Jagged ragged squiggly dribbly...;Curriculum

5th November 1999 at 00:00
... and many more useful words are to be found in a new art pack from West Dunbartonshire. Douglas Blane reports

The art teacher pauses and peers peer at the half-finished painting. "What's this supposed to be, boy?" "It's a robin in a tree, sir."

"It looks like a dead wasp in a litter bin," the teacher quips. He strolls off around the art class, lobbing casual pearls of praise at the gifted few and rocks of sarcasm at the rest.

But that was long ago. Nowadays the whole class is taught and encouraged, not just those who have already shown an aptitude. By the same token, teacher Elizabeth Hoey of Milton primary freely admits art is not her best subject, but she was still part of the West Dunbartonshire team that created a new art and design pack for schools.

"The pack is aimed at Primary 7 teachers and their pupils, many of whom won't have a background in art," she says. "So it was important to have someone like me on the team. If I can understand and use the resource, so can they."

The pack contains lessons on "visual elements". These are the basic building blocks of visual images, in the same way that chemical elements are the building blocks of objects in the physical world.

But there are only six visual elements - line, tone, shape, colour, pattern and texture. So children can study each in turn, and begin to understand the subtle variations of effect that can be achieved by experimenting with one element at a time.

Most children are expected to gain this understanding by the time they come to secondary school. The pack is designed to help them do that. It was prepared by Ms Hoey, art teachers Duncan Ferguson and Gillian Hunter of Dumbarton Academy, and primary teacher Christine Hutchison of Knoxland school.

Three lessons have been devised for each visual element. The first lesson explains what the element is and how professional artists use it. The second sets the pupils a task to help them explore the element in their own work. The third introduces critical evaluation by leading the pupil through a series of questions about a work of art in which that particular element is especially strong. Extensive word banks for each element give the children a vocabulary to help them talk and think about images.

For instance, the lessons on colour introduce primary, secondary and tertiary colours. Then they ask pupils to create their own colour wheel and paint a fantasy landscape by using and mixing primary colours. "These are all warm colours in this picture," explains 12-year-old Elizabeth Gammons of Dumbarton Academy, "which means they're sort of reds, yellows and browns, colours you might see in autumn or late summer. When you're painting you might want to use just a few colours that go well together, rather than loads of different ones. This picture looks good with just one or two warm colours."

"Teachers should be able to use these lessons without the need for an art specialist, which not all primaries have," says art teacher Gillian Hunter. "They're not intended to be taught in any specific order. Pupils could even take one and work away on their own, because they're written in a language children can understand."

The word banks are wide ranging and evocative. Colours can be "bright dull bold subtle vibrant warm cool rich intense glowing garish harsh crude lurid loud clashing muted saturated brilliant ...".

Lines can be "thick thin straight curved short long wavy angular broken fuzzy zig-zag soft hard ..." At one point the reader seems taken to the heart of the creative process, and a particularly messy unfinished canvas is "rough jagged ragged scratchy squiggly dribbly splashy...".

The project was organised by Dumbarton Academy and its five feeder primaries and funded by West Dunbartonshire council. The council's education manager, Neil McKechnie, says: "We intend to use the pack initially in West Dunbartonshire, but we have a publication unit and we're keen to share it with others."

The pack is beautiful, as befits a resource produced by three artists and a critic. If squiggly, dribbly and splashy played their part in the creation, all trace of them has long since been removed.

For more information contact Neil McKechnie, Education and Leisure Services, Council Offices, Garshake Road, Dumbarton, G81 3PU

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