The thrill of repeats

12th November 2004 at 00:00
ICT can really come into its own when exploring aspects of Pop Art, as John Galloway reports

As if on cue Shahin lets out a: "Wah!"

"Thank you," responds Jo Easton, his art teacher. She had predicted this response moments before while talking the group through a particular procedure. "Fill with pattern," she had said, "and you'll all go 'Ooh!'".

And he did.

Her GCSE art group were using Adobe Photoshop to explore repeating patterns, the sort of images made familiar through the work of Andy Warhol.

Jo had scanned in packaging from everyday products, such as Kit Kat, Rice Krispies and even a packet of Japanese crisps, then taught her pupils how to bleach them to turn them into line drawings and fill a page with them ready for the next stage of adding colour.

To the sceptic this might seem like an electronic version of colouring in.

"This is just the start," explains Jo, and to prove the point Louie begins to talk animatedly about how he is going to use different reds getting lighter then darker again as he works down his page of 40 or so Juicy Fruit wrappers in three columns. While he prefers doing art by hand he recognises the strengths of the computer: "I suppose it's quicker. More efficient."

His classmates agree. "You can try out the techniques, like 'stroke' and you can use ideas on the computer then do them with paint," adds Kimberley, "But doing it by hand is more relaxing. This is more technical, you have to think more. It's more natural with a paintbrush."

Despite the occasional "Wow!" moment there is little novelty value in using computers in art for this group; they have been doing it since they started their GCSE course and see them as just another tool. They work in near silence, the only sound the random codes of mouse clicks and the hum of traffic on the road outside - a study in concentration and commitment to their studies. However, for some of them this hasn't always been the case.

This mixed group of Year 11 pupils are working in 3rd Base, part of the Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral Unit for key stage 4 pupils who are no longer in mainstream schools, for all sorts of reasons. Their application to their work is admirable and should be well rewarded come the exams.

"They do the GCSE in two to two-and-a-half terms," explains Jo, with impressive results. "We get the whole range from G to A star. Generally it's C or above. The moderator last year thought that the ICT work was A-level. Within the context of the whole GCSE it has a place. I never see it as separate." Using ICT starts at the beginning of the year with the well established technique of printing digital photos on acetates then projecting them on to paper using an overhead projector (OHP), literally an image duplicator in the vein of Roy Lichtenstein.

"The OHP is a really good tool that is used by a lot of contemporary artists. You can develop drawing skills that way, but it's not a substitute for drawing," explains Jo. "I think it helps students develop a sense of line and texture. It shouldn't be used as mere copying. They have to change or recompose the image in some way. It becomes more personal: tightly framed, but personal." She recognises the attractiveness of the images, that they are "very seductive. The quality of colour. The flatness. It is very compelling."

She sees ICT as a way of feeding the fine art skills, that students can use the filters in programs such as Photoshop to experiment with some of the formal aspects of painting such as line, tone and colour. It is this aspect that Jo sees as important. "There's always the 'undo' button and the 'history' palette so you can go all the way back. It is very clean and quite removed." It is perhaps this sense of removal that means the class prefer the real tools to the computer. As Jo acknowledges, "There is definitely always going to be a place for that physical experience. You've got to know what it is like to physically smudge something even if you have done it on the computer."

There are also fewer opportunities to talk to each other when working on computers, apart from asking a neighbour, "How did you do that?" and sometimes calling out, "Jo". From watching a demonstration on a data projector they are now working on their own machines. All of them comfortable with the language of this medium, "RGB", "flatten", "stylise" and more slip comfortably from their lips. Having created bitmap images the group have overlaid one on another then offset the upper one. Amy, meanwhile, has added her own technique to those suggested, rubbing out parts of the top image to bring through the bottom one.

This all fits well with Jo's aim of exploring texture, layers and mixed media. Already some of the group have applied similar techniques to digital photos. One output is a striking self-portrait on the art room wall made up of black-and-white checks which started life as a bitmap: once suitably filtered and stylised it was projected on to paper and each square painted by hand. Another project saw digital collages from Photoshop printed and used to create physical ones by hand, building on and developing what the computer could do.

It has taken the group a while to get to this point and it has not always been easy. "I have had students who would work independently on painting or drawing, but who would not work independently on a computer," says Jo.

"They can get horribly lost in Photoshop so you have to really restrict the area they work in. They can come up with their own ideas after that. They are set quite tightly controlled tasks using specific tools. Within that they have choice over what they do."

The effort is clearly worth it, as Kimberly proudly shows off her interpretation of the Campbell's soup tin made famous by Andy Warhol she declares, "Jo, I'm a genius." And no one disagrees.

Tools and aims

* Before you begin be clear about your aims for the lesson and know the tools. Your choice of resources might be determined by what the school has available; if not there is a range of programs on the market from Adobe Photoshop (designed for manipulating images), to Painter from Corel (which emulates painting techniques), depending on what you want to achieve. Consider doing a course, perhaps at a local FE college, to get to know the program, particularly for industry standards. If you want to use digital cameras, scanners and graphics pads check that they are available, that you know how to use them, and how to transfer image


* Explicitly teach the skills and techniques you want your students to use. * Begin with tightly organised activities using limited tools and effects. * Think about how the ICT will fit in with the scheme of work. Is it completely self-contained or part of a bigger project? Check the syllabus for exam courses.

* Make sure you can get the output you want. Will you need special paper such as photographic or transfers for copying on to cloth?

* Make sure you have technical back-up, that the program is working and that help is readily available during the lesson.

Finally, be prepared for when the pupils begin to experiment and explore.

Help them to keep the focus on the artwork and to see the ICT as a tool to achieve this rather than as an end in itself, and to appreciate their creations as that.

For more information about ICT in art visit the National Curriculum in Action site at or the Teacher Resource Exchange found at Exchange ideas through the subject forum at

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