Monday 27 January 2014


It was the end of the Summer Term and for the final session of Material Knowledge we looked back over the previous months activities and produced work incorporating some of the elements that we had learnt about; colour, tone, pattern and texture.

We had gathered lots of sheets of artwork from our explorations and used them as a resource. The images above and below have utilised pattern leftovers to create a 3D world for a central character. I like this idea, it seems that most of the time the starting point is the character and a world is built around them but instead, why not create a world or landscape first and then think about the kind of person or creature that would live there?
The landscape below was built up using textures with additions on top to bring the elements together.
Using a viewfinder, it is interesting to explore the different aspects.
As a result of attending Material Knowledge, my interest in pattern has deepened and I see it becoming increasingly incorporated into my own future work. I made the image below by selecting workshop leftovers that were in the same tonal range, cutting shapes to build up a regular repeat wave pattern and then added contrast with a bright irregular boat pattern (waves and boat images being another source of attraction for me).
It has been really useful to spend time looking at the basic elements that artists use to build up a work of art, although one key one aspect that we did not have time for is 'Line'.
There are many artists and sources of inspiration out there which can be used to develop a series of classes or workshops that could easily fill a whole academic year.
You could start by looking at examples by famous artists. Take a trip, go and look at their work for real - images in books or on the Internet cannot give you the full experience. Use a sketchbook (make a sketchbook!) and try to draw something in it every day - you could draw a visual diary, draw anything it doesn't matter, do it for a month and see what happens. Evaluate what you have produced after.
Wassily Kandinski, Piet Mondrian and Henri Matisse are good examples of artists famous for their use of colour. Gustav Klimt, Yayoi Kusama and Orla Kiely being best known for their pattern creations.
After observing 2-4 year olds play for the past few months it has become clear that the most engaging and creative experiences we set up for them are those that use open ended resources e.g. a large tray with a selection of items - a range of objects that are different sizes, shapes, textures and colours, containers and utensils. With these they role play cooking and other games, contain objects, fill and empty containers, position objects, make decisions, count and measure, talk to each other, walk away and come back again, sustain interest for extended periods of time. With no perceived limitations they are constantly discovering something new.
As artists and educators we can learn from our younger role models.
Keep an open mind, expectation kills creativity.
Plan, play, create, evaluate...and the art will make itself!


Monday 20 January 2014


Type in the word 'texture' into Google images and you'll get the best looking results page you've ever seen. Texture is described by Wiktionary as "the feel or shape of a surface or substance; the smoothness, roughness, softness etc. of something.
This was the subject of exploration for this Month's Material Knowledge. Ideas for activities to engage learners included:
* Extend August 2012's posting 'From Sheet to Form' exercise by seeing how many textures can be created from an A4 sheet of paper. Prep an A3 sheet of paper by marking out squares for the textures to be stuck onto and photocopy as many as the class requires. A large scale piece would also work well for group work and make a great display.
* Try simulating these textures and creating others in 2D.
* Use found textures to create artworks e.g. rubbings or collage/assemblage.
* Weaving - Mark out lines on card and using a craft knife, cut these lines being careful not to go too near the edge. Cut or tear strips of paper or other material and weave rows by alternating the starting point e.g. if the previous piece went under, start by going over on the next. Stick the ends in place to stop them moving around if you want. Very quickly a nice effect is built up. Of course there are many types of weaving and practical and beautiful objects that can be created. Can you see or think of any?
* For young children, making and playing with a 'feely box' is a lot of fun. Simply find a box with a lid, cut a hole large enough for curious hands to fit through and decorate. Put objects, which could be related to current themes, into the box and observe how the children respond and try to guess the object by feel alone.
Humans have many senses, the five standard ones being; hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. Including as many of these as possible in a learning activity can make for an exciting and memorable experience.
This is particularly the case for babies and very young children. Because they are unable to process information intellectually, they do so in a more sensory way. When you see a small child put something in their mouth, they are actually thinking, they are trying to make sense of the object through how it feels and tastes.
Once again, spending 2hrs exploring a subject has opened up a whole new world of creativity and information. I highly recommend all artists and educators try and take 2hrs each month to play. Gather materials together, choose a medium or a subject and spend that time exploring as many possibilities as possible with no thoughts or concerns about the outcomes or product. Evaluate after if anything new or useful has come out of it or simply allow these ideas to percolate over time...
Julie Rafalski (www.julierafalski.com) did exactly this and after having examples of her 'From Sheet to Form' experiments on her table for a few months, found that turning her 2D work into 3D with some strategic folding complimented her work brilliantly.


