Before the Christmas break I went to the Suffolk Head of Art Conference down at Belstead House in Ipswich. Jevan Watkins Jones talked about his work as artist in residence at Northgate High School in Ipswich which I found particularly affecting. At the back of the room was a massive drawing by Jevan of life at the school, based on drawings made by the children. This was a maquette for a large ceramic mural made for the school as part of the ‘legacy’ of the project. Because of an art and science link the children and dinner ladies were drawn with X-ray additions of anatomy which gave it all a slightly Satresque edge.

Jevan had left his sketchbooks out and it was a privilege to be able to look through them. Jevan spoke about his meditative time looking out of the window and drawing the children as they came to school. I should have taken a shot of the vast drawing but I didn’t which was foolish as I can’t show you, or the children.

Anyway, if this project is about the artist teacher then it made me think about the other side of that, the artist side of that. How different is it to be an artist in a school rather than a teacher pretending to be an artist? What did Jevan do that I don’t? How different is the experience?

I know I have an archive of shots of bits of school like Jevan’s. Looking at a school as a place, with the signage and bits of pipe and switches all over. The schools I have worked in have always been a palimpsest of wiring and pipe ducts, great to photograph. That seemed to be significant; being able to see where you are as potentially strange. other. After the conference I did take a camera round again for a few more duct shots, as I realised I hadn’t done that for a while. Becoming habituated; a bad sign.

What a teacher doesn’t have is that time to sit and drift, meditate, draw what unfolds. The teacher has to act, be interrupted, intervene, decide, watch, surveil and so on.

But, inspired by the presentation and this vast drawing and the beautiful drawings I started a sketchbook and tried to draw the children going home with their bags and drawing at their desks and so on, in quiet moments. I kept it up for a week or so and I have added to it since Christmas with woolly hats and snowball fights.

And I tried to get the children in year seven to engage with a similar set of ideas. I was making things difficult for myself as I had the idea in my mind’s eye of what I had seen but no way to show the children because I hadn’t taken a picture. Did it matter? I told them that the project was a based on seeing the work of an artist.  Specifically it as based on a slide of the pupil drawings that Jevan based his mural drawing on. I set the children to thinking of the most interesting thing they had done at school that week and doing a little sketch which we then made into a big drawing with brush and poster. The poster is standing in for ink, really and the whole idea was for it to be quick and bold.

The next week we cut the big drawings out and I stapled them up as a temporary mural.

Temporary mural at GMS

Temporary mural at GMS