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.
In mainstream teaching you are, as a teacher in your classroom, used to taking the lead. The pupils look to you to take the initiative and mark out the route they have to follow. Such a relationship can at times become a little passive as the pupils get used to waiting to be told what is required of them. This year, by one group that I teach I have been set a challenge by the group themselves, to take their creativity to the ‘next level’ as one of them put it.
The group concerned is not one of the classes of teenagers that I teach at school (such an open request would indeed every surprising coming from them), but from the adult evening class I teach. The group concerned is a group of about fifteen adults, ranging in age from early twenties to late seventies. The group has, for a number of years remained with a hard core who have been returning regularly each new season with a handful of new members every September.
They are a talented bunch, none have had any formal sort of art education, and perhaps their greatest strength is their openness and willingness to jump straight on in an try new things out. This approach has served them well in the approach I take to teaching the group on a Thursday evening between late September and early May. Once every two weeks I arrive with a new assignment, mostly a fairly loose idea that can be interpreted and explored in various ways. This way we have been able to take the paintings made in any number of directions.
Now though after, for some of the group, five years of lessons comes the request to go a step further. As a group we exchanged a number of mails at the end of the previous season trying to pin down what exactly they want to aim for. Interestingly, many said that they would be quite happy to make less paintings, as long of course that those that were made were of good quality. It is this wish that has been the basis for my readjustment of the course. The aim is to avoid seeing the participants heading off down artistic blind alleys of having to learn from ‘interesting’ failures. To do this there is going to be more focus on the preparation work and the making of thumbnail paintings before embarking on the final piece of work. With only two and a half hours of painting time (per week for most of them) this is going to mean indeed the production of less finished pieces of work, but hopefully less blind alleys too.
In many ways this set up will bring the working process a lot closer to my own approach. I work ideas through a notebook onto works on paper, then maybe a small version of an idea before finally heading on to a finished piece of work. I am also of course interested in avoiding those ‘interesting mistakes’. You can never completely eradicate them, but when your time is precious, trying to reduce the numbers of them is definitely desirable.