Online art adds stroke of genius
This is the third year that the National Galleries of Scotland have run their ambitious art competition, with every school invited to take part. Already it has had far reaching and positive outcomes, not just in the quantity and quality of the entries received.
As before, each age range was given a theme. For nursery school pupils it was fantastic creatures, P1-P3 "My Special Day", P4-P7 sports, hobbies and interests, S1-S2 "Who Am I?" and special schools line, shape and landscape. What was new, and proved crucial to the educational clout of the competition, was that for each category three paintings appropriate to the theme were selected from the National Galleries' online collections to stimulate ideas and group discussion.
"It was very important to us that the online collection was opened up," says Linda McLelland, who was responsible for running the project, "not just to stimulate the work but because the art in the National Galleries belongs to everyone and they don't have to travel here to see it.
"We want to encourage teachers to use our website, download the paintings and use them to generate classroom discussion."
Linda Hamilton, her colleague in the galleries' education department, agrees. "We had particularly encouraging entries from the islands, and it was great that they had the online gallery to access."
Sanday Community School nursery, on Orkney, used the competition as the basis for a three-week project involving face painting, games, mime, storytelling and music. Helen Newman, the nursery nurse, initially felt the subject and the paintings chosen for study could scare her pupils, so she broadened it out into all the nursery activities.
"We listened to Saint-Sa ns's Carnival of the Animals and used the gym for animal mime sessions. The idea was to free up the children first and to give them confidence. When they did start, they were so involved. Using the online collection to research art in particular has been marvellous."
Nia Newman won third prize for her fantastic creature, a creative and energetic collage on a painted background.
The winner at nursery level was Keanna MacInnes, from Greenbank Pre-school in Edinburgh, who produced a charming, benign creature with a sparkling coat and collaged eyes.
The P1-P3 entries were full of spontaneity and delight. The top prizes for interpretations of "My Special Day" went to Ellie Street, of Braemar school, and Gunaranjan Sud, of Belmont House school in Glasgow.
Maisondieu Primary in Brechin won two mentions in the P4-P7 category. Art specialist Sarah Isaac says she found the competition guidelines particularly stimulating.
"I pinned up the downloaded gallery pictures and we talked about them for some time. The class, P6, was used to working with artists as a starting point.
"It was up to them which materials they used, but as we had been working in oil pastel and paint, they tended to stay with that."
First prize went to Jake Milne for a bold and almost robotic figurative composition which clearly had been influenced by the paintings selected for study, as well as by the Brechin Light Railway. His depiction of metallic surfaces was especially good.
Scott Marnie, who chose football as his special interest, won a merit award. He recreated the iconic pose of the triumphant player, one foot on the ball, with such fresh enthusiasm that there are plans to use it as a poster.
Such developments have been made possible through sponsorship of the competition by Scottish Widows. As well as the poster, postcards of works will be printed and a calendar of the entries will be produced and sent to the participating schools. A touring exhibition is planned, visiting Duff House at Banff, Paxton House at Berwick upon Tweed and the Scottish Learning Festival (SETT) in Glasgow. Scottish Widows will display the 50 winning entries in its head office in Edinburgh before distributing them to local branches across Scotland.
The three prize-winning schools in each category will be offered a whole class workshop, with travel provided, at the National Gallery.
"We are always seeking ways of supporting teachers, specialist and non-specialist alike," says Ms McLelland. "There does seem to be a growing awareness of the importance of art in the curriculum. It can provide a window of freedom through which to express yourself and explore the many ideas that engage artists."
The impressive level of creativity in the special schools category bore this out. David Smith, aged 13, of Kaimes school in Edinburgh, was fascinated by the expressive nature of the national galleries' works. His winning landscape, made with sponged paint, has rhythm, colour and texture.
His art teacher, Mary Walters, showed the selected works with other paintings and photographs. "We had to work quite hard to get the children away from the idea that they were to copy the works.
"They worked on a big scale first, then smaller using easels, which helped them see the whole painting develop."
Second prize was awarded to a detailed landscape in pencil and paint by Robert Ballantyne, of Pilrig Park school in Edinburgh. A beautifully coloured abstract by Matthew Ferguson of Stanecastle school in Irvine won third prize.
The entries from S1-S2 pupils seemed to lack this lustre and sense of engagement, with many self-portraits more concerned with skill than interiority.
Sarah Alexander, of Cumnock Academy, won with an intriguing pastel and charcoal composition that went well below the surface.
1 Keanna MacInnes Greenbank pre-school, Edinburgh
2 Eva Barnet, Roseburn Nursery, Edinburgh
3 Nia Newman, Sanday Community school, Orkney
1 Ellie Street, Braemar school, Fife
2 Gunaranjan Sud, Belmont House school, Glasgow
3 Annabel Rennie, Markethill school, Turriff, Aberdeenshire
1 Jake Milne, Maisondieu Primary, Brechin, Angus
2 Chloe Hadiland, Brunstane Primary, Edinburgh
3 Mark McQueen, Belmont House school, Glasgow
1 Sarah Alexander, Cumnock Academy, East Ayrshire
2 Michael Prestwell, Lomond school, Argyll and Bute
3 Idina Moncreiffe, Kilgraston school, Perthshire
1 David Smith, Kaimes school, Edinburgh
2 Robert Ballantyne, Pilrig Park school, Edinburgh
3 Matthew Ferguson, Stanecastle school, Irvine, North Ayrshire