More fun than work

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Tom Hartney solved a curriculum problem when he invited a professional artist in for a week

If the idea of work-related learning leaves you cold, why not try working with a professional artist? Now that such experience is a requirement at key stage 4, art workshops can be a fun and inspiring way of exploring careers in the creative arts.

At Vyners School in the London borough of Hillingdon, we recently organised an artist-in-residence week. The idea was hatched during our annual Year 12 and 13 residential workshop in St Ives. Through the Tate Gallery education department, we worked with Naomi Frears, a professional painter and printmaker, recently featured as Guardian artist of the month. She is based in one of the Porthmeor studios in St Ives, where we heard her talk about her work. She established an instant rapport with the pupils, who were fascinated by her paintings.

Our plan took shape as a series of workshops with KS3-5 groups. I wanted the workshops to be free for the pupils, although the Arts Council (and Tate) daily rate for artists is pound;175 a day, with materials extra.

Once initial funding had been agreed by our headteacher, we applied to a funding programme for work-related learning projects, offered by Hillingdon Education Business Partnership. Our application hinged on Naomi Frears's status as a professional artist, and the fact that the majority of her time would be spent working with KS4 and 5 students. The application was successful and we were awarded pound;1,000.

We structured the week to include two all-day workshops for Years 12 and 13, extended art lessons for Year 10, and normal lessons of 70 minutes for Year 9. All of the workshops were designed to be ambitious, starting with a short film on Naomi's work, and leading to an activity loosely based on work in progress.

The chair of governors helped out during a Year 10 workshop, commenting:

"The fact that Naomi is a successful artist who makes a living from the work she creates, provides a very good role model for students."

The main process that Naomi introduced during the Year 10, 12 and 13 workshops was monoprinting, starting with students' own sketchbooks. In this way, prints that were relevant to coursework could be made quickly.

The Year 9 workshops involved a one-off drawing activity based on previous class work, with the opportunity for students to ask Naomi about her life as an artist. The greater length of the sixth-form workshops allowed for drawing before making the monoprints.

Describing the value of the experience, Naomi said: "it can all get a bit serious in the studio, whereas working with people reminds me of how much fun drawing, painting and printmaking can be." This was reflected by students, who unanimously described the workshops as fun. They enjoyed the opportunity to experiment in the creative atmosphere that Naomi generated and were impressed by her passion for art and her willingness to reveal how she made her own work.

This last point echoes Naomi's own thoughts: "I would like to de-mystify the process of making work and being an artist. I want them to try not to worry too much about the end result but enjoy getting stuck in."

lNaomi Frears's work can be seen in an exhibition of printmaking in Tate St Ives cafe until May 27.

Tom Hartney is head of art at Vyners School, London borough of Hillingdon

IDEAS AND LINKS

Monoprints

Monoprints are a method in which a one-off print is taken from an inked surface such as a sheet of glass or plastic. All that is needed is printing ink, a roller and copier paper.

Using a roller, ink the surface of the plastic or glass. Draw into the inked area by scratching it with the end of a paintbrush, or by removing areas with a damp cloth. Position a sheet of paper over the area to be printed and smooth down.

Further effects can be achieved by drawing on the back of this paper, adding line and texture.

Weblinks

Register of working artists offering workshops in schools: www.artistsinschools.co.uk

Arts in education organisation that promotes contact between professional artists and schools in London: www.laade.org

Hillingdon EBP criteria for awarding funding Projects that support the curriculum; projects involving professional organisations or individuals; creative projects

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