Saturday 11 January 2014


According to Wikipedia, a pattern "is a discernible regularity in the world or in a man-made design. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat themselves in a predictable manner." Examples include symmetry, spirals, waves, bubbles, cracks, spots and stripes.

With this statement as our starting point and equipped with a selection of mediums, the attendees of May's Material Knowledge session began to generate some pattern designs.

We used a variety of methods such as painting, printing, modelling, resistance effects with masking tape, sellotape or oil based crayons, string dipped in paint, scratching into layers, building layers, spirograph and photography. A useful tip when using tape that you wish to remove afterwards is to lessen the stickiness by patting your own clothes to pick up fluff before adding to your paper. 

On researching this month's subject, I came across an essay written by William Morris titled "The History of Pattern Designing."


William Morris (1834-1896) was a famous textile designer, as well as being an artist, writer and libertarian socialist (which explains the slightly odd link address!). He was an admirer of originality and experimentation and praised the ancient Egyptians for possessing these qualities in his essay. The William Morris gallery in Walthamstow is in the house and grounds of his childhood home and is a great place to visit having been renovated in 2012 and named the ArtFund Museum of the Year 2013.



He also wrote about the strong relationship pattern design has had with architecture and craftsmanship, which in turn have been inspired by necessity and cultural identity. Historically pattern has mostly been symbolic of nature and religion e.g. the lotus scarab beetle in ancient Egypt. The oldest forms being representations of the Holy Tree or Holy Fire adorned with guardian spirits symbolising life and creation. The most prolific and long lasting is the Roman version of an Acanthus plant form.
When creating the above and below patterns, I had no previous knowledge of the history or symbolism of pattern, which doesn't matter for a free flow brain storming session, but if I were to continue exploring pattern as a theme I would definitely want to think about adding meaning to the patterns I created and develop my own visual language.
The previous two images are from the same piece of work that were physically reworked to produce different effects but the two images below are the same piece of work with the darker one being a photograph with a negative application on it and photographed further away.
The session and blog havn't even scratched the surface of this fascinating subject and could easily be cultivated into a series of works or educational workshops for all artists of all abilities and ages to enjoy.


Wednesday 10 July 2013


After the success of the colour wheel project and to continue exploring colour as a theme, this session looked at creating an educational workshop to explore tone.

A simple exercise that is suitable for Key Stage 2 and older learners is to build a tonal wash: Pick a colour and squeeze into your paint tray, with a wide brush paint a strip across the top of your paper, add a little water and paint another strip that slightly overlaps the first one, keep adding a little water at a time and painting strips until the paper is filled and you have a graduated tonal range. The above image shows this tonal range which has been cut up and rearranged on a background. It demonstrates the contrast between the tones really well.

Play around with different colours and techniques.

I introduced a tone workshop to the children in my after-school art and craft club who are mostly Key Stage 1 by showing them pictures from Picasso's blue period and explained that we can make many different types of blue or any other colour by making it lighter or darker.

We tried a tactile approach with some home-made balls of black and white playdough ( the recipe for this is 2 posts down in Colour Theory) and asked the children to make as many different tones inbetween as they could. Although they were able, they did this without much enthusiasm and became bored quite quickly.

So with further explanantion, a finished sample and a pre-prepared blank exercise sheet we started painting. Some children showed a natural understanding and appreciation of tone and subtle differences whilst others did as they were instructed but didn't really understand what they were doing or why.

Tone is quite a sophisticated subject for children to understand and didn't excite this group anywhere near the way that bright colours do. Without research I couldn't say if their visual abilities havn't developed enough at this stage in their development but this could be the reason why. However it is still interesting to observe what engages particular age groups and what does not in art education.

It was also interesting to watch a particular 5 year old's progress when she was left to her own devices. She did a very good job for her age with her exercise sheet and following instruction without much additional help. She was then allowed to continue exploring tone with a colouring-in sheet, you can see below (middle picture) that working with 1 colour was way too limiting for her and when she had become bored of that the hands came out! A 2 hour session with one 15 minute break is a very long time for someone of her age to engage in one activity so I think she did a fantastic job and had a lot of fun too.

