Drawing and the Imagination
Based in a converted factory building in London’s Shoreditch and opened in April 2000, it launched itself as a facility for the practice and enjoyment of art for all with an exciting summer programme of activities. Drawing Together comprised four free week-long art workshops for children, young adults and practising artists, combining the disciplines of art, architecture and craft. Drawing formed the basis for all four courses and classes were mostly held in the Prince of Wales’s Drawing Studio, whose Director, Catherine Goodman, devised the artistic structure for the courses.
The first week of the Summer Programme, on the theme of Drawing and the Imagination, took place from 31 July to 4 August and was targeted at children aged 8 to 10 from the Prince’s Foundation’s immediate locality, which includes Shoreditch, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The aim was to offer diverse activities in a variety of disciplines which involve drawing, ranging from figure drawing and landscape painting to computer animation and making costumes. New and exciting projects would be introduced to the children each day to engage their attention and imagination in a way that straightforward drawing instruction could never do. It was hoped that the broad range of activities would also introduce the children to the idea that there are many different modes of visual expression, each with its own unique capacity to convey meaning and feeling. Rather like art students doing a foundation course, the children would be exposed to a variety of media, and through experimentation begin to discover their own artistic strengths and abilities. For most children, especially in inner-city areas, this would be an extremely rare opportunity. Overall, it was important that the children left each day with a sense of accomplishment and having had a fun time learning new skills and making art.
In the preceding weeks, the word was spread around primary schools and play parks to inform children and parents about the course. Teachers and group leaders gave valuable practical recommendations about the nature of the course and its contents. Before long, 42 children had been signed up – double the anticipated number -with parents and guardians clearly delighted that such an opportunity was available locally. At 10.30 on the morning of Monday 31 July, the Prince’s Foundation suddenly filled with streams of excited children. It was the first time, since the new Foundation’s official opening two months earlier, that an educational outreach activity had taken place in the building. The facilities could now be tested. The children were taken up to the Drawing Studio on the fourth floor, a purpose-designed space with natural light. They were each given a sketchbook and pencil, and asked to sit in a large circle with the storyteller Hazel Bradley. A music and dance therapist with 20 years of teaching experience, Hazel would provide the artistic direction for the week and use a story as a unifying theme. This would give day-to-day coherence and continuity. She chose a story the children were unlikely to have ever heard before, so that they would not have pre-conceived ideas of what the characters and the setting should look like. It was important that the children should make these decisions themselves.
After designating each child to one of four groups – titled Stones, River, Tree and Sun, all key words relating to the story – she led the children through a series of introductory warm-up exercises to familiarise them with the space, the tutors and with their new friends. The children took part in role-play, becoming creatures which scuttled around, low to the ground, while others stood tall, towering above them as if watching them from outer space. They were then asked to move around the Drawing Studio, remaining as far from each other as possible, then as close as possible without touching anyone. As they moved, Hazel described the different physical characteristics of objects and materials in the room, which the children identified by touching.
Following the familiarisation exercises, Hazel sat with the children and told them the story of Akanidi. To ensure that the children understood the story and would be able to draw on its different components during the week, she acted out the story with the group, allowing many children to play the same part. Hazel recalls: ‘The aim of the week was to help children develop their creative artistic skills, to make friends and to have fun. I therefore chose a story about how celebration came to our world. It is a story from the Saami people, who live in the north of Russia on the borders with Norway – a land where it is so cold, that the sun is really important.’
The story Hazel told is the tale of the Sun and his beautiful daughter Akanidi:
‘Every day the Sun travelled across the sky. Akanidi travelled with him. She loved to see the animals, birds, trees and flowers on the earth. She saw the world was beautiful. All creation seemed happy except for the men and the women. So Akanidi asked her father if she could go down to the earth to teach people how to celebrate and to bring beauty into their lives. He sent her down to live as a young girl with an elderly couple who had no children of their own. She loved her foster parents. They lived on an island alone, and so Akanidi was sad. Her parents told her that they would take her to meet other people when she was old enough to wear a maiden’s robe. Akanidi decorated the robe with coloured stones that she found on the island. One day, Akanidi’s mother and father called her to them. They dressed her in the robe. She was no longer a little girl but a maiden. They took her to the head of the island and the wind began to blow. The island was blown down the river to the banks of a village. There Akanidi said goodbye to her parents and received their blessings. Then she went to the village. She taught the villagers to sing, to dance and to create beautiful patterns on their clothes with the coloured stones she gave them. The villagers learned how to celebrate and create beauty in their lives. They saw the reflections of their colourful stones in the water and were happy. But the elders wanted to keep Akanidi’s stones for themselves and would not share them. They hated Akanidi and plotted to get rid of her. So they went to see Oadz the witch, who lived in the marsh. Oadz hated Akanidi too. She gave them a stone with which to kill Akanidi, but she warned them to cover the smoke hole of Akanidi’s hut to prevent her father, the Sun, from seeing what they were doing, because otherwise he would save her. The elders rushed back and threw the stone at Akanidi in her hut, but in their haste forgot to cover up the smoke hole of the hut, and Akanidi spiralled up with the smoke of the fire through the hole in the roof of her hut and back to her father, the Sun. The people were sorry Akanidi had left them, but whenever they felt warmed by the sun’s rays they remembered her and they sang and danced and created beauty as she had taught them to do.
