The art department is often the last to get a look in when new computers arrive, despite the popularity of computer-generated art. There are more important things, so the theory goes, for which the computers can be used. But as every art teacher knows, the computer expands the boundaries and expectations of what children can achieve.
The Twelve Days of Christmas project, which involved seven schools in south Bristol, is an attempt to bring art and technology together in the classroom. Go to www.12days.net on Boxing day and you will find artistic interpretations of the traditional festive song "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
The virtual exhibits include simple animation, digital artwork, paintings, sculpture and several cartoon strips which cover a range of techniques. All are designed to run on computers without plug-ins and all show how ICT can be used in art.
The project has been led by Bristol's Watershed media centre and is funded by Bristol city council. Withywood community secondary school, together with one infant and five primary schools, began work last summer.
Rob Townley, head of art at Withywood, says: "A lot of computers were coming into the school but my department was bypassed in favour of other subjects. Joining the project helped me make a case for computers in the art department and now we have five networked computers, all with a digitised tablet and stylus."
Swirl, a web design consultancy with experience of working in education, provided technical support for the schools. Swirl's project co-ordinator Diana Bogie began by auditing teachers' computer skills and their schools' ICT resources. "All the schools had access to a digital camera but not all had scanners and very few had picture editing software," says Diana.
The brief then changed from schools realising finished pages written in html, to students focusing on ideas that used the capability of a web page, with the technical side taken care of by Swirl. As well as technical know-how, Swirl provided an online gallery of ideas and links to art websites which schools used for brainstorming.
Much of the artwork that will appear has been realised by hand, rather than being computer-generated. The exception is Day Two (Two Turtle Doves) which features two games of matching pairs using Pokemon-inspired cards. The cartoon-as-art result successfully appropriates imagery from commercial sources, rather than from art or nature, which, together with pattern, is notably absent from the project.
Art teacher Brian Walton, who taught Year 5 at Four Acres primary (but has since moved to Thomas Buxton junior school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets), used Paint, a simple art program that is part of the Accessories suite preloaded with PCs running Windows. "I began by modelling some ideas for cards, just as I would model guided writing for children in the literacy hour," he explains. This helped children become computer-minded, so techniques such as using a mouse for drawing ent out in favour of morphing and manipulating art once it is a piece of hypertext.
Pokemon characters have strong shapes, and shapes are something that computers do well. "For precision with mathematical shapes, computers have an advantage over motor skills and the children can quickly realise their ideas perfectly, and try out numerous ideas in one lesson," Brian says. The cards were made from shapes, then colour, detail and finally a background was added. The Paint Shop Pro program was used to add effects, including transparency, light around images and fading edges between objects layered one on top of the other.
Year 9 students from Withywood have created five of the days. Digital drawing for students studying illustration was an option thanks to the new equipment, although the finished work combines hand-drawn watercolour completed before the arrival of the extra machines with digital illustration. in an elongated cartoon strip, dragging the scroll bar takes you through the strips illustrating Days One and Eight. The idea is simple, works well and offers endless possibilities to use the cartoon language of animation.
Some primary teachers involved in the project noted the influence of computer games. Children today are not just post-Disney, they are post-Lara Croft, and soon to be post-PlayStation 2. This gave them an enormous over-expectation about what they could generate on a screen. This was one reason why the majority of schools used computers as a publishing medium, rather than as a resource for creating original art.
Sarah Cheshire, Year 4 teacher at Fair Furlong primary, whose class created Day Four, had been looking at Monet paintings with children to study shape and texture.
"The children wanted to make their swans, covered in different materials and put them on a lily pond," she says. Publishing the work on the web, rather than as a wall collage, enabled the finished image to tell the story of seven swans, but use the work of the whole class. "I had used Paint Shop Pro on a training course to fade images in place of each other, so on the website the children's work is in transition and everyone's contribution can be seen."
The site can be accessed at www.12days.net from December 26
* DAY BY DAY
Day One Withywood community school A Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day Two Four Acres primary Two Turtle Doves
Day Three Highridge infant school Three French Hens
Day Four Fair Furlong primary Four Calling Birds
Day Five Hare clive primary Five Gold Rings
Day Six Bishopsworth junior Six Geese a-laying
Day Seven Teyfant community school Seven Swans a-swimming
Day Eight Withwood community school Eight Maids a-milking
Day Nine Four Acres primary Nine Ladies Dancing
Day 10 Gay Elms primary Ten Drummers Drumming
Day 11 Withywood community school Eleven Pipers Piping
Day 12 Withywood community school Twelve Lords a-leaping
Year 9 students from Withywood with published work are: Russell Chapman, Kai Dawe, Michael Gifford, Gemma Pender, Jodi Selby, and David Watts