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Celebration Mural at Newark Hill Academy

17 – 19.6.14

This week I returned to the Newark Hill Academy, Peterborough to complete some unfinished business. Before Easter I led a series of image making workshops which culminated in the production of a series of design ideas for a mural project. An outside wall had been identified and proposed as the site for a mural to be painted at the school to celebrate its transition from primary school to academy status, and I was asked to return during the summer term to make the idea become a reality.

SLATER-NHA drawing white

When I arrived on the morning of the 17th the wall had already been prepared, although the size and shape of the area to be painted was slightly different and a little smaller than had been originally suggested. Nevertheless, at 62″ x 110″ it was still going to be on a monumental scale as far as the children were concerned. I made some adjustments to the previous plan and set about transferring the design to the wall.

The Newark Hill school emblem has always included the image of an owl, so to illustrate a connection with the past and the developing present this established identity of the school was selected as the central element of the mural. Owls and flight had been the subject of the image making workshops and the composition was based upon three drawings in particular which had been produced by the children during these sessions.

On Day 2 the group of 12 children that had previously attended my workshops were assembled and during the course of the day 3-4 children at a time worked on a rotation basis to paint the wall. I took the role of foreman issuing instructions and directions, while the children metamorphosed into mural painting apprentices and began applying paint to the wall. During this first painting session all of the work was done by the children and at the end of the school day the mural had taken shape and progressed in leaps and bounds.

The layout has three defined layers and in order to suggest the transition and continuity of the school identity the composition follows the natural pattern of reading from left to right, and the previous school colours of yellow and green develop a transparency as they gradually transform into the emerging purple and grey of the newly established academy.

I made some tidying adjustments to the painting after the children left at the end of the school day and then on Day 3 I continued alone to bring the painting to a conclusion. Although the colours of the original drawings have been altered to adapt to the palette that had been suggested for the painting, my priority as far as was possible was to retain the shapes and style of the children’s work. It was also important when making modifications of tonal values not to lose the painted marks of the previous day either.

The end result is very much a team effort. It may be my design and layout, and my painted marks which completed the project, but the ingredients and substance of the composition, as well as the appearance of the lively paintwork, is very much that of a group of people working together.

The children from my workshop group deserve applause and congratulations for their painterly efforts as they did such a wonderful job. In addition, a special mention and thanks should be extended to Lorraine Brookes too for organising the project. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without you!

Newark Hill9

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Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

19.3.14

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

12.3.14

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.

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

5.3.14

DSCF7244

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!

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

12.2.14

Week 3 at NHPS and rather than present more of my own work I showed a selection of images on the screen of my MacBook, examples of charcoal drawings by David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Dennis Creffield and Darren Fraser, and chalk pastels by Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, Degas, Whistler, Munch and Len Tabner.

The session was divided into two parts to build on the skills and working practises accumulated and established during the previous workshops. The first exercise was to develop a positive interpretation of an owl in flight…………………

………………..then to repeat the exercise as a dynamic negative.

Using the owl as a silhouette my instruction was to employ the medium to emphasise the fluttering movement and speed of a moving, predatory creature.

The second part of the workshop was to work with chalk pastel and produce a drawing using a photographic resource. The strategy however was the same, that marks made suggested the movement of an active and animated hunter on the wing.

Despite the group working at speed, as they were encouraged, unfortunately more time was needed to reach a more satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless the groundwork has been laid. Perhaps these drawings could be revisited when we meet again.

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

5.2.14

My second week at NHPS and the medium used today was chalk pastel however we began by making some observations of the charcoal workshop, reflecting upon the successful and the not so successful aspects of the previous week’s session.

SLATER-Guardi    SLATER-Seabirds

Again I brought some of my own work to show to the group. Last week I presented images with a theme of water, a charcoal ‘Souvenir’ drawing of Francesco Guardi ‘Venice: The Punta della Dogana’  and an oil painting of a sea storm witnessed from the beach at Salthouse, North Norfolk – ‘Seabirds Riding High’.

SLATER-Ruisdael    SLATER-Craignish

This week I brought a couple of chalk pastel drawings which also had a theme of water. Another ‘Souvenir’, after Ruisdael’s ‘Extensive Landscape with a ruined Castle and a Church’ and a landscape drawn on the shoreline of Loch Craignish – ‘Foreshore with clouds drifting in’.

My introduction pointed out the similarities with charcoal, and the work process began with mark making exercises to learn the characteristics of the medium before repeating the technical drawing of a three sided cube.

One of the key features of the session was the importance of discipline with regard to the approach to the drawings produced and of the work environment, both chalk pastel and charcoal have the tendency to spread beyond the paper surface. In spite of that the working practise was not restricted, the activity promoted energetic mark making actions as well as sensitivity, and the results were expressive and adventurous.

The final piece built upon the ‘wide eyed & motionless’ owl portrait of last week, this time allowing texture and invention with colour to play a prominent role. Some of the results displayed real character and personality:

Image making workshops at Newark Hill Primary

29.1.14

Following an email from Lorraine Brookes inviting me to work with a group of children from year 6 at Newark Hill Primary School, Peterborough, we met to discuss plans and arranged dates for a series of Wednesday morning workshops which will continue through till the Easter break. Today we worked together to present the first image making session using charcoal.

The school is soon to become an academy but a longstanding and identifiable symbol of the school, an owl, will stay. We decided this would be a strong and appropriate subject to use as the theme for our investigative workshops as the school takes flight toward a new era.

After an introduction to the group and some advice about how to control the medium, the first marks were made. A worksheet was produced with a series of exploratory mark making exercises which led to the production of an imaginary landscape, then a more technical drawing of a cube showing three sides.

Before making their first interpretation of an owl the group was asked to imagine how it lived and moved, as well as consider its world as a nocturnal animal. On the one hand a world of aerial acrobatics both graceful and sudden as it hunted its prey, and on the other, complete stillness.

The group were asked to produce two contrasting studies. The first drawing demanded an emphasis on movement and activity:

The second was to illustrate wide eyed and motionless concentration:

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