Residential courses stimulate creativity and release exuberance, finds Nicola Davies, who sees Year 6 pupils go wild for Fauvism
A photographic shoot is in progress at Beaford Arts Centre in North Devon.
A blonde model, hair pulled into horn-like projections, face melodramatically side-lit with a corpse-green spot, grimaces to camera. It is an extraordinary shot, the more so because the team collaborating to create it are Year 6 pupils who, two hours ago, didn't know each other and had never used lights and cameras before.
This is the first part of a two-day intensive art course run by Devon art advisers Chris Wightman and Phil Creek. "We provide the best materials and studio facilities, plus specialist teaching," says Chris. "And more time to work on their art than they would get in a whole term in school. So we expect a high standard of work. And we get it!"
Every course is different, taking inspiration from different eras of art history and exposing children to different techniques. Today, the luridly lit photos will form the basis of Fauvist collage portraits. Chris shows them work by Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck. Soon, the room is a giant kaleidoscope, as the raw materials for collages are created by washing paper with primary-coloured ink and drying it with a hair dryer.
"I'm being a wild beast," Scott says (fauve is French for beast), as he rips into an indigo-stained sheet. By five o'clock, everyone has boldly filled their A2 paper with huge heads and shoulders, and addressed the tricky issues of balancing foreground and background. Lexi's not sure about the shape of her mouth, Charlie wonders what colours to use for his hair and Imogen thinks her background is still too busy.
Children discuss each other's work with a tact and enthusiasm that would put a degree class to shame. They work on with the tutors after supper.
They have to finish their collages by bedtime, because on the second day the course focuses on new artists and techniques.
Next morning, Phil is demonstrating abstraction by drawing a face using geometric shapes. "What's the name of the artist who did faces like this?"
he asks. "Alexei Jawlensky," the children shout with hardly a trace of hesitation, pointing to examples of Jawlensky's work that are pinned to the wall.
Phil shows them how to modify their designs, encouraging them to write evaluations of their work as they go along. The children start to draw, very quietly. Yesterday, they were Fauves, wild and unbridled; today, they are Abstract Expressionists, thoughtful and analytical. In less than half an hour all have produced striking, intelligent designs, and have begun to experiment with paint colours and brush techniques.
There's less time to work on the second day, but the children have become braver and more decisive. They work right up to the line, making bold creative decisions and adding final touches of woodblock prints (in the manner of Paul Klee) in the last five minutes. They collaborate in a way that's humbling for a competitive adult, so that everyone finishes on time.
By four o'clock, today's paintings, still wet, hang in marvellous contrast with yesterday's collages, every picture distinct and original. Parents and carers arrive, clearly delighted by what their children have achieved:
"It's amazing, it just looks so professional!" "You can see how much he's learned just by looking at the pictures."
The PGCE students who have been assisting the tutors are equally impressed.
"I work with Year 11s," says one. "And they'd be proud to produce work half as good as any of this."
"Kids rise to the challenge," says Phil. "You have to pinch yourself sometimes to remember how young they really are." "Children get a huge amount out of this experience," says Chris. "Teachers often tell us how a child's self-esteem and behaviour have been completely transformed after coming here."
There's a trickle-down effect, too. Teachers are inspired when they see the work children bring back to school, and they can then use the advisers'
website, where the courses are comprehensively documented, as a resource and model.
In the 16 years Chris and Phil have run courses at Beaford, GCSE art and design results in Devon have improved enormously. "We've turned out a lot of art teachers too," says Phil, "One teacher in Devon keeps his name badge from his Beaford course pinned above his bed."
Its time to go. Children say goodbye. In two days, they have done 14 hours of intensive artwork. They are tired but elated. "You work really hard, but it feels great," says Christina. "You think wow! That's my painting!" "I've got a new look on art and on how things are in the world," says Kat. Imogen is barely visible behind her two big works: "My pictures make me feel so happy," she says. "It's like waking up on Christmas morning."
* The courses are available as PowerPoint presentations at www.devon.gov.orgdcs artdesign - go to "projects and links", and click on "Beaford PowerPoints".
For course information and bookings, tel: 01805 603710. For information on Beaford Arts Centre, email: firstname.lastname@example.org