And so Akanidi now lives with her father, the Sun, and she is happy that today we have the gifts of song, dance and celebration, and that we know how to create beauty in our lives.’
After the story was over and following a picnic lunch with all the Drawing and the Imagination staff on the ground floor, the children joined their groups to begin the week’s four art-based activities: life drawing, mural painting, carnival crafts and animation. Each group would spend a day on each activity and the course would culminate on the final day, Friday, in a performance of the story by all the children, using the work they had produced during the week, in front of HRH The Prince of Wales and their own families and friends. The aim was to show the children how useful drawing can be as a tool for the imagination, whether for putting ideas down on paper, describing a narrative, designing costumes and painted stage backdrops or creating animated images. The message – that drawing holds a key to many creative pursuits – would hopefully be clear by the end of the week.
In the life drawing area on the ground floor, each group acted out the type of poses they associated with each of the characters in the story. Daniel Miller, a professional artist and one of the tutors, introduced them to the art of modelling a pose, and how to create a dramatic gesture or expressive facial expression to make a greater visual impact. The children then nominated those with the best pose to dress up and model the characters for short life drawing sessions. Rather than telling the children what and how to draw, Daniel worked with each of them in turn: ‘My position as art teacher was to guide the children into developing their own way of progressing. I tried to demonstrate ways the children could maximise their efforts and avoid repeating their first steps. The materials we used, paper and paint, are both traditional and versatile. With them, the children had to use scale and function to make something new and surprising. The children responded differently, as individuals do, to the various stimuli of the story, and the materials. Some developed interests in all directions. Others developed only one line of interest. Because of this, I think, the funnelling of the children’s efforts into a multi-media tableau was a strength.’
To begin with, they made tiny drawings in their sketch books. To encourage them to work on a larger scale, the group was asked to choose some of their sketches to be enlarged to A3 size using a photocopier. Having coloured in these enlargements, small groups of children worked on life-size paintings of an individual character, using glitter to decorate some of these. Within a few hours, they were comfortable with the idea that a small drawing could lead to a large painting, and began to get more ambitious about their art, making it bolder and more colourful. The children painted their friends modelling the Sun, Akanidi, the foster parents, the villagers, the elders and the witch. At the end of the week 12 of these life-size paintings were selected. These were paraded by the children like two-dimensional puppets at the beginning of the performance, to introduce the audience to the characters of the story.
The mural painting class was also held on the ground floor. It was taken by Becky Roberts, an art teacher at the local Christ Church Primary School in Brick Lane, and David Jamieson, a Canadian artist and the Prince of Wales’s Scholar from the New York Academy, who had experience of teaching art in schools in Manhattan. By the end of the week the children needed to have painted three large murals on primed hardboard which would serve as scenery for the performance. The children discussed with the tutors different scenes from the story and how these could be depicted in a mural. They produced rough 2×3 ft sketches for each scene, working out the view¬point and scale, the composition and the placement of figures, the colour scheme and the materials to be used. Each composition was then transferred on to a large board with felt tip pen and each child worked on a particular section of the image. Various techniques and materials were used, from collaged papers, card and coloured pasta shells, to printmaking. The result was three vibrant murals showing Akanidi’s view of the world from the sky; the wind blowing the island down the river; and Akanidi’s hut with her spirit spiralling back up to the sun. Becky Roberts comments: ‘In planning each day I went over the story with the children. I then tried to focus the children in the morning by getting them to learn a new skill before transferring this skill on to the mural. I felt this would help the children perceive that they had achieved and completed a new piece of work, before moving on to a larger task. In order to enable children to grow in their skills they need to be confident in their ability to achieve. I thought the focus on a smaller piece of work would enable them to grow in confidence before approaching the large and more co-operative task of the mural. The children learnt how to compose the mural using spacing and perspective.’ David Jamieson recalls: ‘The story provided a context in which the children could address the most crucial question facing all artists: “How can we depict visually a piece of human experience?” While the children didn’t think of it in these terms, when they set about showing what happened to characters in the story, they were in fact learning to think like artists.’ He showed them how to mix colours to create different versions of, for example, blue for the river, the waves and the sky; how to create secondary colours and how to create a contrast of light and dark for the landscape. He was surprised at how children of such a young age were able to absorb what he was explaining and demonstrating with the brush, and then immediately put it in to practice.
