Children and teachers can express their creative sides at this arts centre near Nottingham. Sarah Farley reports
We should all have the opportunity to paint in oils at least once during our lives. So believes Liz Wood, co-founder of Patchings Art Centre, near Nottingham. "Today you are all going to create a masterpiece," says Liz to a class of 30 Year 4 pupils from four small rural Lincolnshire schools. "What you paint in oils today could last for 200 years and the paint you use will stay put. It will also stay put on your clothes, so be very, very careful. And it will take a week to dry."
The accompanying staff blanch slightly at the implications of colourful tacky paint on smart sweatshirts, no doubt thinking about the problems of transporting 30 mini-masterpieces home unsmudged.
But Liz Wood has an ingenious solution. The unused pizza boxes on the desks do not contain lunch. Instead, a sheet of paper is neatly taped down, ready for painting in situ. When work is complete, the box is folded together, protecting the paint while it dries, and the tape is removed a week later to reveal a pristine border all ready for display.
Such thoughtfulness is typical of Patchings. Liz, her brother Chas and his wife Pat Wood are determined that children have opportunities to experience art in a way that is often difficult elsewhere because of time and equipment restrictions. They are organised and practical, whether the class is watercolour, weaving, silk painting, ceramics or drawing. "We want children to feel they are here as artists for a day, to have a go at different areas of art and realise that they can all produce something original," says Liz.
The children are shown exactly what to do, whether they are in a group weaving bold autumnal patterns on sticks or delicately shading a watercolour still-life. Stage by stage - from how to position the painting, hold the brush, mix the paint, wind the thread - they are helped to build whatever it is they are creating in such a way that success is assured.
"It's like painting by numbers - even I can do it," remarks one teacher, clearly enjoying her first experience with oil paints.
Building confidence is an important part of the Patchings philosophy. "We teach the technique so that everyone can learn," says Liz. "But each oil painting will be different - unique in the way that everyone's handwriting is unique, yet all equally valid." The results are impressive. Based on Claude Monet's "Waterlilies" series, each child is proudly producing a painting that bears a resemblance to the original.
Patchings is a popular venue for school visits from reception up to A-level. "We can tailor the class to what is required as we have a team of tutors with different experiences," says Pat Wood. "We can work with a theme, such as rainforest or Oriental art, but we are happy to make suggestions, too. In the summer, we hold classes outside. We have 60 acres of grounds with a lake and a Monet bridge, and plenty of places for drawing and nature study, or just running around."
Even on a cold winter's day, Patchings has an appealingly artistic atmosphere. One of the classes is held in the Pavilion, a large, light building where an exhibition of artists' work is currently on display.
Members of the public wander round as the school groups are working, covertly looking at the children's efforts as well as those hung round the walls. Maybe Liz is right - there could be a masterpiece among them, still to be admired in 200 years' time.
Admission costs pound;4.30 per child per day. Inset days are also available
Patchings Art Centre, Oxton Road, Calverton, Nottinghamshire NG14 6NU Tel: 0115 965 3479 www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk