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Uncertain routes lead to creativity

In the first of a holiday series on summer schools, John Cairney visits a Kilmarnock secondary and discovers that art and design can be fun - but it is not an easy option

Roslyn Smith was quite clear about why she was giving up a week of her holidays to take part in an art and design summer school in St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock: "I feel that I will get more freedom to express myself than I normally get at school," said the 15-year-old Loudon Academy pupil.

Roslyn's rationale was shared by several others among the 25 senior pupils attending one of the 30 summer schools organised by East Ayrshire.

The schools offer a wide-ranging programme of educational, cul-tural and recreational activities aimed at improving pupils' motivation and self-esteem. The aim is that they will become more effective learners in classroom situations.

The more relaxed atmosphere of the classes and the escape from the period bell are clearly a big attraction for many pupils. "I wanted the chance to do things I don't get at school," said Chris Cook, of James Hamilton Academy, who wants to study architecture when he leaves school. Fellow James Hamilton pupil Graeme Paterson "enjoys the freedom".

Now in its second year, the painting and sculpture summer school allows the students to work with professional artists for five days from 10am till 3pm. The work they produce can be incorporated into their portfolios when they apply for a place at art college.

Pamela Robertson, one of three cultural co-ordinators in East Ayrshire, who is one of the week's organisers, said that the summer school gives the students the chance to meet people from other parts of the authority with similar interests, and to work with practising contemporary artists using materials on a larger scale.

"The work is more focused and intense," she said. "More ambitious projects can be undertaken, and the work produced will be displayed at a public exhibition later."

Two would-be art students in the group, Ashley Carey and Ruth Watson, were so keen to attend that they had managed to persuade their respective fathers to share the driving duties on the round trip of almost 40 miles from Cumnock, where they attend the local academy. Ashley, who attended a photography summer school last year in her own school, chose sculpture because "it sounded like fun".

Her tutor, Mhairi Corr, whose professional work involves producing "satirical papier-mache figures", agreed it was fun but warned her students that it was also hard work. She felt that young people often have the idea that there has to be an immediate result but she added: "The time we have at summer school will teach them the idea of process and make them more aware of the making process."

Citing the model-makers of children's television programme Blue Peter as an early personal inspiration, she urged her group of novice papier-mache artists not to rush things and "not to get into a stushie if you start off wanting to make an ostrich and end up with a cow".

The value of the creative process was also stressed by Sally Thompson who took the drawing and painting group: "The students here are on a journey, the outcome of which is uncertain," she said, "but what they will do is expand their knowledge of materials and how they might assimilate an idea.

When the final work is completed, they should have a link with the idea and the process that they have gone through."

The journey certainly began with a flourish. By 10.30am on the first day, every student was busily involved in drawing, pasting, painting, shredding paper, mixing paste or cutting chicken-wire. By lunchtime, the two groups looked as though they had been in the same class for months, as 25 creative journeys with an uncertain outcome were embarked upon.

It is with some pride that your reporter noticed the crucial contribution played by this esteemed journal to the creative process in the sculpture class.

A pile of well-thumbed back copies of The TESS found their way into the buckets of paste, destined to end up as an ostrich - or maybe a cow.

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