Paper and board are all very well, canvas may be possible for the lucky few, but often there is a tendency to think quite narrowly about surfaces to work upon when planning art lessons.
In the art and design tradition something is often forgotten craft skills. These are in evidence in printmaking and fabric work, but where else can we encourage "different" techniques? It can be an extremely motivating factor for pupils to explore and learn a new process. Immense satisfaction can be achieved when working with different materials.
The problem with "craft processes" is that often they work towards a pre-determined end, but this is not the only way. Open-ended tasks are perfectly feasible if ideas are well presented and pupils are encouraged to think for themselves.
From time to time artists, especially over the past century, have dabbled with craft processes alongside their more traditional work. For example, Chagall, Matisse, John Piper and Edward Burne-Jones all designed stained-glass windows. Just think of it making an image which will come alive with light.
To create proper stained glass requires considerable skill and is likely to be a dangerous classroom activity. However, glass paints have now been developed which enable any glass object to be exquisitely decorated. Liquid Metal Paste (available in different metallic finishes) permits a lead-like edging to be drawn to delineate the outline of shapes, with colour added at a later stage.
Although quite different from "real" stained-glass, in fact this process is not limiting; on the contrary, it opens up a huge number of possibilities. Any glass object can now have a kaleidoscope of colour added. So sheetglass, mirrors, wine glasses, bottles, or even jam jars can provide an excellent surface for a design. Be warned though, the final work, although very durable, will not be useable you will not be able to drink from and wash glasses, for example.
The skills pupils will learn from the process of, say, decorating a jam-jar or wine bottle, are considerable. Design planning and execution require a fair degree of imagination, visualisation and dexterity.
Both solvent and water-based products are available from a number of suppliers. Water-based colours are better for younger pupils as the mess is easier to clean, but solvent-based paints are more durable and colours seem brighter.
Mistakes can easily be rectified with a water (or solvent) soaked cloth, and brushes should be immediately cleaned.
Very different effects can be achieved by painting with solid acrylics on to glass. (Any acrylics, PVA paint or even PVA glue mixed with paint will work). As the colour is opaque, it forces the shape of the glass to be considered as a kind of three-dimensional canvas and the results, although not revealing anything of the qualities of the glass, can still be very exciting.
If trying this technique, it is sensible to prime the bottle with white acrylic paint, emulsion or gesso first. Rene Magritte painted a series of bottles (in oils), transforming them into paintings most notably nudes.
If you are wary of letting pupils loose on breakable and therefore potentially dangerous glass, a safer alternative is PVC sheeting which has the added advantage that thin sheets can also be bent into different shapes.
Expense, and the mess factor, are worth it to provide students with the experience of creating "images with light". From time to time introducing a new, different technique and pace to an art lesson can re-vitalise enthusiasm within a group. Not every pupil will be enthralled with endless painting and drawing, but try construction, printmaking, group work or even painting on glass and different pupils will have opportunities to excel.
I have been experimenting with various solvent and water-based products. Specialist Crafts' Glass Paint and Marabu Decorglas are water-soluble, Pebeo Vitrail is available in both water-based and solvent-based colour, while Lefranc Bourgeois Vitrail is solvent-based. All are of good quality and are quite economical a little colour goes a long way.
Specialist Crafts' Glass Paint, 50ml Pounds 2.27 . Tel: 0533 510405 Edding Marabu Decorglass, 15ml Pounds 1.29 ; 50ml Pounds 3.05. Tel: 0727 84668 Philip Tacey Pebeo Vitrail, water-based 45ml Pounds 2.25; solvent-based 45ml Pounds 2.35. Tel: 0264 332171 Colart Lefranc Bourgeois Vitrail, 50ml Pounds 2.38; 250ml Pounds 9.36. Tel: 081-427 4343. Prices all include VAT.