Drawn to the small screen

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Workshops which mix artists' traditional methods with computer wizardry have proved irresistible to secondary schools. Deedee Cuddihy reports

Busy timetables and increasing transport costs have made trips to art galleries and museums a big undertaking for primary schools these days. Getting secondary schools to sign up for extra-mural activities is even more difficult.

Anne Wallace, education officer for Glasgow Museums, says: "Secondary schools are interested if they're offered a project that has a beginning, a middle and an end, if it will be of real and lasting benefit to the pupils and, of course, if it fits into the curriculum."

Keen to offer the secondaries something they would find hard to resist, Ms Wallace contacted the schools that had sent senior art pupils to a talk at the Gallery of Modern Art by painter Craig Mulholland in November. "Pupils had responded really enthusiastically to Craig's work," she says, "and had cornered him afterwards to ask more questions about his latest techniques, which involve the use of computers.

"I asked the schools if they'd be interested in a project comprising a two-day workshop led by Craig. The first day would be spent at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, where pupils would interpret a traditional painting. The second day would be spent at the Learning and Teaching Scotland centre in Dowanhill, where they would create an art work on computer using scanned images of their Kelvingrove sketch and a photograph of the painting.

"Once back at school, the pupils would be able to continue and complete the project by working on their printouts with the traditional art materials they had used at Kelvingrove."

Ms Wallace knew the workshops would be useful because they could feed into the expressive unit of Higher Still and into sixth year studies (SYS) art.

Six schools said "Yes, please", so two two-day workshops were organised with a total of 18 pupils from three schools at each. The first one took place in January and the second is scheduled for this month.

Mulholland says: "Artists today need to be aware of computer technology. even if they don't use it themselves. Although I use traditional oil painting techniques, I have found computers paticularly helpful and time-saving when it comes to trying out ideas for compositions and experimenting with colour."

On the first day of the January workshop, pupils from St Thomas Aquinas, Lourdes and Hillhead High schools were hard at work in front of their chosen paintings, having been instructed by Mulholland to produce a sketch of the entire picture before making a detailed copy of a particular part.

Most of the pupils have Higher art or are preparing to sit the exam; some hope to go to art college next year. With a little bit of guidance and encouragement from Mulholland, they have no trouble producing excellent work using traditional materials and methods.

The real challenge comes on day two, when they use computers - and imagination - to create a new piece of art. At Learning and Teaching Scotland's colourful technology suite, the pupils are seated at individual work stations, waiting a little anxiously for their pre-scanned images to appear on screen.

Using Photoshop software, they can produce a layered print that combines their museum sketches, the photograph of the original artwork, plus any number of added colours and art effects. Everyone taking part has had some computer art or graphics experience but nothing as sophisticated as this offers.

There are a few hitches with the setting-up. ("The problem with technology," Ms Wallace points out, "is that it takes so long.") An hour into the workshop, some pupils have only just begun to work on-screen. However, with encouragement from Ms Wallace and Mulholland's sympathetic, confident guidance, work is well underway by lunchtime.

By 3pm, the first of the newly created, polished-looking pieces of art have begun to stutter out of the printer. It is fascinating to see how individual pupils have tackled the assignment.

All have enjoyed themselves, and most remark that they have learned new techniques which they will be able to use and build on back at school.

Iain Thorburn, principal art teacher at Hillhead High, agrees: "This is a particularly challenging project because it combines traditional and modern techniques. Not only that, the SYS pupils will be able to put the work they produce straight into their folios."

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