Workshop, Community and Group Projects
Here are some images from a workshop undertaken with a group of year 11 students at a West Yorkshire school. Building structures from various shapes made with an extruder, students use images from their GCSE sketchbooks to create relief areas as part of the design of their piece of work.
The extruder is a great way to save time in a workshop scenario where students may have limited time to get something out of their day. The priority in this workshop is to ensure there is an outcome for every student so that it could impact upon their final GCSE grade. The extruder provides ready-made structures for students to cut, shape and join. It enables students to visualise potential forms that can be created by modifying the rigid geometric forms they begin with. These forms can only be manipulated by cutting and changing angles to make them fit together. Bending the existing form usually leads to cracking and breakage.
Photocopies can be taken directly from the sketchbook meaning that the workshop piece will have a link to their sketchbook themes. This should ensure a direct impact on the students’ grade at GCSE. The images can be drawn through the copy directly onto the clay and repeated, overlapped around various parts of the form, preferably leaving some part of the form to speak for itself. Too much texture can have the same effect as no texture at all.
These images left on the surface can now be modelled using various tools into various depths of relief and can be as crude or sophisticated as the time and focus a student is willing to devote to them.
With new posts come fresh challenges. A summer term citizenship day resulted in an opportunity to bring together students of all ages to contribute to a large scale mural to commemorate the Minors’ Strike of 1984. A previous cross curricular trip with 380 students over a week to the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield had provided students with plenty of stimulus to build upon our clay canvas.
This kind of project undertaken “off timetable” cannot be underestimated as a huge learning experience for everybody involved. Working as a team across five year groups without the constraints of an exam led agenda unleashes creative young minds to shine in so many ways. It is only when looking back that it becomes clear how important it should be for schools to build days like this into the curriculum.
When visualizing a large scale piece like this, it is important to allow students to lead the way creatively whilst acting as a technical guide as the project develops. Students printed some photos they had taken at the museum and traced the images into clay tiles. This resulted in lots of small parts to contribute to a main composition, a slab that had been rolled and joined into one large table sized clay canvas. Some students chose words from the creative writing project undertaken at the museum.
Meanwhile, the older students had been constructing some of the larger features on the slab. Some were sculpted by hand, others were made from moulds that had been previously cast.
Once the composition was completed the piece was cut to fit into the kiln and fired. A little underglaze and copper oxide dropped into the textures causes reactions with the dry glaze sprayed over the top. There are all sorts of methods to fix a mural like this to the wall. In this case, screw holes were left in each piece of the mural. Tile adhesive was used to fix the mural to the wall, with the screws to ensure that nothing moved once it was attached. Thus far, it seems to be standing the test of time.
It is important as an artist and as a teacher to follow one’s instinct and pour energy into a project for no particular reason other than some young minds had a big idea and the potential experiences to be gained can be vaguely visualized. At the time I wondered about the validity and purpose of what I was doing but in looking back it is clear that it was a fantastic learning experience for all of us and brought together a lot of people. I can proudly describe it as a whole school project!
This project was born out of conversations with a tutor group who were completing year 11 in the millennium year who wanted to leave a lasting reminder of their existence at the school. So, a small number of students and I embarked on a large scale mural idea that would include some kind of input for every student in the year group, with a few teachers – including the Head Teacher - getting involved too. Apart from a few ideas of the basic shape and rationale, this was almost entirely process led, developing as and when students turned up to make their individual contributions.
This was not particularly part of any curriculum plan and was made entirely outside normal curriculum time and was certainly not judged as part of an examination course. Yet it was an extremely valuable learning experience for many students who learned how to plan, collaborate and execute a big idea as part of a team. Learning for the sake of learning? Exactly!
Once some designs were in place a set of tables needed to be set aside at the back of the Art room and slabs were made using an old mangle that I had restored a few years earlier for this purpose. The slabs were joined together to make one huge piece that covered the tables in the shape of the number 2000. We had our canvas. This was an intimidating sight as we would have to cover it with many small tiles and moulds made by members of the year group and teachers alike.
Many decided to mould their hands and feet so as to leave a united feel to the mural. Some stood in sheets of clay wearing school shoes to represent the thousands of students that had trodden the corridors of the school in its 62 year history (at the time the sculpture was made).
Students were asked to bring in objects to mould that they felt were contemporary and relevant to modern times. Toys and technology punctuated the surface of the mural, portraying aspects of modern life as seen by students of the era.
A cross curricular theme developed as the school held a poetry competition. Excerpts of the winners’ submissions would be included in the mural. This brought involvement from students of all ages across the school.
Installation is as important as any other part of the process and should be considered from the very start. There are no right or wrong ways to achieve this as long as the mural is completely secure and in a safe place where it cannot cause injury. In this case, each piece of the mural was given several screw holes. The pieces could then be screwed into a thick piece of exterior plywood that had been treated to withstand the weather. It was then attached to an outside wall situated in a quadrangle area of the school buildings.
This project led to work being displayed at an Italian Culture evening in collaboration with the Music, Dance and RE departments.
Students researched aspects of Italian Culture based on the following themes:
Architecture, Renaissance, Masks, Mosaics
They were asked to work in research groups and make a presentation based on their findings. Their research was undertaken in sketchbooks and presented on design sheets which were later displayed in the exhibition along with other individual outcomes.
Students were then asked to produce a design based upon their research for a tile (11cm x 11cm) which would become part of a large scale sculpture!
The rim had to be perfectly level so that the top half sat onto it without rocking. Templates were used to plan how the two pieces would fit together. It was decided that the pieces would be off set from one another, to create the effect of leaning (as The Leaning Tower of Pisa).
Platforms had to be built on both pieces in order to make this work.
The top was also finished using tiles, the middle two of which can be removed for installation purposes. When the sculpture goes into the Sculpture Garden, it will be filled with cement which needs to be poured from the very top of the sculpture.
An iron bar driven deep into the ground will run through the centre of the piece to add stability.
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