In summary, when teaching about tone, because it is a complex subject I would definitely advise thinking carefully about the age group that the session was being aimed at and how best to present the information. With young children I would now prefer to approach the subject as a whole class game activity e.g. ask everyone to paint or choose a colour sample and then holding that colour see if the class can arrange themselves in a lighter-or-darker order and see how they negotiate the task. You could also prompt them with open questions such as "Where's the middle?"

Thursday 11 April 2013

Back to Basics

One if the first things we learn about in colour theory is the colour wheel. So I prepared plenty of blank A3 size copies of colour wheels to test this activity on an after-school group of children aged 5-8 years.

Painting can be very messy, which is part of the fun for younger children but does mean it needs some careful managing in order to minimise accidents and disgruntled parents! I speak from experience or rather previous lack of on this one! Give parents notice if you can so that old clothes can be worn or brought to the session, cover all surfaces and provide aprons or oversized old t-shirts as extra protection.

Additonally structure the lesson quite tightly, at least to begin with, so that the children get the opportunity to learn how to mix paints properly instead of rapidly ending up with large amounts of brown! Brown is a great colour but not the object of this exercise.

Ice cube trays work brilliantly for this activity because they minimise waste and provide plenty of separate spaces to mix new colours in.

I introduced the activity to the group with an example of a finished colour wheel, reassured them not to worry as we would go through it all one step at a time and give them plenty of time to finish (the temptation to rush ahead with this is quite strong (!) and we had a range of ages and abilities) and asked open questions such as "Can anybody tell me how orange is made?" and "Why do you think we always mix colours from light to dark?" Open questions are a great way to get children engaged with learning as it gives them the opportunity to show you how much they know, be encouraged and praised for their input and it gives you a good indicator as to what level your group understands the subject, where their strengths are and what areas you can help to improve on and who may need the most support.

We began by painting in the primary colours into the sections and learned how to mix the secondary colours and filled these in also. This took quite alot of time and concentration for our young group who were very quiet throughout so I loosened up the lesson after this by giving them each some white (absolutely no black!) to play with and allowing them to mix their own colours to paint in the tertiary sections (the girls were practically bursting to make pink!). I asked them to invent names to describe their colours which they responded to with titles such as "mysterious green" and "I don't know". They responded really well to the structure of mixing and invented lots of new and beautiful colours between them. Having not done a colour wheel myself for a very long time I had forgotten how much fun playing with pure colour can be and heard one 5 year old say "Whoa, this is brilliant!" as he watched new colours unfold under his brush and was able to control this to a certain degree with his new skills.

To move on from this I had originally planned for the group to make the spinners pictured below as I thought it would be another fun way to see how secondary colours are made. However when I tried this activity myself beforehand, it didn't really work very well and not wanting disappointed kids on my hands abandoned this idea and was reminded how useful preparation can be instead!

So we tried 'blow' painting. We watered down the colours the children had made, splattered them onto paper and blew the splatters with straws to see what shapes and colours could be made when they mixed. This is fun to do after the concentration earlier, uses the colours they already have and begins the tray cleaning process! Some of the colours already had quite a bit of water added so didn't need any more, it's just to loosen the paint up so that it travels across the paper more easily. These can be left to dry and then shapes can be looked for and drawn over in pencil.

The next Material Knowledge session will be held on Monday 15th April 6-8pm in the Art & Craft Studio, Level 2, St Luke's Community Centre, 90 Central Street, London, EC1V 8AJ. We will continue with the colour theme by looking at tone and how to create a fun educational session to explore this.


Monday 25 February 2013

Colour Theory

This session began with a critique of artist and educator Hayley Harrison's work 'The Pillow' 2012, www.hayleyharrison.co.uk and sketchbook blog www.morethanweseem.wordpress.com

An art critique is an evaluation of a work of art. This can be viewed as a matter of personal taste, however, while researching for this months blog I came across a set of guidelines (www.wikihow.com/Critique-Artwork) that I think is a useful beginning to refer to for a more in-depth analysis and exploration. It could certainly provide the basis of a very stimulating educational session for children and young people to engage with their own, their peers and other artists work in this way.

It's fascinating and often enlightening to see and hear how artists think and produce. It's such a deep and personal, yet integral, part of the process that it's easy to overlook when presented with a completed work of art.The artist has been engaged with a whole dialogue within themselves from the idea conception all the way through to deciding to make that idea a reality and wrestling with how to achieve that, then evaluating at what point the work is complete and whether they feel it has realised their original intention or this has evolved through reflecting and acting with the work in progress.

