Like many families around the world, the physical contact with all but my immediate family has been greatly interrupted by the pandemic. I see my wife every day and my studying children regularly. But contact with my own English extended family has had to move online. We have regular family get togethers with up to fourteen of us at a time, aged between teenager and 80+ and spread around the world in various places in the UK, the Netherlands, Prague and Kuala Lumper in Malaysia.
The Zoom meetings have been very fun to do and surprisingly satisfying in terms of them being a replacement for the family meals together in any normal year. We also have family app groups and sub-groups, all-in all, contact remains very good.
But after fourteen months apart I felt that it was time for something else. We are, by most standards, a very creative family. Visual artists, musicians/sound remixer, graphic designers and writers. With many of use taking these interests well beyond a hobby having gained degrees in related areas and gone on to work in these fields.
With this background it was time to stage an online exhibition where we share and take a closer look at each other’s creative output. Added to this is also of course the possibility open the work to a broader public.
Use the link below to visit our digital exhibition space and enjoy the work of:
Five visual artists
One film and soundscape artist
One graphic designer
Be patient…..the exhibition can take a moment or two to load!
(The software works best on a laptop or desktop computer, on mobile devices some elements may work less well)
Most schools in the Netherlands have open days during the mid-winter. Many schools have something of a pitched battle against nearby rival schools in the effort to attract a good number of new pupils for the forthcoming school year. The school where I teach is no different, we must be seen to compete!
Such open days are all well and good, if a little exhausting and long at the end of the teaching week. But with the current lockdowns and need for extreme social distancing the normal packed school with hundreds of children and their parents simply is not an option. As a result, things are moving online. Most schools are frantically putting together a new online presence/digital open day. Films are being shot, interviews recorded, and websites constructed.
As far as the art department is concerned, in my school we were looking for a way to present a collection of pupils’ work. Collections of photographs or films of pieces of work were of course possible but we wanted something a bit more immersive and interactive, and amongst all the other films that were being made, we simply wanted something that stood out as being a bit different.
The need of the situation, as with many other things in education in the last year, has forced me and a colleague to explore the possibilities more than we perhaps have done up until now. The online exhibition possibilities offered my artsteps.com where something that I have known about for a while but have never fully explored up until now because I simply have not fully felt the need to. But now was the time, was this going to be what we needed?
Well, the short answer to that is a resounding yes, absolutely. A week later I have built three online, three dimensional exhibitions of pupils’ work that are going to serve our purposes fantastically well. The links below will take you there and allow you to pass through and view the work.
Of course, it is not as good as walking around an art room in a school taking a closer look for yourself but given the circumstances it really isn’t a bad substitute for our 10- and 11-year-old visitors and their parents.
Having put it all together, what would I say are the pros and cons on offer here?
The learning curve for using the software really is not too step. Invest a little time and you should find your way.
Creating a stylish and well-ordered look to the exhibition is both possible and straight forward.
It is free and everything is online (apart from the photos and films you want to upload) with no software having to be downloaded or installed.
Videos can also be part of your exhibition.
You can design your own rooms.
But above all is just fun to create and fun to visit!
Three-dimensional work is difficult to include. 3D printer designs can be unloaded and included, but documentation of a tradition sculpture can only be done using a film of the object or photographs of it.
I do not seem to be able to get the films to work on mobile devices. Although walking around the spaces to look at the pictures on my iPad works perfectly.
Visiting the exhibitions on a mobile phone is, it seems, possible on some phones and not on others.
The ease with which the software works leaves me thinking of the future possibilities. I see opportunities for asking a group to curate their own exhibitions on selected themes. They could visit the websites museums of the museums of the world gathering the artworks that they need. I have done this before and set poster design assignments as a part of the project, but now I see the additional installation of a 3-dimensional digital exhibition as a fantastic extension of the project.
It is strange how necessity can be the mother of invention, forcing you to explore new possibilities. This has certainly been the case in the past few weeks.
For several years I have been working on refining an art project that involves a number of distinct phases.
Research an artwork from art history
Presenting the research about the artwork and artist involved in the form of an infographic
Writing a story aimed at primary school aged children where the researched artwork plays a central role
Illustrating the story using a variety of drawing and/or painting techniques, traditional or digital
Designing the layout of the pages of the book where images and text have to be combined
….and finally, the presenting a completed book
I will write about the use of infographics as an alternative to report writing on another occasion, but here I want to focus most of all on the story telling, the illustration and the designing of an online book. Due to the uncertainties of the way the school year was going to develop I decided early in this lengthy project that I was going to encourage the pupils to aim for a more digital based working process. In the end virtually the whole class chose to go virtually completely digital.
The story, once the research was completed, was hammered out on the iPads the pupils work with. Incidentally, I should mention that we are talking here of pupils aged 14 or 15 mostly, and as part of a bilingual education stream, the pupils are working in English, their second language rather than their native Dutch.
Digital illustrations were produced using a variety of drawing apps, before these were then uploaded into the Canva app (also a pc application) to work on the page layout and overall design. Even working on the relatively small iPad screen the pupils were able to produce some interesting and varied work.
