Friday 26 August 2011

Our last day at the Botanical Gardens

After spending five beautiful days in glorious sunshine at the gardens, on our final day it poured all day. Plans to do a group activity of making large scale tracings of dappled sunlight under the trees went out of the window. Instead we headed to the Arid house to draw cacti and dream of sunshine.

Emma set the group lots of tasks for making quick drawings in our sketchbooks, from continuous line and negative space to looking at a small area in close detail. Making observational drawings in this way enabled us to see plants afresh and make new discoveries as well as developing our drawing skills.

Emma and I have been working on the final designs for the artwork in the last few days, and we found it helpful to look at the arrangement of plants in the arrid house. We have been playing with repeating motifs, by changing scale and rotation and creating a feeling of 'scatter' in their placement. We could see something similar by looking at the arrangements of the cacti with larger and older plants surrounded by smaller specimens.

We returned to the education room for lunch and were joined by Karyn, the senior tutor from Crisis, who wanted to introduce herself to our group and find out what people would like from the skylight centre. We had an interesting discussion and found out about the wide range of interests and abilities in our group, from knitting and yoga to banjo and social psychology. Crisis will be working closely with local colleges to bring in tutors or send students to their courses. They will also run a wide range of day and evening courses. Taster sessions will take place in October and the courses will start in November. On the subject of courses, Lucy spoke to the Foundation Course tutor at a local college. They are fully booked for this year, but if anyone drops out she has a place. All on the strength of her project sketchbook. Well done Lucy!

It was our turn to get feedback on our artwork. We were able to show the group our initial ideas and designs for the atrium wall at the Old Fire Station. We could show the process of developing designs, from making tracings of their drawings and then how we have worked with them on the computer by repeating motifs, layering images and playing with scale and spatial relationships. There were affirming nods and positive responses. There is more work to do, but the group seem happy with our designs so far.

And finally it was time to say goodbye. It has been lovely working together with this group and we will miss our workshops at the Botanical Gardens. Hopefully we'll see everyone at the opening ceremony of the Old Fire Station. Each participant left with a venus fly-trap from the Botanical Gardens as a memento of the project.

Emma and I want to say a big 'Thank you' to the Botanical Gardens for hosting us for these workshops. Working creatively in such a beautiful and tranquil place has been good for us all as well as providing fabulous source material and inspiration.  We're also very grateful to the University Museums Outreach team for bringing us a range of interesting objects to draw and photograph.

Day 5 at the Botanical Gardens

At this point I should comment on the photographic record of this project. Emma and I are grateful to one of the participants, Chris, for capturing so many special moments with his camera. We don't have any photos of Day 5 as Chris tried his hand at video today.  Here is his video showing the artists at work (nb. it's about 15 mins long).

He has also incorporated his photographs into a slide show which gives a flavour of our experience working on this project at the Botanical Gardens.

Day 5 was our last practical day at the gardens, and the last day that would involve Emma and I unloading a car full of materials and setting up a make-shift studio in the Botanical Garden's education room. We arrived with a list of interesting tasks to do with our participants, our final opportunity to do them before we start working on the designs.

Today had another exciting dimension. Crisis have commissioned a local organisation - OFVM - to make a film about our project. This will be another special record of the process of developing the  artwork. Crisis and Arts at the Old Fire Station also hope that this will communicate the way the two organisations can work together. The film will be shown at the formal opening of the new building.

Connor, who did a foundation course a few years ago and creates really lively drawings, worked on some drawings from an interesting bush close to the education room. He managed to do this while talking to the film crew which was quite a feat.

Meanwhile Maureen used templates created from tracings of leaves to make a large-scale spray painting. She thought carefully about the way she positioned the leaves, giving a sense that they are drifting round the sheet of paper. They remind me of leaves swirling in the wind.

Dennis continued working with trees, developing his rubbings further by wrapping paper right around the tree trunks. He also tried to mould paper by dampening it and wrapping it around branches.

Shaun was very interested in Emma's books about mathematics in nature. He has been interested in circles throughout the project ("my whole life's a circle") and found seed heads and flowers to draw to develop this theme.

