past few weeks of image making and I feel the results show them moving forward very quickly. The work is adventurous and inventive. Some particularly good images have been achieved, particularly for children still in year 6.

‘A Mad Tea-Party’ at Titchmarsh School
– The Workshops


The title doesn’t quite work but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of including a song by The Jam on my ‘Blog Title Soundtracks‘ page.

At the end of January I was invited to a meeting with Executive Head Josie Milton and Year 3&4 Classteacher Lorna Denholm to discuss plans for World Book Day, and beyond, and I was looking forward to leading some drawing workshops at Titchmarsh School again. Yesterday, after a couple of days of preparation, I arrived armed and ready for another busy day and the children, as on previous occasions, worked with the energy and enthusiasm I’ve now come to expect from this very good school.

Alice in WonderladI carried my treasured copy of ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ by Lewis Carroll under my arm. It once belonged to my Dad, a book he won as a prize when he was a child. He loved the story, as do I, and the surreal storyline I’ve no doubt will be popular for many years to come. It describes such a curious world where the oddest things can happen. It therefore came as no surprise at all to be met at Reception by Eeyore and to be then taken to a classroom where the teacher was a Cat in a Hat.

The children were dressed as a veritable collection of characters from Harry Potter, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Superman, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, Winnie the Pooh, Treasure Island, Where’s Wally? and a host of other popular books for children. Had I been more prepared I could have disguised myself as Charlie Small‘s eccentric art daubing uncle.

The subject of my workshop was the opening lines of Chapter VII of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘A Mad Tea-Party’.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,” thought Alice; “only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.”

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: “No room! No room!” they cried out when they saw Alice coming.

“There’s plenty of room!” said Alice, indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table.

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

Using a combination of pastels and charcoal, five groups visited my ‘studio’ in the school hall during the course of the day to produce interpretations of the characters and ingredients within the scene.

Rather than different year groups, the children were divided into their ‘Houses’, each one comprising of 16-18 children ranging from the youngest in the school to the year 4’s.

Following an introduction to the medium, each group then created an image relating to an element within the passage, the last group of the day producing two. The sessions lasted about 45 minutes and some very successful pieces were produced.

My TA for the day was the Cat in the Hat, Lorna Denholm, who was a star. Thanks Lorna, I couldn’t have done it without you!

Here are a selection of the outcomes from each of the workshops. Stage One of ‘A Mad Tea-Party at Titchmarsh School’ is complete. Stage Two follows next month.

Workshop 1 ‘Under a tree’

Workshop 2 ‘There was nothing on the table but tea’

Workshop 3 ‘The Hatter’

Workshop 4 ‘Alice’

Workshop 5 ‘The March Hare’ & ‘Tea Party Cakes’

For pics of the children in action, take a look at the Titchmarsh School Blog

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary



A two week break since my last visit to NHPS, so the priority with today’s session was to pick up momentum again. Not exactly a ‘Mess Around’ but definitely a constructive one in which invention and investigation played a major part.

As with any medium I’d always encourage mark making exercises first in order to examine its capabilities and today the group continued working with chalk pastel, this time however employed as a painting medium. The introduction of water created new opportunities and alternatives which contrasted with effects explored previously when using the medium dry.

It was applied dry to wet paper, and wet on dry paper. Pastel as a powder, as a solution, drizzled and spattered, applied with brushes as well as with a damp paper towel, and using a small container of water as a bath, marbling effects were created. A day of experiment, of trial and error, but much was learned – and it was fun too!

The Importance Of Being Nobby

‘If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop, never stop, never, never, ever stop………….

Many of my paintings have a hidden story and the memory of producing them is often indelible, which is one reason why I find so much difficulty parting with them. This one was painted in 1974 when I was 18 years old, in the grounds of Thorpe Hall, Peterborough.

SLATER-Thorpe HallI was very unhappy with this painting and it has survived only because my grandmother prevented me from tearing it to shreds and throwing it in the bin. As far as I was concerned, it was a disaster. She, however, effectively stole it from me and it hung on the wall of her living room until she died in 2006.

