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Something arty for the weekend

All those taking part in last month's Collage Cuts in Dundee agreed it was well worth giving up a Saturday for. Deedee Cuddihy reports

The group of students beavering away at the work tables in the activity room at the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre would have any teacher feeling proud.

They were busy choosing, cutting and pasting, surrounded by plentiful supplies of coloured paper, scissors, felt-tip pens, paints and brushes.

Concentrating, sometimes quietly chatting and occasionally asking for advice from one of the activity leaders, they were absorbed in their given task. Which is just as well, since all those taking part were, in fact, teachers.

Although in-service art workshops are not unusual, this one was different.

It took place on a Saturday and teachers travelled from miles around - from as far as Aberdeen, Elgin, Lochgilphead and Falkirk - to take part.

The session is one of a series of weekend art and design courses being run by DCA in partnership with the University of Dundee Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design under the continuing professional development programme.

Sarah Derrick, education officer at DCA, says the workshops are popular.

"Earlier this year we decided to offer a Saturday course to teachers just to see if anyone at all would be interested. The response genuinely took us by surprise. Eighteen people signed up for Fabrications, which was about jewellery making, and the feedback was better than for any other in-service course we had previously run. One participant said it was one of the most enjoyable courses she'd been on in 22 years."

Eleven teachers - four primary and seven secondary - signed up for last month's Collage Cuts workshop which, like the DCA's first Saturday course, tied in with an exhibition running at the gallery.

The teachers, several of whom had been on the jewellery-making course, said they had signed up for Collage Cuts looking not only for new techniques but also inspiration, fun, contact with other art teachers and the chance to have a "rage" about the art and design curriculum.

Gillian Brady, from Whitfield Primary in Dundee, was suffering a slight crisis of confidence due to the number of art specialists in attendance. "I thought it would mostly be primary school teachers like me," she says. "Now I feel like hiding under the table."

She need not have worried because Ms Derrick and her team gear these courses to all levels of art ability.

The teachers learn that they can practise picture composition by cutting out ready-made images from magazines and moving them around on a piece of paper. "Even arranging kitchen utensils on a tray can help," says Ms Derrick.

They are shown how to make a nifty sketch book from a sheet of A3 paper before moving next door to the galleries for a guided tour of the collage exhibition, entitled Plunder. It features the work of more than 30 artists who have all used pre-processed materials to create new works.

These range from the classic collages of Kurt Schwitters (1921) to The Jungle Book Project in 2002, where artist Pierre Bismuth created a new soundtrack for the original Jungle Book film using a collage of the 19 languages the film has been translated into.

Several of the artists featured in the Plunder exhibition have produced collages using simple but effective techniques that could easily be adapted by teachers in the classroom. Melanie Carvalho, for example, created her fantasy Scottish landscape by cutting out the most unlikely plants, animals and water features from magazines and arranging them in a crowded, exotic composition.

Rivane Neuenschwander made a calendar and an alphabet using collages of discarded tickets, price tags, wrappers and other paper ephemera bearing the appropriate numbers and letters.

Back in the activity room, the teachers quickly got down to the business of producing their own collages. Lucy Neish, an art teacher from Lochgilphead High, who also attended the jewellery course, says it takes her more than three hours to travel to Dundee. "But it's worth it," she insists, "because at the end of the day you feel like an artist again."

Ms Brady, who earlier was feeling quite apprehensive, had almost completed her very first collage by lunch time and was looking more confident.

"My class only get an art specialist once a fortnight for six months in the year," she explains, "and I want to be able to give them something in between times."

Dundee Contemporary Arts will run more weekend courses in the new year. For details, contact Sarah Derrick, tel 01382 909900Plunder runs until January

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