Lucy added to some screen prints using spray painting and additional layers of print. We also discussed more seriously the possibility that Lucy could apply for a Foundation Art Course. Nichola is able to put Lucy in contact with a colleague who teaches on the Foundation Course. We all feel that Lucy would be a fantastic candidate for a Foundation Course and could pursue a career in art and design. She shows obvious strength in textiles and surface pattern and is very excited about the possibility of studying this subject. Good luck Lucy!

Saturday 20 August 2011

Day 4 at the Botanical Gardens

Day 4 was another productive day at the Botanical Gardens. In the morning we divided up into groups, with each of us tackling particular tasks. Robin, Leon and myself went to the glasshouses to do some photography. Leon became particularly interested in photographing water and went on to develop a drawing from one of his images using the overhead projector to enlarge it.

Robin looked at ivy and trailing plants. There are many interesting examples in the glasshouses.

Meanwhile Maureen was working on continuous line drawings with Emma. They were looking at some of the interesting leaves and pieces of bark that Maureen had collected the previous day. Emma explained how to create drawings by keeping the pencil on the paper without taking it off, making a continuous line. The artist, Paul Klee, called this "taking a line for a walk". The line drawings Maureen created using this process are delicate and carefully observed.

Lucy set herself a new challenge by working on a large scale painting. This was an ambitious task, both in scale and in use of a new process. After a while she felt that painting didn't come very naturally and returned to a process which she is now very comfortable with, making a stencil and continuing the piece of work by sponging paint onto the paper through the stencil.

There was an atmosphere of concentration in the room during the afternoon as the group continued working with drawing, painting and print. 

Day 3 at the Botanical Gardens

We arrived ready for day 3 at the Botanical Gardens with the car packed full of materials once again. Driving over Magdalen Bridge the mist was rising over the river - such an atmospheric picture -  however as we pulled into the car park we saw the garden already buzzing with the TV crew for the filming of 'Lewis' and the machines pumping out smoke!

After a hectic hour of unloading, finding tables and turning the room into a studio once again, we began to welcome our group as they drifted in. Most of the people who'd worked with us on Tuesday came back and we quickly settled into tasks that Emma and I had planned for each participant.

Ed joined us again to help with photography and we also had the support of Nichola Nixon who is an experienced art & design lecturer and artist.

We handed out sketchbooks and prints of the photographs we took last week. Lucy immediately engaged with the idea of recording visual ideas, annotating photos and experimenting with materials and by mid-morning had a lively document of her work so far. She was very focused and worked so quickly, exploring the possibilities of working with stencils and cutting out shapes for a large-scale spray-painting.

Dennis and Nichola set off around the gardens to make rubbings of tree bark. As usual, Dennis thought carefully about technique and created some interesting two-tone rubbings. Later he worked from these, using the window as a light-box to make tracings and drawings. At the end of the day he moved into printmaking, creating a plate for collagraphy using string.

Stephen also created stencils, cutting out an image for use in screen-printing.
Once again, colour played an important part in his work.

Maureen started off working with collage and then used objects collected around the gardens to make spray paintings. She quickly generated a series of images, exploring different approaches to composition. The bark and leaves looked very interesting afterwards.

Shaun continued work on his big painting, using ink, brusho and acrylic paint.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Second workshop at the Botanical Gardens

We knew that a few of our group would be attending appointments and might be delayed in arriving today, but weren't prepared for such a quiet start to this session. We started with two, and I realised that yesterdays success had much to do with organisations such as Steppin' Stones and the hostels facilitating by walking down to the gardens with participants. We rang the hostels to send messages to some of our participants and then waited expectantly.

By lunchtime we had eight people with us. We also had Susan from the University Museums Outreach team and she had a collection of interesting artefacts including shells, coral, snake skins and a 3000 year old vase for us to handle. We looked at these, contrasting the spirals and patterns in the shells with those we had seen in the garden. Susan brought cameras and a printer so we were able to document the objects for use in artworks.

In the afternoon we used a range of processes including felt-making, printing, 3D and drawing. The felt-makers responded to the intense and beautiful colours of the garden. It was lovely to watch this calm, meditative process of arranging and teasing out the wool, followed by the energetic massaging and rolling that completes the felting process. The results were very striking and all those involved seemed to enjoy the process.

Dennis worked in a characteristically experimental way with print-making. He created rich textures with the ink on a large piece of laminate, dampened the paper and took prints. This developed into working onto the laminate with wax to create a resist and then introducing colour.

