Archives for the month of: January, 2012

I am still fairly obsessively following instructions, particularly with the 100 journal/sketchbook ideas. I gave away something I loved which was a tin of tomato soup. I drew it first though. I have made diary entries in various ways; flyer, encyclopaedia and in very big letters etc. I like the list of things I have bought and I am on the third week of listing my consumerism. 

Amy has started a project with her year ten group using these ideas and they have all got journals and experiment folders and so on. They area also making up their own activities and giving themselves instructions which is obviously a good idea. What Smith lacks is a sense of how you might ‘develop’ the work and that is fine, it isn’t really her point. These books are full of ‘starters’, instigators of something that might become ‘works’. I have obviously been taken with some ideas and I have carried them on into various riffs.

What I haven’t done as yet is make up my own instructions. What has been interesting to me has been that lack of control, that surprise element held in this little envelope of idea tickets glued in the back of the sketchbook. What will Keri have me do today? I have been interested in that receiving of the mantra aspect of the process, that giving in to it. I spend a lot of time inventing things for other people to do in various project ways and I am pretty good at designing that sort of activity. It is a nice holiday from that to have someone else tell me what to do for a bit. 

I like the pulling out of the slip of paper and that OMG moment followed by the ‘oh yeah, I know how I could do that’ which is, of course, that little flash of creativity in the moment of the restriction, the criteria. So many founder in a sea of ‘free expression’ which is such a mistake. Creativity needs a constraint to work against. Much more productive.

Still making mess and now I’ve also started using Keri Smith’s pdf of 100 ideas in a sketchbook. This is a nice little activity generator that just gives you a one liner to conjure with. This weekend I have drawn a tin of soup in pen and watercolour as a response to ‘give something you love away’. The tin gets given away tomorrow. There’s a page of drawings of red things and some leaves picked up on a walk this morning, pages of blue things, variations on diary entires, a poem by Robert Frost copied in and a drawing of my favourite outfit as one of those cut out suits on the back of the Bunty comic.

They are all pretty studenty things to do and I haven’t really spun anything off into anything else or a ‘final outcome’ as the GCSE phrase has it, but it has been fun and I have done a whole lot of things I wouldn’t do in the usual way. Potato print this evening for example, with left over decorating paint. the two students playing with their books seem to be enjoying it and I can see that it might be useful with students. The point is that you don’t know where the ideas are going to take you or what they will lead you to whilst most of the kids are planning their GCSE projects like misguided military campaigns and then trying to execute them in a joyless manner.

The nice thing about the little, tiny one liners of Keri Smith’s is that there is a lot of room to play about with them. The starter is so small that it leaves a lot to the imagination. I have boiled them down even more in my sketchbook list and I am not using the original book at all and I am using any size paper I can find up to about A3 or so and I am just slinging them into a folder to worry about later.

The first thing I have to imagine is how to facilitate the idea. How big a piece of paper? what materials can I find? What sort of paint or pen or whatever?

One of the activities is to draw ten second drawings in a grid. I have dispensed with her grids so I have to make my own which I do by folding paper into squares. i started off trying to count ten seconds but quickly got fed up with that and just went with the flow; a few heart beats each, don’t sweat it, with a rough brush and some thick black paint. These were nice to do, theme and variation, not much room in each square to muck about, simple glyphs. I did a couple with tea marks first and then black paint and then I left the black paint off and then I combined three ideas by staining then putting a bit of a drawing down with glue and then a glyph.

I was doing these today in odd moments as I pottered about in non contacts, doing a bit of paper work whilst the tea dried, all very quick to do. before I left at the end of the day I couldn’t resist painting glyphs on top of the glue and tea with some thick acrylic. As I packed my bag to leave I realised that the black paint was drying differently over the glue and sort of creeping off it whilst settling into the paper. The paint was making the clear PVA glue visible whilst also obscuring it.

I though this is so much what it is about. Attention to materials, experimenting, combining and recombining, thinking and not thinking, improvising. A rather lovely little moment of delight in seeing how paint dries.

What I have to do is get this across to the pupils as I don’t think they are thinking like this at all. It is all ‘having an idea’. What I have to do is get them to play around more and, as far as these examples go, I need to develop some into some more finished pieces or ‘final outcome(s)’ as they are called in GCSE speak. Basically do something bigger or put them together so they appear to be more than they are.

Smith doesn’t go beyond the interesting set of sketches which is interesting. The little events are apparently enough in themselves which is fair enough, they are. Or perhaps the idea is that one does the events and are so taken up in the creative flow that the next thing and the next thing just happen naturally. Or does that only happen to artists? Or if that does happen to you then you are an artist?

I am now working in a high school with GCSE and A level students which has been very interesting. One of the things that has come up is the way in which the exam criteria values experimentation and diversity of outcome but the pupils seem to find it difficult to decide what that might look like. There is a contrary impulse to play it safe in order to be sure to get the qualification which is against the declared criteria of valuing originality, creativity and experimentation.

My colleague here is interested in the books of Keri Smith as a way to encourage creativity and I have been looking at them too. I am initially put off by the whimsical presentation though I am prepared to accept that I am not the target audience. She does seem to have hit on a way of selling a book with near blank pages and few words. I have gone through a couple of them and filleted them down to three pages of A4. To be fair she does this herself with a give away list of 100 journal ideas on her website.

Poking about under the bonnet, as it were, I am much more impressed. In the How to be an Explorer of the World book Keri does say ‘go to the source’. I think the Explorer book is my favourite and after reading it I spent a jolly weekend in London drawing everything I ate and drank and everything I saw from the bus etc. in eight fold books which was my way of doing ‘explorer’ drawings. We have shared these with the pupils and some have taken us up on the idea.

I was given by my colleague the book Mess and I have been playing with that over the past few days. I don’t really want to mash the book up as I was bought up nice and told not to mess books up and besides, if I mess it up then it won’t be any use to a student so I have listed the activites in a sketchbook. This comes out at about 100 ideas which I then photocopied so that I can copy the list for a student so I am sort of backing up my messes and keeping a clean copy.

I have then been dribbling ink and cutting up magazines and doodling and generally doing fairly random little experiments that I intend to put together into a book or folder that I can share with the students. This is perhaps what is meant by an experiment in art. Something where you don’t fully know what the outcome will be.

As youget into it, of course, I start worrying about how high up I drop the ink and what happens if I let it dry and then do a drawing on top or combine that idea with that one and so on so the ideas start to generate new ideas and combos which si what they are supposed to do. I am not sure if they do that for me because I went to art school. Will they do that for the students?

The problem is how do you develop the ideas generated. That is the bit the pupils will need help with. Splodges are OK but they need to see Fiona Rae too and put things together to generate art works.

For me it has been fun doing really art studently things for a bit. Is that part of the problem with an art practice in the classroom? It keeps you a perpetual art student treading water in the same place with your students?