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Thursday 11th November 2010, a day spent with Lucy, Debbie, Rafit and the Dahl Reception Class at Fulbridge School. Despite a grey and wet start the weather didn’t dampen spirits, everyone arrived with their sleeves rolled up, raring to go and got stuck in. The level of energy and enthusiasm never dipped or waivered but remained at full steam ahead all day. The room was a hive of activity and industry, and a new experience of drawing with charcoal (presented by a square peg in a round hole dressed like a stick of willow charcoal) was welcomed with open arms.

Several weeks earlier I had introduced the potential of mark making with charcoal at a Staff Meeting in order that the medium might be confidently employed with other year groups. The outcome has been the production of many successful pieces of work. (http://headatfulbridgeschool.wordpress.com/the-art-gallery/)

Lucy kicked off proceedings and after introducing me to the group I sallied forth. I had brought some of my own drawings to show the class, and explained that during the course of the day we’d be using the the same techniques as I had employed in the making of my drawings. Following a short demonstration of marks made by hard and soft pencils, a graphite stick and charcoal the children then had their opportunity. With direction they drew light lines, then heavy lines, thin and thick, then shapes which were smudged using the tips of the fingers. A putty rubber was introduced, and ‘white lines’ drawn across grey toned areas.

Having made these initial investigations it was time for a wash and brush up, children as well as table and floor, and a 15 minute break with a cup of hot chocolate recharged my batteries before returning to the class for the next session. One table was set up for children to continue individual exploration of the medium, enjoying the action of the charcoal on the paper surface – its durability or lack of it; how easily it smudged; how easily it was removed – and were left to investigate largely on their own. Meanwhile I set up camp at a nearby table with a pile of paper and several pairs of scissors. The nature theme the children had recently explored was to determine the subject of the afternoon activity. In preparation for the days proceedings leaves had been collected and filled two boxes, and using these as a template, we folded small pieces of paper to cut out different leaf shapes in a variety of sizes, placing positive shapes in one tray and the negative shapes in another. By the time lunchtime arrived the second session had seen the production of a series of freely rendered charcoal drawings without instruction, and a collection of paper leaf shaped stencils in readiness for the afternoon.

After a break for lunch, the charcoal drawing workshop resumed. I worked with a succession of small groups of 4 or 5 children at a time to produce an image with a working title of ‘Forest Floor’. The method employed was not to draw directly onto the range of coloured papers available but to apply charcoal to the various paper leaf shapes, and to brush it off, move and repeat, to create a montage of abstracted leaves. Some of the resulting images produced were remarkable. Some very successful images were lost too as they became either overworked or rubbed out completely. Knowing when enough is enough is a decision that’s difficult to make for a practitioner of any age, so it’s not surprising that some only survived for a moment and were then lost to the world forever. It happens all the time.

To conclude the day, after clearing up, Lucy gathered the class together for a reflective summing up to which the children contributed by recalling some of the activities. A random selection of drawings was shown to the group too as a reminder of the three sessions. A good day, I’d consider it a thumbs up anyway. Having only worked on two or three previous occasions with a collection of such small munchkins I have a limited yardstick with which to measure, hence demands and outcomes were difficult to predict. Thankfully Lucy helped keep everything on an even keel and the ship didn’t sink! No-one ended up looking as though they’d spent the day down a coal mine, after a good wash everyone ended the day as clean as when they started it – and I think richer for the experience.

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