It was produced as the answer to the landscape paper for my Art A level, the last of the three sections which that exam comprised. Accompanied by our Art teacher there were about half a dozen of us sitting in various positions around Thorpe Hall that day and I remember it was sunny, warm and quiet, an idyllic spot to paint ‘en plein air’ close to the heart of the city. Not for me though, I struggled from start to finish. It was one of those very frustrating painting days when I felt everything was going hopelessly wrong.

After about two and a half hours the tranquility and silence was broken by the fizzing sound of a drawing board flying through the air, and heads turned in unison to witness it nosedive and disappear into long grass about 30 feet away. Unlike a boomerang it didn’t come back. I felt exasperated and, like my painting, I then hurled myself off in the opposite direction. I didn’t nosedive into long grass, I just took a long hike. As far as I was concerned my A level landscape submission was worm food.

My art teacher during my time at Deacon’s School was Mr ER Clark. We called him ‘Sir’ to his face, otherwise he was ‘Nobby’. During my early years at the school he scared me to bits, as did many of the staff. When he was around no-one dared to speak and to have hair touching the collar or hands in pockets risked receipt of the death penalty. On one occasion I had to provide him with an essay, ’10 pages on Dürer, 10 words a line, for tomorrow morning’, for not having my tie done up correctly.

Early years were tough but as we grew older another side slowly revealed itself. Although he would always have a sharp bite he began to present a different character. He became someone we could converse with and there was a wicked humour at times too. When I was a sixth former I innocently asked him why he’d kept a treadle pottery wheel as there were 3 electrically powered wheels in the art room and suggested he should perhaps sell it as an antique. From nowhere words suddenly hit me like a machine gun, gaining in volume as they gained pace. In one breath and without punctuation he gave me the full barrage – ‘That wheel has been in this studio for 18 years I’ve been here for 18 years if that’s an antique then I’m an antique is that what you’re calling me Slater? An ANTIQUE????!!!!!!! Blown completely away by the shock, I floundered for words. I was rooted to the spot, my mouth agape. He turned on his heels and skipped away, leaving me wilting, while my comrades stood like Garfield puppets glued to the art room windows.

Later that year I submitted two articles which were printed in ‘The Deaconian’ publication. The first described a day in the life of a long suffering Art teacher, the second was a Top of the Pops styled Best Sellers List, using song titles which I felt reflected different members of staff. Next to Mr Clark I wrote Alice Cooper’s ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’.

Returning to that A level landscape day in June ’74, instead of the hairdryer treatment a voice of calm tracked me down, with a suggestion that tossing my board into the abyss should really not be my final creative act as a Deacon’s School Art Student. I was encouraged to reassess the situation and continue the assignment. Regardless of the resulting painting, it was the right thing to do and another lesson learned. Things don’t necessarily ever go the way you want, but it’s important never to give up. Perseverance is the key.

Nobby provided us with a huge catalogue of catchphrases spoken with a voice that resonated through his nose and when our Sixth form Art group left the school, not only did we present him with an engraved tankard as a goodbye gift, we also wrote 50 of his well worn ones on parchment in the finest calligraphy we could muster. Of my favourites, ‘Chatting!’, ‘Duck Egg Blue’, ‘It’s the old, old story’, ‘You can’t see the wood for the trees’, ‘Look for the green in the hair’, ‘Slater you’re making the breasts look like brass bowls’ and his particular and individual pronunciation of the colour ‘Tur-kwarze’ (Turquoise), will stay with me forever.

When I wasn’t accepted at my first choice college for my Foundation Art year my disappointment was overwhelming, however he spoke to me in harsh terms. ‘It isn’t the end of the world’, he said, ‘Get in at your second choice instead’. I did, at Loughborough, and from there I progressed to Coventry for a BA Hons course in Fine Art, where I met my future wife. He was right. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was only the start of it.