When all the pages are complete a .pdf can be exported of the complete book.
The pièce de résistance comes in the form of the Yumpu.com website that allowed the pupils to upload the raw pages to the site to generate an online digital version with three dimensional pages that can be turned.
Click below to take a look at some of the possibilities the project offers from this year’s results:
Once we reach this point it is over to their teacher to grade the work on four criteria:
The interest, complexity, and engagement of their story writing
The use of English and grammar
The quality of the illustrations
The quality of the layout of the book
It is a lengthy project. But in a world where we are all (and in the art department) are having to lean heavily on digital means, it is a project that offers interesting online possibilities for classes that have a little digital know how.
Last year I started the year with a plan to draw more. I have drawn a lot in the last twelve months, but still have the feeling that I should do it more, if only to avoid later dead ends in paintings that haven’t been sufficiently planned out.
So this year we start again and above is the first drawing of 2021.
I coach a group of enthusiastic part-time painters. We have been meeting up one evening a week for years, except of course in 2020. In mid-March this year our painting sessions, like so many other things came to an abrupt halt. We were temporarily able to restart for a period of four weeks in the autumn, before once again having to stop again.
I’ve done what has been possible to keep the group active (at least for those who wish to carry on at home), and the group themselves have retained contact via our app group, sharing what they are up to in the area of creativity and artistic interests. It has, all-in all, worked well. The group does still feel like a group and the stream of creative output certainly hasn’t dried up.
In terms of “going online”, like my other area of work in mainstream education, it hasn’t been quite the same. The commitment to an online lesson at a specific time didn’t feel like the way to go. Instead, what seems to have worked best has been a series of group paintings/projects. Anyone who wanted to, could easily contribute, and I worked on grouping things together. Some have been very loose, and in a way, not much more than a collection of paintings and drawings around a theme, while others have been quite structured in their approach.
Looking back complete 2020 set, it is surprising just how productive the group has been, and how well this loose online approach has worked. We are all of course hoping for better things in 2021, but as a record of 2020 it certainly shouldn’t be a year best forgotten by the group as the results below show.
Since the restart of the school year back in August I have been working on a quite extensive art and language project with two of the third year groups (aged 14) that I teach. Essentially it is a design module that focuses on the fonts and typefaces but has involved:
A photography assignment
A black and white, graphic typeface design assignment
A painting assignment exploring more painterly approaches
A poetry assignment
Digital illustration assignment
A page design/layout assignment
Often with such a long drawn out assignment the challenge is to keep the energy going, but in this case, with the diversity of activities, I have never felt that to be a problem.
A brief summary of the art and design activities and a few of the results:
Typeface design made using found objects
Create a coherent font using objects that you find at home. Arrange at least five letters that clearly belong as a set and make use of the same types of objects. The most significant challenge here is to get the pupils beyond the stage of using five pencils lying on the table to spell out a set of easy to create letters. There are so many possibilities but it does require a kind of mental leap to bring the pupils to a point where they start to see the design possibilities.
Typeface design using only black ink
This is the most purely design related step and before we get as far as using the ink we go through a series of design steps that first involve sketch designs of three quite different design ideas. One of these is then chosen and a series of design refinements using different types of letter are made. Finally we arrive at the ink work where a series of five or six letters from there font are inked in using brush and pen work.
After the graphic work of the previous assignment things become considerably looser in this coloured in and painting assignment as the pupils build on and further develop their design work.
To include a significant language element into the assignment I ask the pupils to chooses the names on at least two typeface names (and there are so many to choose from!). These names, be they Broadway, Cairo, Baskerville, Freestyle, etc. are the starting point for the creation for writing a short poem. The names of the letter types have to actually be a part of the poem’s text, and ultimately when the poem is presented for marking the typefaces referred to must be used.
This summer has been different. Not a completely stay at home holiday, but one that hasn’t seen me cross the Dutch borders. Like most holidays I document the trips we make in a small drawing book. No great aims or ambitions, just quick visual notes of where we go. That has meant images of forests, heathlands, the rivers and the coast.
Click here or on the image below to browse through the book.
I have quite a collection of similar books on the shelf in my studio. This is the first one that I’ve put into digital form. The quality is not too bad, and it is in the end a nice record of the ‘Corona summer’.
There connections to my other paintings that I produce is limited, although maybe there is just starting to be increasing convergence. A long over-due update and documentation of my studio work from 2020 should hopefully follow sometime in the coming weeks.
Around this time of the year, about a month into the new school year, I visit a neighbouring school for a language and art project day. I work with a class of 25-30 twelve year olds on a variety of language and art based activities for an intense six hour session, using my abilities as both an art teacher and a native speaker of English to my full advantage.
This year was no different, except for the obvious presence of a number Corona classroom rules and the fact that the normal presentation to parents at the end of the day wasn’t allowed to go ahead. Due to this reason I offered to put together a slightly longer blogpost than I might have done to offer parents a little more insight into the day.
