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Keeping art fresh and inspiring

All good art departments need fresh inspirational material objects and artefacts which will make pupils really want to work, really begin to make their own connections between what they see and a creative act. Hence my pleasure in discovering plastic mirrors.

There are two types: a flexible, conventional one allows many "hall of mirrors"-type reflections and convexconcave with which, once everyone has got the Madonna breast joke out of their system, pupils are inspired by the "fish-eye" view they allow. Drawings with hugely distorted noses or hands help understand exaggerated perspective and lead to powerful designs.

There is always a morbid fascination with dead things. Skulls, stuffed animals and insects are all superb forms of inspiration, but not always easy to find. So, presuming you are short of an alligator or two, what can be done?

Some museums will lend objects. Alternatively, telephone Starbeck Natural History who will arrange a visit to school with a van crammed with superb stuffed specimens of mammals, birds, skulls, insects, shells, even reproduction fossils.

Each creature is registered with the Department of the Environment. Prices are reasonable and collecting a few specimens each year provides a constantly evolving, invaluable, resource.

I have only recently acquired a wooden mannequin. There are always pupils to pose for a figure composition, but it is sometimes difficult to understand what is going on under the clothes. The mannequin also holds any lengthy pose without complaining or scratching.

Specialist Crafts, who supply mannequins, also sell a lovely pair of hands one male, the other female. With plenty of hands around why bother with a wooden one? It helps to understand structure and will hold any gesture. An articulated horse, although expensive, helps give an understanding of how all those difficult leggy-bits work.

A battered dustbin, old kettle, broken bicycle, driftwood or bald teddy bear are just as inspirational as the products mentioned, but all of these items are probably already there, lurking in a dark corner of your room.

Mirror Pack Plastic. Large 300x200mm, pack of 4, Pounds 8.46. Small 150mmx100mm, pack of 10, Pounds 5.75.

ConcaveConvex Mirrors Plastic, 100x100mm, pack of 10, Pounds 5.90 Mannequin 12 inches high, Pounds 8.95. 16 inches high, Pounds 18.62. 20 inches high, Pounds 46.00. Male or Female Hand Pounds 49.97 Wooden Anatomical Horse Pounds 195.

All from Specialist Crafts, PO Box 247, Leicester LE1 9QS. Tel: 0116 251 0405.

Taxidermy Birds and Mammals from Pounds 30. Skulls from Pounds 9. Butterflies and Insects from Pounds 4. Exotic Sea Shells Pounds 1 to Pounds 15. Fossil Replicas from Pounds 5. ReptilesSnakes Glass-fibre casts from Pounds 35. Hire service also available. All from Starbeck Natural History, The Old Exchange, Long Street, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire YO7 3RW. Tel: 01845 577989.

All prices exclude VAT.

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