Cutting-edge patterns

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Photoshop can transform art lessons, as Victoria Neumark finds in a Nottingham secondary and a London primary, while Donald Short (right) shares his step-by-step Year 8 project

Year 13 art textiles at Chilwell School, Beeston, Nottingham, is a "gentle powerhouse" of future designers, says Tony Winfield, head of IT. It's not surprising that it is soon to become a Centre of Textiles Excellence.

Whether you are looking at Grace Pinkett's twisted metallic dress, with its fabric built by manipulating patterns from pebbles; artist Lucio Fontana's appliqued foil and machine embroidery, cut into a dress pattern, or how Holly Mooney has filtered layers in her merging of Klimt and African artist El Anatsui's use of rubbish on to a template for a glitzy handbag - talent and invention steam off the A-level students' sketchbooks and prototypes.

One of the keys to this is Photoshop, the digital enhancement tool from Adobe. By manipulating images and printing them on to overlays, students can create stunning effects.

Teacher Michelle Cox, herself an artist working in textiles, is thrilled with her students' embrace of technology and taste. "We try to make it like industry," she says. "It's a professional atmosphere."

Chilwell are pioneers in piloting Photoshop for schools and nowhere is this more apparent than in the art department. As Michelle says: "The computer speeds things up, lets them try out techniques and see results."

Helen East has taken flower catalogues and her own photos, merged them, overlaid filters, repeated patterns, added black lines and fills to produce elegrant designs for a range of cups and plates.

Katie Green saved her art deco patterns as jpegs, then abstracted design elements to print on overlays stitched using Husqvarna's Designer sewing machine program. Further work with sewing on layers and cutting off in molar technique is facilitated by the speed technology allows in turning ideas into fabric images.

Lower down the school, Michelle says work with Photoshop is simpler, but no less exciting. In Year 8, it's scanning images on to overlays and making cushions. In GCSE years, "boys really like it. "I've got boys in my GCSE class who are really keen, because of the IT. They are interested in taking A-levels and that's not happened before."

In less than three years, Chilwell, a specialist school in the arts, maths and computing (since September), has transformed its technology offering.

It's got a new computer suite, gifted by Educational Ideas Limited; 30 Tablet PCs on trolleys, with six more trolleys of laptops on order; Photoshop on every networked machine, and three major suites with 31 computers in each. Its staff are committed to using ICT across every subject, be it geography, science, maths, media studies or English, but it is in art, particularly, that innovation is the order of the day.

Rob Haylock, headteacher since summer 2003, stresses that the school's ethos for its 1,005 pupils (185 of which are in the sixth-form) is to trust people to get on with work while holding them to account if things go wrong and supporting them to learn better. It's tough love for the 21st century.

This manifests itself in involvement in Investors in People and renovating a theatre into an arts complex for the community, as much as in the headteacher eating with pupils and developing a Virtual-Workshop network with surrounding schools, with Adobe's support in training. "Whatever anyone does is part of the school's current and continuing success," he tells staff and pupils.

This positive attitude shows up in a GCSE art lesson run in the computer suite. Teacher Sue Bedford never raises her voice to her Year 11 class, but works with them through a handout on creating a Pop-Art style repeating image. As they focus on the task - manipulating their drawings, using Photoshop's Elements their lairy behaviour disappers so that Daniel, who had refused to acknowledge the image he had previously created in the library of saved pictures fell so deeply in love with his new work that he had to email it to himself at home to show his family.

Mark, who had seemed defeated by the task, turned in a Lichtenstein dot-matrix colour-field of licorice allsorts, while Rebecca and Kim cooed over their ice-cream sundaes and pineapples in bowls. Oliver's apple in chalk transmogrified into a soft velvety wall of colour, and Bryn's pastels started to move about. However, it was Tom who captured the mood of the class: "Miss, I can't go now, I've got to finish this." he called out as the lunch bell rang.

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