Portrait of the artist at work

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
A website that shows artists being creative can help pupils with their own work, reports Hilary Ellis

"He likes doing abstract," says Lauren. "He's using black chalk," says Nathan. "It looks like he's inspired by a boat," adds Sophie.

Kelly Appleby's Year 4 pupils are discussing a time-lapse video of Chinese artist Chun Chao Chiu that they have just watched on the class interactive whiteboard. The video is two-and-a-half minutes long and shows Chun Chao creating a 42-metre drawing at Levens Hall in the Lake District, Britain's oldest topiary garden. A commentary by Chun Chao explains what he is doing and how he likes to work. The pupils are surprised that an artist can be so young. A quick poll of the artists they have heard of includes Holbein, Munch and Monet. As Kelly says: "If you show children an artist demonstrating a process, they learn that artists are not all historical characters like Monet and Van Gogh, but artists can be alive. They can be male, female, old, and young."

In another video clip, pupils discover that Chun Chao uses a sketchbook to store his ideas just like they do. Does that make them artists too?

Kelly teaches key stage 2 at Oakley Cross Primary School in County Durham.

She has been working with the ArtisanCam website which contains these video clips and finds it invaluable for making art come alive in the classroom.

"If you're demonstrating how to do something it doesn't necessarily show children that artists work in the same way."

ArtisanCam is a free website that launched nationally last spring, but began life as a regional pilot four years ago. Funded by Culture Online (part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport), the project is taught by artists@work and Cumbria and Lancashire Online, one of the 10 regional broadband consortia that provide broadband resources for schools. Last year, ArtisanCam was nominated for a Bafta interactive award. Each term, the site features an artist that pupils can watch live in their workshop or on location. Afterwards, a time-lapse video shows an artwork they have created from start to finish, while additional video clips explain their techniques and influences. Clips demonstrate projects that children have created in workshops with artists, and a gallery allows schools to show their creations. In addition, a kidzone contains interactive activities that allow pupils to learn at home.

Keith Alexander, a former artist and the project's content director, says:

"Our aim was to make something that teachers could use how they wanted to.

We've been able to feature artists from all over the country and beyond as contemporary role models. By providing how-to instructions, we hope to lead children from watching to doing."

After exploring Chun Chao's techniques and inspirations in video clips, pupils are split into three groups. One group will create wax crayon drawings emphasised by poster paints (to emulate the way Chun Chao adds colour to his charcoal sketches). Another group will use an interactive tool to paint canvases on location. A third group will explore a virtual gallery, rating modern and traditional art under the teacher's guidance.

Groups will be rotated in a lesson the next day, so all pupils watch a video that shows pupils learning to draw with a wax crayon under the guidance of an artist.

Kelly explains why this virtual workshop is so useful: "You can show children things that other children have made in a morning and it gives them the confidence to do something similar." She also models the art on location task, since groups one and two will work independently.

Pupils in group one use a candle and viewfinders to draw part of a still life. They soon discover how hard this is and only at the end, when poster paint is added, can they see their art come to life.

Several children working at PCs enter the kidzone interactive section of the website to start painting canvases on location. From a choice of backdrops, pupils must decide on the most appropriate style of painting.

For example, if they are painting in the Lake District, it might be more appropriate to create a traditional rather than modern piece.

Meanwhile, in the art appreciation activity, pupils on laptops enter the gallery section and create a list of their top 10 art exhibits by rating the work on display. While some pupils prefer abstract sculptures with colour, others like more traditional paintings. Pupils print and store their top 10s, and compare them with their classmates' top 10s and those of other ArtisanCam website users. Brandon discovers, for example, that his favourite artwork was the eighth most popular.

"The website shows them different things they can do," Kelly says. "Art stops being a teaching activity and starts being something they enjoy. It also shows them it's not just the end product that's important, it's the processes along the way."

The lesson ends with a plenary session in which the class watches a video of questions put to Chun Chao Chiu. They find out that the inspiration for his drawing was a stone at the site that looked like a pebble giving birth to another pebble. They also learn that Chun Chao often throws away a lot of work before he's happy with a piece. Chun Chao doesn't do everything perfectly each time, a valuable lesson for the pupils.

The site includes resources for teaching sculpture, ceramics, printing, drawing and exhibiting. There's a growing selection of art and craft related interactive activities in the kidzone section. ArtisanCam plans to feature painting this spring, sculpture in summer and jewellery in autumn.

Teaching tips

Look at the ArtisanCam site beforehand and try the activities in school to make sure they will work on your broadband connection.

Don't feel you have to use all the video clips in the way suggested in the teachers' section. Use the website as you want and in a way that is suitable for your class.

Don't be afraid to allocate time in the curriculum to get a project done rather than doing it week by week. Some of the projects won't be as applicable for week-by-week work.

Be prepared and be confident in front of the children. Don't be afraid of deliberately doing things wrong to show them that things can go wrong. If they go right, it will give them that little bit of extra confidence.


ArtisanCam is aimed at KS23 and is produced by artists@work and Cumbria and Lancashire Online. Funded by Culture Online. www.artisancam.org.uk

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