One fundamental task of art education is to teach pupils to see. Yet sometimes, especially at primary level, the focus of art lessons is to imagine. There is nothing wrong with using imagination to feed creative work, but working from observation should certainly not be neglected.
Don't forget that we learn to look before we can even speak. Drawing helps us understand what we see and is the cornerstone of artistic activity.
It is, therefore, refreshing to watch the latest Art Store programmes on Channel 4 Schools. The sound basis for each of the programmes is looking and making visual notes before the "art activity". For example in "Line" (September 21) the artistpresenter Jo Volley demonstrates the wealth of drawing possibilities presented within a supermarket.
Making sketches in her drawing book, which she describes as a "diary with pictures", she looks at the mass of interesting line, shape and tone on the shelves. This leads to a studio activity where she makes a still- life drawing. Clear commentary on the processes involved accompanies her work. Pupils will be enthralled by watching the drawing develop. "The more you look, the more your hand will begin to draw what you see," she says.
We then watch as a class of children make their own lively still-life drawings. Seeing them at work reinforces some of the ideas put forward by the artist.
A similar format is used for all the programmes, which cover key elements of the art curriculum. "Colour" (September 28) is based on a painting of flowers in a vase. Interestingly, the artist chooses to draw directly with paint. Concepts of warmthcoolness, harmony contrast and colour mixing are clearly demonstrated. The vocabulary used throughout is appropriate for the age range and should extend their knowledge of technical terms.
A seaside theme is used as a springboard for the design of a large textile block print in "Pattern" (October 5). Drawings are used for repeating motifs, which are made into printing blocks using sponge, card or string glued to off-cuts of wood. Pupils working on their own prints are totally absorbed and enjoying the task.
The home environment is the starting point for "Texture" (October 12). It involves making rubbings and learning how to add texture to paint. This develops into a collage using a combination of found materials, rubbings and painted elements.
The final programme "Structure" (October 19) looks at ways of understanding various structures by making drawings. Jo Volley makes a huge sculpture of a pineapple using withies (flexible willow shoots) and tissue paper. The subsequent giant fruits constructed by pupils are ambitious and very impressive.
A teacher's guide with details of each programme deals with key concepts used, suggests relevant vocabulary, materials and resources, along with further ideas and sketchbook activities. Surprisingly, the teacher's guide does not include photographs of the work that Jo Volley created in the programme and, sadly, the examples of artists' work which is shown at the end of each programme do not appear in print. Although it is worth having, this guide does not have the same coherence that the programmes display.
This series will be of use to both specialist and non-specialist art teachers. Its roots are in looking carefully at a familiar environment, using drawing as a means of understanding what is seen, recording things observed and for planning projects. Each of the activities developed from the drawings is exciting, well-conceived and can easily be used as a springboard for further activities. Be prepared for an invasion of gargantuan pineapples.
A video of the five programmes costs Pounds 14.99, the teacher's guide Pounds 3.95,and a resource book "How To" shows some of the techniques used,Pounds 6.95. Available from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 436444