I should perhaps start by mentioning, for those not entirely familiar with the situation, that the class of twelve years involved were Dutch children who have three weeks ago started on a bilingual educational programme that involves most of their regular subjects (including art) being taught in English. It is just the start of language immersion project that they are going to be involved with for the next six years.
But for the group at the project day it is very early days. The main aims of the workshop is to get them to hear a lot of English, to let them play with the language a little but above all to start chipping away at the nervousness they have about speaking a new language and helping them worry a bit less about the mistakes they make.
The whole day had a bit of a journeys and traveling theme and started with a whole series of questions about trips that the pupils had made in the past, how they got to school and where they hope to go in the future.
We played story making games about imaginary and fantastic journeys. We looked at how artists had painted pictures of faraway places and looked and guessed at where the cities were meant to be. We played an alphabet game where we tried to think of a different city that started with every letter of the alphabet and the second time through the alphabet thought of descriptive words for each letter that could be matched with a city.
The language games were mixed up with more arts and creative activities. Decorative and descriptive name tags were made for cities on our large shared artwork. Skyline collages were cut-out and added to the map as a sort of frame and a large scale group drawing of a view of London was made.
Some more focussed, and written language output, came in the form of Haiku poems about the cities of the world. Each pupil doing their best to follow the traditional haiku structure of five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five again in the third. This asks a particular sort of playing with language and using the vocabulary that you already know as well as you can. The results, even for such new language learners, are surprisingly good.
All in all it was a very intensive day and a little different from a regular day with its switches from one classroom to another. I arrived home a little worn out by it all, and I expect the same could probably said for the pupils.
Three weeks into the return to school, time to make up the balance a bit. Three weeks of up to 30 children in the classroom and me the teacher trying to maintain a one and a half metre distance from them, in the classroom and in the corridors and also a similar distance from colleagues in the staffroom (actually probably the most tricky challenge!).
Front on teaching, teacher at the front talking and explaining (ironically the sort of teaching that for years we’ve been told is educationally the least effective) works fine. The tables in my classroom have been all moved back a bit to give me more ‘safe’ space at the front, so I have to shout a bit louder at times, but that is fine. The first week or so was quite a bit of explaining so I left at the end of the first week feeling that distance had been maintained well. But then the practical activities started…..
Once again you explain from the from, examples on the screen and the pupils get started. Soon enough the questions and queries start to come. And after those come the specific enquiries about particular (often small) details on a piece of work. You want to see, you want to help, you want to instruct and even demonstrate. You quickly realise just how much of your job you spend shoulder to shoulder with your pupils, how often you stand amongst them. It is all part of classroom life and especially art classroom life.
In some ways normal classroom life has returned, the faces at the desks. But at the same time that it is anything but normal. I find myself asking whole groups of pupils to hold up their work for me to check that they are roughly on the right lines whereas in the past I would have had multiple one in one exchanges.
The crucial teaching tool of your physical presence has been taken away. You can’t go and stand closely behind the unruly individual in the back row and teach from there (right into his or her ear!). So much looks the same, but so much is different. At the moment my pupils seem to respect my space, but we all know how forgetful pupils can be. Time to print a “don’t stand so close to me” t-shirt for the weeks and months ahead…..although I am fully aware when Sting wrote those lyrics he was referring to a very different situation!
How long will we be teaching like this? Well that is of course anyone’s guess right now. Right now its one week at a time, but I have to admit to often finding myself thinking about all the projects I want to offer this year, and wondering which ones to save and hold back for a potential online situation.
There are quite some contrasts in the emotions of being back in the classroom. I would be lying if I said that I was totally happy and comfortable to be back in the classroom. Having said that, it is great to be back doing some physical teaching and pushing the pupils to experiment and try activities and approaches that simply wouldn’t be possible in the distant learning situation.
One such example from yesterday. The context was an initial session at the beginning of a series of lessons about abstraction in visual art.
Later on there will be assignments giving the pupils the chance to create abstract compositions that focus on dynamism and flow in an image, but today I wanted to get my group of fourteen year olds to loosen up, experiment with abstract mark-making and to draw a parallel with the abstract language offered by music.
Using eight different pieces of instrumental music and applying different ‘rules’ to each drawing a sheet of increasingly wild drawings was made. We had fun, they smiled and laughed on seeing their own and the results of others. They were engaged and curious. The results made were maybe not of great artistic merit, but they were part of a process leading onto other things.
Would this lesson have worked online? Without a doubt it would not. Of course I could have played the music to them via the computers. I could also have asked them to have had paper and pencils ready. I could even have given exactly the same explanation about what they had to do. But still it would not have worked. Such a lesson (and there are many more in all areas of education) only work because you are sharing and participating together in an activity. It is perhaps not dissimilar to going to a theatre to watch a stand-up comedian or watching it alone on your laptop. The material might be the same but the experience isn’t.
We are social creatures and also social learners, being part of a group of peers, together with a teacher, brings a dynamic that rarely occurs in the online environment. In an art room context it is a dynamic that can be used to push learners further as they look over their shoulders and respond and react to the work that others around them are doing.