I kept in touch with him while at art school and would often pay him a visit when I was home. We continued to meet at intervals when I became a Lecturer myself and he visited several of my exhibitions, which included both solo and group shows. A few years ago he contacted me to say he no longer had need of his personal art materials and he passed them on to me. In the summer of 2005 I held a solo exhibition at the Blandscliff Gallery in Scarborough, the work produced using Nobby’s materials.

So what is the role of a teacher? When does it end? During my years at school I feared him but his teaching developed my practical skills as well as instilling discipline in my studio practise. Nobby never presented Art as being recreational or the ‘rest’ lesson. Although I was genuinely interested in the subject, it was he that got me going and for that I am eternally grateful.

After leaving school I maintained contact for 40 years and he became a friend, despite the fact I never used his preferred name. He would often repeat the line ‘Colin. Call me Roy’. I would always reply, ‘Okay……..Sir’. He was a constant source of reassurance, encouragement and constructive criticism. Above all, I knew I could trust his opinion and he would always tell me the truth. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today. It’s as simple as that.

Last summer I visited a different him in hospital. Today I attended his funeral. Tomorrow there will be a collection of angels seriously ticked off for talking in assembly.

Thanks for everything Nobby. I’m really going to miss you. You started me up, and now I’ve started, I won’t ever stop………………..


Edward Roy Clark
27.6.27 – 16.2.14

A Day in the Life of a Long-Suffering Sixth Form Art Master

As usual on a Wednesday morning, the sixth form equivalents to Augustus John lounge in the Pottery Room chatting about the previous night’s life class. Suddenly through the door bursts the Art Master, complete with lunch pack and vacuum flask, with hair gradually greying at the edges after suffering for years with Sixthformitis.

“What was the attendance like last night, Jostins?” he asks as he passes by into the Art Room. The laddie to whom the question was directed hurriedly removes his hands from his pockets and follows him drearily, the rest of us following suit.

“Everyone there except Spinks, Sir.”

“What again! I’ll have to have a word with young Spinks,” he said, removing his trusty overcoat (also greying at the edges). “Well?”

“Well, I had football training, and I’ve got an exam today, and it was my birthday, and it was raining, and we had relations ’round, and …………”

“Oh, come come, Spinks, that’s an old one, don’t pull the wool over my eyes. The tech put on this class for your benefit, and I feel it is an essential part of your ‘A’ level course, and you’re just kicking them in the teeth, aren’t you? Now then, pull yourself together lad, there’s not long before your ‘A’ level examination.”

From Spinks he turns his head toward the rest of us, still standing in a huddle next to the Pottery Room door. Realising that he’s now looking in our direction, we awake and remove our hands from our pockets again.

“What, no model this morning?” he asks.

“He hasn’t arrived yet,” someone mumbles.

“Oh well, we’ll have a quick look at your weekend landscapes then.”

Suddenly, the Art Room is transformed into Deacon’s answer to the Tate Gallery with paintings pasted to every square inch of the blackboard.

“This must be Jostins’, I recognise the colours. Is this PVA green? It reminds me of a colour television.”

The characteristic Jostins “Mmm” is grunted either in agreement or his own interpretation of YOUVEGOTACHEEK.

He moves towards the next. “Is this yours, Barnes?”

“Yes,” the boy replies slowly.

He scrutinises the rest of the paintings with his expert eye for a sign of a budding Van Gogh or Gauguin, but yet again, there isn’t one.

“Well, it’s the old, old story, I’m afraid. Hilton, how long did you spend on this?”

“24 hours, Sir.”

“There you are. You’re just not spending adequate time. Yes, I’ll accept it for what it is, now go and take it that one step further and …….”

Unfortunately he is cut off in full swing as the bell rings and, all breathing sighs of relief, we plod out of the room.

Leaving by the Pottery Room exit we see 3B, some carrying the latest style in 10 side essays, lining up for their next Art lesson (another reason for the greying hair?). I don’t know who I feel the more sympathy for.

Colin Slater, Lower VI Art
(Published in ‘The Deaconian’ 1973)


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