Andy worked from a photograph of a leaf using wire to re-create the shape. He then used this to create some lovely repeat patterns that were reminiscent of 50's textiles. There is lots of scope to develop this.

Shaun worked on a large-scale drawing of lily pads. He made his initial drawing on transparency film and we used the overhead projector to scale it up. He has a bold drawing style and has interesting ideas about how to develop these further in colour. I'm looking forward to seeing how this work unfolds!

The day ended with time to reflect as a group on what we had achieved and it was great to have Jeremy with us to give some objective feedback and to tell us more about the Old Fire Station. One of our participants was concerned that the  materials being used in the building would make it feel cold. This is a valid concern as there will be lots of industrial materials; steel, brick and concrete.   Jeremy reassured us all that the spaces in the building will feel quite intimate and the original features will reveal the character and history of the buildings.

Monday 8 August 2011

First workshop at the Botanical Gardens

After all the planning and four taster sessions we've finally started the workshops and we will begin to see the project and the art work take shape

Emma and I had no idea how many and who to expect at the workshop today, but were delighted to see so many of the people we have worked with over the last six weeks arrive at the Botanical Gardens.

The education room quickly filled up, and exceeded capacity with 16 participants, 3 support workers and 3 workshop leaders. There was a buzz and feeling of expectation, as well as a little nervousness and uncertainty.

Some of the participants hadn't attended taster sessions and didn't know quite what to expect, so we recapped on the aims of the project before wandering around the garden to discover the spaces and plant life of the Botanical Gardens.

It was interesting to see people orienting towards the areas which most interested them, ranging from a fascination with venus fly-traps and communing with fish in the pools, to the discovery of a beautiful colour and observing the shape ("like the backbone of a fish") of an unusual variety of Euphorbia. We heard and saw some wonderful reactions to the gardens, including someone who said "I had no idea this place existed, I thought it was just a place for snobs. I am going to buy a season ticket!". At one point I'd lost track of a few members of the group and wandered off to find them. I found one individual gazing into the pool with the giant lily pads. Another young man was practically jumping up and down with excitement as he'd discovered so many interesting plants that he knew about from watching 'The discovery channel' as a young boy.

 We had a delicious picnic lunch provided by Donnington Doorstep with tasty sandwiches and heavenly scones with cream and jam. After this we got back to work and went off into the gardens again armed with sketchbooks and cameras.

Tomorrow we plan to work from this material using felting, 3D (modroc, wire, mesh etc.) and more drawing and painting.

Taster session at Simon House

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Simon House. We worked with a small select group who were full of enthusiasm for the project and joined us in making drawings and prints. Being such a small group gave us lots of opportunity to get to know each other and share ideas.

One participant is very keen to return to his interest in photography and we look forward to seeing his work develop during the next few weeks.

We were joined by a very creative lady who is feeling ready for a new project and has wonderfully infectious energy and enthusiasm. She has so much to offer this project and we're looking forward to working with her.

Some interesting suggestions were made, including the idea of manipulating the surfaces of the lasercut metal so that it curves.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Taster Session at Lucy Faithfull House/O'Hanlon House

During the taster Sessions we are trying to create a positive and very relaxed environment, allowing people the space to find their niche and work in a way they're comfortable with. At the same time, we're providing lots of different creative opportunities and suggesting ways of working by joining in ourselves.

At Lucy Faithfull House we decided to save talks about the project until late morning by which time we hopefully would have a rapport with the group. 

In practice it made sense to delay the more formal presentation as people drifted in gradually. Again, there was a good atmosphere. Andy was there early on and Damien came and immediately got involved with using clay. Some people came and went, one of whom did a lovely drawing with inks onto a large sheet of Japanese paper.

A couple of people came over from O’Hanlon House, and stayed with us throughout the session. One worked very quietly throughout, doing some print and some painting. The other was very chatty and contributed lots of ideas, enthusiasm and humour to the session. 
There were lots of interesting contributions from the group and we spent longer chatting over the presentation than I had expected. We noted down the comments and suggestions, however afterwards I wondered if  we should have done more to encourage the group to draw and doodle during the session. We’ll aim to have lots of marker pens and big sheets of paper during the presentation at the Gatehouse. 
Overall we felt the session had gone well and everyone seemed to enjoy it.