For more than ten years my creative output has broken clearly into two parts. The studio work that has resulted in paintings, constructions, prints and works on paper. All carefully worked out and refined, often in quite extensive series of incremental steps. Alongside this has been an extensive series of small scale, rapidly made, landscape drawings and paintings that have filled hundreds of pages of bound sketchbooks.
These two series of work have, at times, hinted at the possibility of coming together and supporting one another. But up until now, although there have been tentative connections in one way or another, I have never really felt a crossover occurring or a serious engagement between the two branches.
However, that situation may be about to change. It’s early days to shout too loudly about it, but maybe, just maybe, things are on a collision course, time will tell. Here, in the most recent studio work there is a genuine landscape image, reminiscent of one of my sketchbook paintings, stands central….and there are more to follow, possibly making use of images such as this woodland watercolour.
After what feels like months of continually having to reinvent what I am doing in the classroom, and way too much time staring into the webcam, there was today just a hint of spring in the air. Reason enough to head of out on the bike before an afternoon of online meetings and prep work for the school days ahead.
The result two of the first en plein air drawings of 2021. Fingers were still a bit cold, but it is a start……..
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since the start of the Covid 19 induced lockdowns around the world I have seen quite a few musical and choir related projects come by on my Facebook feed. Groups of musicians or singers all contributing their bit to the carefully mixed and arranged compositions that those with the digital know how have been able to mix and balance into impressive unity despite the geographical spread of the participants. A classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
I too work with groups of creative enthusiasts, both children and adults and these musically combined performances set me thinking about trying something similar in my field of the visual arts. The group of adults that I support with assignments and ideas seemed to be the most obvious place to give my own fairly modest ideas a try.
They are a very social group of people who miss their chance to paint and share life once a week. The club’s app group has been very active during the lockdown and the project I had in mind would work well using that platform.
The initial idea was quite simple, using the reference point of a seventeenth century Dutch still life we would try and compose our own still life with everyone contributing something that could be digitally added to the group composition. The only guidelines I gave were that the objects could be modern or older if they wished and they had to make a simple shaded drawing using just a pencil.
The drawings started to roll in via the app group and I set about contructing an arrangement that gave them all a chance to be seen. Gradually the enthusiasm for the working together nature of our little project grew, with me posting regular progress up dates.
I’d seen enough to see another, perhaps better possibility, we could move on to a Dutch flower painting as inspiration.
This time I’d provide the vase and the rest of the group the flowers. The drawings streamed in, again just in pencil to help with the overall unity of the image. For the digital assemblage the flower arrangement gave more scope for adjustments and moving things round and in the end it was possible to fill the vase with a huge number of diverse flowers.
A this stage I’m not quite sure what the follow up will be. But I think there has to be one.
It’s not been raining the whole time. I have even done a little February drawing outside. But there has also been time to sit by the fire experimenting a little more with the iPad compositions that manipulate and twist the earlier drawing I made whilst looking out the window on a rainy afternoon. I am seeing more and more possibilities
February has been grey. It’s had wind, a lot of wind and rain. I find myself looking out of the window. I don’t mind the view of leafless trees, it has been a recurring motif in my paintings and drawings for a while. My drawing book is close to hand, but encouraged by my daughters increasingly digitally manipulated creative work I find myself reaching for my iPad. It’s early days but my attention has been awakened.
The first of January, and a first drawing for a new year. Most years I start the year with the intention of drawing more. A kind of unofficial resolution to myself. Some years it is more successful than others. This year I can post the first drawing of the year on the first day…although to be honest it was started earlier and just finished today. However, a second variation is well underway.
It’s quite a somber image, quite fitting for the grey, misty chill outside this particular 1 January. Although it also has to be said that the bush fires that are burning in Australia at the moment and filling the news the silhouette tree motif that I have been using for a while now seems to be taking on an increasingly environmental charge.