Art of persuasion

17th September 2004 at 01:00
Frances Farrer sees how children's creativity improves when they switch off the left side of their brain

Who knows traditional watercolour techniques? For those who are feeling rusty, peripatetic art teacher Hugh Templeton claims he can get anyone to produce a painting to be proud of in three hours. The remarkable thing is, he generally can.

The trick is in what he calls "a bit of persuasion, a bit of magic, a bit of hypnotism". It resembles the approach of maverick language teacher Michel Thomas, who tells his pupils that if they don't learn a language in three days it will be his fault and not theirs. Hugh Templeton says: "I can teach anybody. It's about gaining a child's trust." He has taught in schools within a 50-mile radius of his base in Heywood, Lancashire, and now a book is reaching out to a wider public.

Ian Clarke, head of Warren Wood Primary in Stockport, says: "Hugh Templeton has done workshops with all but reception at our school, and he certainly enthused the children. He got very good results with large groups: they did simple perspectives, landscapes and still lifes. He says that all he's bothered about is getting the children to enjoy being creative - but he does it in a very methodical way."

The method is in two parts: the first is getting students to "switch off the left side of the brain" (the analytical side). Next come basic technical skills: pupils are taught to mix colours, put washes on paper, select brushes. All the while, they are reminded that proper preparation and observation are essential.

Controversially, Hugh Templeton advocates the use of templates. To paint a flower pot planted with lavender, you will begin by drawing around a cardboard shape for the outline of the pot, or "If you're drawing a moonlit landscape you can draw round a coin for the moon".

The book contains 45 such templates with minute technical instructions. For example, Project 2, Mountains and Snow, explains how to wet the sky area - gently paint in areas of blue and purple, leave some white of the paper showing, hold the brush at 45 degrees. More importantly than technical skills, students also find out "how to stop being overcritical of ourselves and others, both in painting and in life" and "feel better about yourself".

"As a teacher he's well organised, has a pleasant disposition, an air of authority without being bombastic", says Ian Clarke. "He has worked with all ages from Year 1 to Year 6, and he did a twilight session for our teachers. He talked us through still-lifes, flowers, and basic landscape, and some of the teachers went off and bought materials afterwards."

Year 1 began with a still-life before break and did landscape after, making lovely pictures "worthy of framing and putting on the wall". Hugh Templeton has successfully worked with special needs groups including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, too.

= * The Cool Guide to Watercolour Painting contains 25 themes. It can be obtained as a book for pound;12.99 or downloaded for pound;12 from Hugh Templeton can be contacted at 29 Makin Court, Heywood, Lancashire OL10 1DR

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