Another fine mess

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Following their success in last year's Persil Hands-on Art Award, pupils at a Romford primary school get stuck into sculptural design, Gill Brown reports

When the Art Club at Squirrels Heath Junior School in Romford embarked on a 3D Space Garden, members soon realised there was no quick fix. "We did loads of different things in school and at home," says nine-year-old Hannah. "We had to sketch a lot, cut things out, mix colours up, draw patterns and then we made the garden."

Hannah was part of the winning team in the seven to 10 category of the Persil Hands-on Art Award last year, in which the theme was "future worlds". The Art Club's "space plants" were made out of anything they could lay their hands on, but the designs were vibrant and bizarre - inspired by the work of the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky.

"I wanted the children to understand that art isn't always about the obvious," says Lauren King, the art co-ordinator who runs the Art Club.

"Kandinsky's strong colours appeal to children and the abstract nature of his work was the perfect start for this project, which was all about being bold enough to create fantastic 3D models."

Kandinsky's work was put on the wall and pupils were asked to describe what they saw. One boy remarked on how a painting looked like traffic lights.

Eleanor, aged nine, observed: "The sea isn't just blue, it goes into colours and they all mix together. But when you stand away you can just see what he wanted it to look like."

Over the following six weeks pupils developed the Kandinsky theme, designing leaves from coloured paper and copying his work in a variety of media, eventually bringing the sketches together in teams to decide on the shape of the plant each would produce for the competition.

"The final weeks were really busy and exciting," said Lauren. "It was great to move the tables out of the way and get everyone working together on the floor with big boxes. It was design technology in action, with the challenge not only to plan what plants would look like, but how to attach all the various pieces of sculpture together."

Children used wire, glue, gummed paper shapes, boxes, bottles, feathers, paint and buttons. Such a team effort certainly caught the eye of the judges, who enjoyed how everyone had pitched in with their own ideas and materials. "The Awards encouraged pupils to embrace creativity through art by learning together and developing art in a fun and creative way," says Zoe Hayward from the Persil Hands-on Art Awards. "Squirrels Heath School was a winner because both teachers and pupils demonstrated creative ideas, artwork and a strong sense of team spirit."

As part of the award the school won a day with a sculptor who worked with Year 5 to create a huge dragonfly made out of willow. It hovered in the entrance hall in pride of place as part of a schoolwide arts week, which took the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water as its theme.

"It was the first time we had done anything like this across the school and it worked better than we had anticipated," says Lauren. "We linked-up with our local Artsmark secondary school and it felt like a real community event."

As a result, the Art Club, still only for Year 4 and now in its second year, is oversubscribed. "The school has a strong commitment to art," says Samantha Lewis, whose son Donell attends the club.

"It's important that children are not forced into leisure activities. It's much better that they choose it for themselves and so far he seems to have taken to it".

This term Donell and the others are making fruit out of plastic bottles, paper mache and coloured card. It's a messy business with glue everywhere, but his pineapple is taking pleasing shape. "I really like drawing at home, but I don't get to make anything like this," he says.

Sylvie, aged eight, is shaping a lemon, layering newspaper on to two plastic bottle tops glued together. "I love lemons," she says. "They're a bit tasty and squashy. I like the idea of making stuff as well as drawing; it's nice to feel it." Lauren agrees with her. "Three-dimensional work like this is so tactile.It introduces the children at an early age to sculpture, and design and technology."

For now, the Art Club is intent on the fruit bowl they will produce. Almost good enough to eat.

lFor Persil's schools' scheme, kits and resources: scheme

Teaching tips

* Steal artists' techniques and make them your own. For example, use Andy Warhol's prints of Marilyn Monroe as inspiration for works that use the children's faces instead.

* Visiting a gallery gives children an understanding of the materials that artists use to create sculptures. It also introduces them to abstract 3D work. "Is it really art?" and "Do you like it and if so why?" are a good talking points.

* Cut up a Kandinsky picture and place part of the reproduction in the centre of a piece of paper. Children can then fill the paper copying his style and technique.

* The website for the National Gallery of Art in Washington gives advice and tips for teachers on featured artists, including Kandinsky.


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