Hayley's response was "Crit was really useful last night - starting to put the words personal and dystopia together. Personal dystopias. It helped me develop my language around my practice so thanks. Looking forward to discussing other people's work or arty topics".

Material Knowledge is open and happy to host critiques in all future sessions so do feel free to volunteer yourself and your work, I may even give this a go myself.

The second half of the session was very much inspired by another artist educator Ella Ritchie. She brought along her amazing home made playdough in primary colours and white for us all to have a play with. This was fantastic and we all really enjoyed the tactile nature of mixing colours together to create a whole range of secondary, tertiary, cold, warm and neutral tones.

The recipe for the playdough is:

200g plain flour
100g salt
30ml water
Dessert spoon oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
Food colouring (be careful if using liquid colouring not to make your mixture too sloppy)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together, mix all of the wet ingredients together and combine. Cook in a pan while stirring constantly  until the consistency becomes sticky and difficult to stir. As soon as this happens, tip the mixture out and allow to cool. This is non-toxic, although doesn't taste very nice as it's very salty and can be kept in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Ella shared her tips with us that if you are working with children who are hyperactive you can add a couple of drops of calming essential oil such as lavender to the mix. Also with really young children you can reinforce how colours are made up by adding gold glitter to the yellow playdough, red glitter to the red and blue glitter to the blue. When a new colour is mixed e.g. orange, you can see the glitter colours in the mixture that went to make it up, gold (yellow) and red.

With the human eye able to recognise 2.8 million different hues we will be continuing with the colour theme next month.

The next Material Knowledge session will be on Monday 4th March 6-8pm in the Art Studio, Level 2, St Luke's Community Centre, 90 Central Street, London, EC1V 8AJ.

Monday 21 January 2013

Crafty Christmas

Happy New Year Everyone!

On reflection, the last session and following festivities brought handmade into the lime-light for us arty (and skint!) types. Christmas, and indeed the rest of the year, needn't be about excessive consumption but an opportunity to think about alternatives and share them with others.

One idea we looked at was homemade decorations using recycled magazine covers. These work quite well because of all the bright colours used in the graphic design and the paper consistency being quite thick and glossy. I usually make a perfect flower (or snowflake) shape with this design but didn't have a long-arm stapler to hand so had to staple along the length of the strips of paper instead of across the middle. However we all thought that the suggestion of a tree-of-life design was a nice decorative and seasonal theme which I elaborated on in my second test piece.

To make these all you need to do is cut 1" (2.5cm) wide strips of paper widthways along a page or sheet, stack them and one at a time curve the ends into the middle and secure with a little double sided tape.

A lovely bird motif with a hand painted beak was cut from craft foam and glued onto a wooden board to make a stamp for cards and wrapping paper.

To make a snow globe all you need is a jar with lid and something to seal it with, water with some glycerin added which allows the glitter to fall at a slower pace, some putty to secure your chosen object, paint to cover the putty and something to put inside your jar like this super festive...er...crocodile!

I also spent a weekend and some evenings making batches of edible gifts that included cheesy stars, ginger and orange stuffed dates dipped in chocolate and Xmas fruit biscotti. I packaged these in lots of 10 in cellophane bags, tied with wrapping ribbon and gave them out to friends and family over the holidays. These went down remarkably well with lots of positive feedback (pardon the puns) so I now feel inspired to bake for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year, as gifts that my budget can afford but show the thought and care that the recipients deserve.

When you've crafted, created, made and / or baked gifts for people it's always a nice finishing touch to present them in a creative way. Hayley showed us how to make these fabulous paper bags from newspaper which she then sprays a motif on the sides to suit the occasion. It was a little tricky for us first timers but well worth it. Should you wish to learn this skill for yourselves please visit www.youtube.com RENEW(HOW TO MAKE NEWSPAPER BAG):GLUE VERSION, there is also a STAPLE VERSION. There are many different ways to make newspaper gift bags online but I particularly liked these ones because they provide a simple solution to reinforcing the handles so heavier items can be carried.

The next Material Knowledge session will be on Monday 4th February 6-8pm, The Art Studio, Level 2, St Luke's Community Centre, 90 Central Street, London, EC1V 8AJ.

The floor will be open at the beginning of the session for anyone who would like to participate in a crit, these will be held monthly from now on and will be on a first come, first served basis, the rest of the session will involve discussion about the coming year and activities relating to Colour.