Young Shoots

Last week was a gem of a week …

Monday

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!

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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 Grasses

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?

Prints, tea towels and mugs soon to be available

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

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

Happy New Year!  I realise I am a bit late in wishing you all a HNY but I have been pretty busy . The usual post Christmas austerity has kicked in and I have been determined to start the year with everything in order: accounts (a box full of receipts, bills and invoices to customers to process); a new year’s resolution for more timely social media posts and more human interest; planning for the year ahead in terms of developing my butterfly series, fairs, exhibitions and potential collaborations to explore.

So far things have been rolling quite smoothly (yes I am surprised too).  This is all happening in conjunction with putting our house on the market (it has never been so tidy) and the ever-increasing club commitments of my children that see me driving around on seemingly endless tours of Surrey.  But it is not yet the end of January and we are on track! Obviously exercise is taking a back seat but I am drinking less wine and eating less chocolate so that has to count for something right?

But how do we keep all these boxes in check going forward?  Surely it is only a matter of time before one family member brings some nasty bug home and we all succumb, resulting in an implosion of this newly embedded – yet fragile – routine.

And how can we ensure our best laid plans are not so quickly derailed?  Tom Eatenton and events guru from Kru Live, summed it up for me in a nutshell:

“SUCCESS = FOCUS – DISTRACTION”. Continue reading How Do You Eat An Elephant?

Crafty Kids

All kids are crafty in the mischievous crafty sense (or am I unfairly generalising based on my cheeky monkeys?). But if your child has a penchant for paper and pencils, putting together a Christmas creation or two is part and parcel of the run up to festivities.

Oh and it keeps them occupied for hours of course! Here are four ideas to keep the munchkins happy, busy, contained and will help you too – yup actually help! You will need to get a bit involved but they really are their own creations so particularly advantageous for us busy mums to be involved with. Continue reading Crafty Kids

Snap Happy

Oh my word! Have you seen the colour out there? I love the changing seasons – it is very consistent with my personality that I enjoy a change every so often. Autumn and Spring at a push are my favourite seasons but in any event, I absolutely love being outside on a crisp, sunny day, wellies on and being surrounded by natural beauty.

   
A carpet of copper golden Acer leaves and sublimely structured seedheads.

We recently took a trip to Yorkshire and marvelled at the exquisite scenery of the moors and surrounding forests together with views of the quintessentially English towns and villages surrounding York. The city is a wonder in itself.  But for a burst of colour any time of year Continue reading Snap Happy

The Wonder Of White

Anyone who knows my work will know that I have a penchant for colour! I love all colour really and I experiment with how to combine colours to add relief, light, warmth – nothing is out of bounds.

But the colour I would never be without is white. It fixes everything. I use white in every piece – often as my final flurry of splatter. It can provide the necessary contrast for the viewer to see the colours within the piece without being sucked in to the intensity of the otherwise colour-rich scene. It allows the eye to see calm and lifts my work.

From top left: Spring, Summer. From bottom left: Autumn, Winter

I use white to pastelise colour seen here in Continue reading The Wonder Of White

Face Painting And (Not) Me


My best effort for last year's Halloween ... wish me better luck for this year's attempt!

There are some artists who can seem to turn their hand to any genre of art.  They are arty through and through from how they dress to who they know and what they produce in oh-so-many forms.  I would love to be more like that.  However, I am reminded at this Halloween time of year that I am not.  Whenever my children ask me to paint their faces for some event or other, I feel a cold sweat coming on.  I can’t stand the dragging sensation of the cheap wax make up that the supermarkets sell, but I am too ill informed (and too disorganised at this level of outfit detail) to have anything better at my disposal. Continue reading Face Painting And (Not) Me

A Day In The Life


Intense shown here in situ. 
And sometimes that is just how life is

What is a typical day for you?  Finding that hard to answer?  Me too.  The joy of working from my home studio is that I can be there for my two boys when they need me.  And sure, there is lots of routine that goes with having children.  So a typical day during a term-time week is relatively predictable at certain points.  For example the morning comprises endless cajoling the boys to: eat their breakfast; get dressed; and clean their teeth. It is all standard fare in households the world over.  As is the inevitability of me being five minutes behind schedule. Every. Single. Day.  I’m not sure why, as I make every effort to be on time. Every. Single. Day.  I just know that I am not alone in this – to anyone else struggling to get their day (and anyone else’s) underway, I salute you! Continue reading A Day In The Life