What the art teacher did (outside of lesson times)

Art teachers are maybe not the most high-profile members of the teaching team in a school.  But perhaps more than most subject areas they are called on for extra input and support.  In fact, I often ponder the irony of teaching a subject area where pupils and parents often make the observation that there is no work to be found in choosing to study art, whilst I seem to be continually busy with my employer making full use of me (a fine art graduate) to carry out any number of creative tasks.  There clearly seems to be plenty of call for creative input and practical skills where I am!

I know I’m not stating anything new to most arts teachers.  We are requested to do so many tasks outside of the normal classroom activities.  There might be scenery needed for the school play, a poster for a party, a logo for a club, decoration or artworks needed for an empty corridor, an exhibition of pupils’ work to be organised for PR purposes, a design for a t-shirt or maybe critical input on the school’s prospectus or website.  I could go own, but I’m sure that you get the picture.

At my own school, amongst other things, I seem to have become the second line of graphic design.  We have an external bureau that designs material for us, but I am regularly asked to contribute with a poster, a flyer or animation film.  All areas I have no specialist training in but am interested to try my hand and have, over the years put in the hours learning to use the necessary software.

As with all design tasks, it always seems to take a lot longer than I expect to get to the final finished result, and a lot lot longer than most other people seem to think the process of design can take.  So why do it?  Well, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I enjoy the process and the challenge.  I’m not sure that I could design in this way full time, but the occasional work on the side is both interesting and satisfying when designs reach their final form.

A case in point are the five display boards that show our school history (it is our 75th anniversary).  I have put these together in collaboration with a colleague from the history department.  They are a combination of an interesting text, fascinating historical photographs and, even if I say it myself, some nice design work.  This time the finished product is going to stand outside of school for the next year, which is considerably longer than most other similar projects seem to last in the public eye!

An Artistic Odyssey….

I don’t often post a complete article written by someone else, but Edith Pritchett’s prize winning short story did make me laugh. The link below takes you to the Guardian article about the competition.


Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 20.01.16

Feeling a bit like an artistic magician…..

It’s sometimes nice to make a big statement. To remind a school of the presence of the art department. It’s also nice when a relatively simple assignment catches the imagination of a whole class, both the ones at the artistic top of the class and the ones who generally find the creative lessons more challenging.

FullSizeRender (4)

This particular lesson idea sets out to make a whole wall of art in the end. It is, if I’m honest, not the most creative assignment to offer a group of fifteen year olds. It kind of sets them on a line that of production with, for a part at least, a clear set of instructions to follow. But having said that, it does give opportunities to learn about a highly graphic way of working, layering and spatial relationships in drawing and the significance repetition can have in design. I was also able to add some Pop Art references and study and introduce the class to one of my favourite British artists in Michael Craig-Martin.

The work process involves filling an A4 with line drawings of a collection of the objects being taken as the theme of the work, importantly without any of them touching the edges of the paper. Then a careful cutting and reassembling of the pieces, before a little more drawing. Then it goes onto the glass of the copy machine and six (or many more!) copies are made before the copies are joined together in a completely repeating pattern. I promise you, the first time you show this to the class, you will feel like some sort of artistic magician!

This all sounds a bit complicated perhaps, watch this film and it will become a lot clearer!

Then a little colour work and very rapidly the wall filling work is complete. The front entrance of our school is currently being rebuilt, the wooden screens that have been put up offer that perfect location for the big statement.

“Design, design, did someone say design?” – what the art department did

This has become a bit of a joke at school. I said it once in an email in relation to a comment from a colleague when he provocatively said something like “what we need is someone who could design us a good poster”.


My “design, design, did someone say design?” mantra is often thrown around now at school whenever there is something visual to be made. I didn’t train as a designer of any kind, I did fine art and to be specific painting. But like many a fine art graduate I like to turn my hand to anything creative. Schools benefit a lot from their art departments  and their creative teachers. One of my deputy heads (a physics teacher) at the school where I teach recognized this when he said that “alle scholen hebben creatievelingen hard nodig” (Dutch for, every school needs creative minded spirits amongst it’s personnel). However the reality is, that often the specialist skills they bring to a school are not always given the acknowledgment they deserve, or alternatively hugely and unrealistically overestimated.

Another former colleague used to observe how other staff seemed sometimes to want to hijack her art lessons, “can you just quickly use some of your art lessons to design and build the scenery for the school play?” Like the art department doesn’t have plans  of its own for lesson content! Maybe the English department would like to try writing the school play with the cooperation of sixty of its pupils, that should produce an interesting evening of entertainment. Or what about a geography class and a French class taking charge of the next exchange with a school in France?

I’m joking of course, and actually I really like the extra creative tasks, if I have the time for them I really like doing them and I do feel appreciated too. In the last couple of years I and my art department colleagues have designed and built websites, produced artworks for departing school heads, exhibited pupil work inside and outside of school, produced publicity material for school, designed school t-shirts and hoodies (the actual t-shirt in the picture comes from www.teespring.com and seemed to fit this post so well – hope you don’t mind guys!) and even repainted part of a wall where ink had been spilled and nobody else could manage to match the colour! Many of us also keep our own studio practice running alongside the school work as well.

There is a certain irony here too.  I often find myself explaining at school that there is work and careers to be found by those who choose the art and culture route at school (contrary to what a few colleagues might suggest to pupils). Within a school context there is actually a lot of work to be done! People seem to quite like calling on us for extra assistance and help in any number of creative areas. I sometimes wonder whether the physics department have to help with the electrics around school, or the economics department with the school budget? I suspect not, I guess the truth is, we’re just a little different in the art department, but then I think most of us knew that already.

Language and art – Collective nouns

As a bit of a follow up to my CLIL ‘Word smuggling’ and ‘Homophones’ posts of a couple of weeks ago, here’s another art and language combination that dips into a quirky corner of the English language. In this case I’m referring to the interesting and unusual eccentricities of the collective nouns. Or put another way the special names we give to groups of things.

We’ve all heard of schools of fish or flocks of sheep. But there are also some wonderfully imaginative and surprising ones like a murder of crows, a parliament of owls or a bench of bishops. There are various online sources where you can find lists of all the possibilities and believe me, there is a huge choice. Wikipedia is one such source with a very extensive list.

collective nouns 1

Turning these lists into a creative assignment is a relatively simple process, simple enough to use as an assignment for a cover lesson when you (the art teacher!) aren’t around. I would normally explain it the lesson before, but for say a third year class (14-15 year olds) it all works generally very well.

The idea is straightforward, provide the pupils with one of the extensive lists of collective nouns to choose from. Give them time to consider plenty of possibilities. The assignment is to produce an illustration of the collective noun and the accompanying text, so encourage them to select one of the more imaginative ones, one that will provide an interesting image. Because I generally use this assignment as an activity for when I’m not present I like to keep the choice of materials relatively simple. My choice is for a very graphic illustration using fine liners and ink. Doing it that way I normally allow two lessons for a good result, obviously though there are plenty of other ways this assignment could be carried out.

The language learning aspect of the activity is perhaps not excessively high, it does however highlight one of those areas of language that you tend to get to grips with last. It does of course also result in material that could be put under the copy machine and used to decorate the language classroom.

collective nouns 2