Last week was a gem of a week …
This is going to be a good week. I have a couple more days to prep for an art project that I am going to undertake with a local school. The children are three to four years old. Oh and there will be about 18 of them.
Hang on! What am I thinking of?
Essentially the children will be working with me at each stage of the project. They will get to work with paint, collage and glitter using sticks, brushes and their hands. It will be a free-form of expression (with a lot of behind-the-scene direction) – let’s face it, free-form is the only way to go at that age. I can’t wait to see how they decide on what colour to use and how tentative or bullish they are. Personalities really do play a part in the art that is produced. I have always felt that each of my pieces have a little of me in them forever.
So am I apprehensive? Sure I am. After all I have no idea how it will turn out. I am anticipating a big brown mess but hoping for something more exotic. But actually, when children are little they are more interested in the process of creation rather than what it ends up like. That isn’t to say that they won’t be excited to find out how it pans out. I just hope they feel a sense of achievement in the part they play.
So now I have some paints to mix to try and minimise the faffing on the day and ensure that things run like clockwork. After all that’s how it is with pre-schoolers … isn’t it?
Wish me luck!
So the last bits and pieces have arrived (better late than never I suppose). The car is packed ready for my early start. It is a big ask to produce a finished painting the size of a very large canvas in one day and I am mindful that when the little ones have done their bit I have to step up a gear. Not much thinking and reflective time like I usually have and I’ll be honest, it makes me nervous. But one day is all the time we have so … Bring. It. On.
Today is the day!
The children are raring to go! Some are roaring (literally roaring) and others are moving in all directions with an abundance of energy waiting to escape. It is really infectious. I find myself bouncing on my feet and throwing my arms in over dramatic gestures. We are all smiling and we haven’t even done anything yet.
First thing I do with each small group is to show them some of my work and ask them to tell me what they see. “Sky”, “Flowers”, “Butterflies” they shout. I am delighted they are so engaged. Then I ask them what do they paint with. They look at me like I’m nuts! I am in my painting gear so basically look like an overgrown child in dungarees and converse boots with my hair in bunches (I didn’t want the children to be intimidated. They weren’t.). One of the children states the obvious in his outside voice, “PAINT BRUSHES!”. Although he is absolutely right, this art project isn’t going to involve painting in the traditional way of brush on canvas – after all, I am determined to avoid a big brown mess!
“What else can you think of to paint with?” I ask while over zealously wiggling my fingers in front of them. Greeted with a sea of blank faces before one seriously appealing child beams “Your fingers!”. I ask them to think of one more thing we could use that was in the room and before I can finish, one of the boys shouts “STIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICKS!”. The enthusiasm for the motley collection of spindly twigs is wonderfully over-the-top and contagious. The children can’t wait to take a stick and get started with the paint. We’re off!
The canvas, which had been teasingly in view from the start of the day, has already been prepped with sky in my studio. To the children this is a rainbow of colour but not much else. That will soon change.
We have already discussed how we should apply the paint in terms of the general composition and almost all the children copy my “V” pose à la YMCA. A few discerning children are having none of it. Fair enough.
We choose a few paint colours and let the kids loose on the canvas with their sticks. Some barely touch the canvas while others use their sticks like weapons. The personalities of each child coming to the fore. Between each group there is an intense burst of refinement just to make sure the paint is distributed across the canvas.
Throwing the Paint
It is only a few minutes into this when one of the girls, who would rival Jessica Ennis’s throwing arm, wields her stick back over her head at pace and manages to flick paint across my face. In an effort to remove myself from further assault the boy next to her brushes his paint stick across my hair. This never happens when I paint alone. The children find this hilarious. It really is. We all laugh. The bond is made.
The Flowers and Butterflies
After frenzied drying, and painting between groups we are ready for the flowers. The children wear gloves (a surprising number of them are not at all tempted to touch the paint directly – fastidious beyond their years). However, the gloves are far too big which necessitates me to hold each individual finger so that the glove is taught enough for the child to control their mark-making. Prior to letting them loose on what is turning into a rather lovely piece, I have each and every child demonstrate a circular movement with their fingers. We discuss how big the flowers should be so that there is room for everyone to put two or three flowers on the canvas. This is all going smoothly until one child decides to do the biggest circle possible across a quarter of the canvas! Thankfully I have wipes at the ready and in one fail swoop lift his hand clean off the canvas and wipe the offending circle off with a “shall we do that again?”. Harsh as this may sound, this exercise is about teaching the children to create a piece of art; work as a team; and create something which will raise funds for the school while having fun – lots of fun. All in all a great learning experience.
When it comes to positioning the butterflies the children are very adamant where their butterfly should go. Inevitably, after the first two butterflies are down next to one another, the other children gravitate towards the same spot. I end up encouraging them to find space for their butterflies to fly but I rather love the togetherness of the composition – after all as a group of children there is obviously a lot of affection for one another and I think this is very much reflected in the piece.
The Finished Piece: “Young Shoots”
Credit where it is due
The children had already signed the back of the canvas. It is only fitting that their contribution be acknowledged. After all, they chose the colours of paint (from a carefully curated selection) and with their own hands had put flowers and butterflies visibly on the piece. Each one could point to it and rightly say “I did that”. And haven’t they done a marvellous job? The resulting piece is truly a work of art. It is uplifting, joyous and very beautiful and reflective of the experience of all those involved in today’s project.
When I got home I was beyond exhausted. The children had been absolutely brilliant. We all had a great day and the sense of achievement of having created something carries on beyond the moment. We will auction the canvas and sell prints and other merchandise to raising funds for the children’s playground. They have earned it don’t you think?
I WAS SO TIRED but utterly elated at what had been a wholly positive experience. Teaching staff, I salute you. You have a tough job. A wonderful, important, fulfilling but exhausting job. And the difference is, you will be back in tomorrow doing your thing all over again.
Tracey Thornton is an international mixed-media artist Originals, Prints & Products from www.traceythorntonartist.com Facebook @traceythorntonartist Instagram @tracey.thornton.artist