The carnival crafts and animation classes took place on the fourth floor in the Drawing Studio. The objective was particularly ambitious. The children needed to design and create a complete set of costumes for their performance. The Sun group began the job on the first day by designing capes for the villagers to wear. Each child first produced a detailed design in pencil, a few of which were chosen to be made into the actual costumes. The children re-drew these designs straight on to large sheets of plain silk fabric which were then stretched and suspended so they could be painted more easily. By using pipettes, gutta was then applied to act as a barrier between the various colours of the special fabric paints. Over the following days, the Tree, River and Stone groups made Akanidi’s colourful cape and head dress which was decorated with multicoloured leaves; a huge yellow sphere representing the sun, which would be carried on the back of the child playing the Sun; capes for the rich elders; bright yellow dresses and head scarves for the sun’s rays; and the glittering, colourful stones.
The children were extremely fortunate to have Clary Salandy teaching and helping them. With years of production experience for the Notting Hill Carnival and other carnivals across the world, she encouraged them to be as adventurous and expressive as possible. She managed brilliantly to coax out of each child, whether extrovert or reserved, something special and unique. One boy, for example, spent an entire day quietly painting frogs on to a cape seemingly lost in his own imagination. Showing an extraordinary patience and concentration, and revealing a delicate and sensitive eye for colour, he was left to get on with it, with tacit encouragement.
The animation class was led by Toby Till, a painter and film-maker whose animated films from children’s workshops in schools all over London have won many international awards. The purpose was to create an animated film with a soundtrack of the Akanidi story which could be projected as a backdrop for the play. On the first day the Stones group discussed the title of the production and not surprisingly chose ‘Akanidi and the Colourful Stones’. Each child then created a design in their sketchbook for the title page of the film, using imaginative, colourful lettering. After discussing the various design ideas, they selected a variety of multi-coloured lettering and set to work.
Some were responsible for drawing the lettering on to colourful card, others cut them out and decorated them, while others painted a background scene over which the letters would be filmed. Toby then showed the group how to film the letters to give the impression that they were dancing across the screen. Each child then took turns in filming the title sequence using a camera and computer software; some repositioned the letters, while others used the computer to activate the camera and record each frame. ‘I thought the children benefited from the animation as a new experience,’ Toby comments. ‘I don’t think any of them had done any before. As a result of most of the children having a broad experience of TV and animation, I think it was a good opportunity to have a chance to work in the medium for themselves and not always to be on the receiving end of it. Because of the collaborative nature of animation it also forced them to work as a team with children that they had not met before.’
The Tree and River groups designed and filmed other scenes from the story including the planets orbiting the sun; Akanidi’s view of the world from the sky; Akanidi arriving at her foster parents’ house; the elders visiting the witch in the marsh; and Akanidi returning to her father. The Sun group then wrote a script, recorded the voices and added the sound effects to bring the animation to life. To have completed the design and production of a 4 1/2 minute animated film in four days was an extraordinary achievement for the children, and a testament to Toby Till’s teaching abilities and organisational skills. For many children, despite the repetitive nature of the process, film animation was one of the highlights of the course.
At the end of each day the four groups of children (Stones, River, Tree and Sun) gathered together in the Drawing Studio to report to each other on the days activities. A child from each group stood up to describe what their group had produced and showed a piece to demonstrate. Becky Roberts comments: ‘Presenting the finished results to the rest of the children as the day ended was a great way to finish the day. It was worthwhile getting children to explain their methods of working. I think it helped those children remember more of the art processes. Verbalisation of activities aids memory and helps clarify thought. It also provided a time when the children could appreciate each other’s work.’ The children then left, buzzing with enthusiasm for the next day’s activities.
Friday morning was spent preparing for the afternoon performance. While Hazel Bradley rehearsed scenes from the play downstairs with some of the children, the remainder worked upstairs in the Drawing Studio, producing designs for the programme, finishing a large title banner to hang at the front of the building, and writing down their thoughts about the activities in which they had participated. These words were used in an exhibition on the ground floor, which included some of their drawings and paintings, and photographs of the week’s events. After lunch, following a last-minute full dress rehearsal superbly directed by Hazel Bradley, the children waited upstairs for their friends and relatives to arrive. By 4 o’clock 170 guests, including HRH The Prince of Wales, had arrived and the children were ready backstage. ‘It was an instruction to any teacher to see a child, who had felt unable to fasten his thoughts on any activity, giving full lead to greeting our visitors,’ recalls Daniel Miller. ‘Equally interesting was a child who had been described as having learning difficulties, who resisted speaking almost completely, and had difficulty resuming any drawing after a moment’s pause. In the last hours of our course, as tutors and children rushed to fit the show, this boy bore down on an unfinished painting, and brought it to a definitive version.’
The 20-minute play incorporated work from each of the four workshops. The film was used to help narrators tell the story, the life-size portrait banners to introduce characters, the carnival costumes to dress the actors, and the murals were used as scenery. Following the performance, HRH The Prince of Wales met all the children, talked to them about their work, looked at their exhibition and mixed with their families. Asked by Imogen Lock, one of the organisers, as she was leaving what she thought of the week, a child turned around and said: ‘I want to come here every day. I never want to go to school again.’
Drawing and the Imagination. 31 July – 4 August 2000