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Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm Free!

Hooray! My latest tangle with the educational system is at an end! Taking my sewing machines in today turned out to be a fine idea. I set up in a quiet little side room and had sensible children through in pairs. It was enjoyable for everyone - even me - and we managed an awwwwwwww! when the bell finally rang. This is the additional hanging we made. It's parent's night tonight we we hung it up in class for a bit of decoration. The main hanging should be in situ for the presentation the children are giving about their project next month although the I.T. guy did tell me they are not allowed to drill holes in the walls because of the asbestos in the school. So how will the hanging be hung? Don't ask.

On a more positive note I did hear the Times Educational Supplement are interested in writing about this project because of it's ground breaking cross curricular nature. Might get my name in the papers yet!

This is the work of a twelve year old boy who spends much of his time excluded from school. I did hear him saying he was enjoying himself and he certainly made a fine job of his panel.

A nice note to finish on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Exit plan

Who me? Defeated? Never!

I've come up with a master plan for my last hour in the school on Thursday. Because the wall hanging is pretty well over bar the shouting and the work the children are engaged in now is an extra project anyway, I thought I would take in my sewing machine. The school have ordered two machines and various books about machine embroidery and I'm sure a demonstration would be helpfull. I'd be happy to let the more able and sensible children, handpicked by their teachers, have a play with it too. It would save me from running about like a collie dog growing at the more vacant sheep. It might also result in more work. What I am saying!!!! I want to go BACK to this school?????? Good grief, isn't a night's sleep a miraculous thing?

Back to reality

Just to remind myself that I am lucky enough to have a proper job and am only playing at being an art teacher........just thought you might like to see the corrugated paper stands I made to display some of the jewellery in my shop. It works really well. Amazing what you can do with some packaging material ad a hot glue gun!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Finishing post in sight

Thanks goodness this my last week in school. I came within a gnat's breath of loosing it with some of the kids today. Reasons? How many would you like? Lazy, rude, ignorant, offencive, disruptive, disinterested to name but a few. The clincher was when I found in the trash several pieces of their work and my materials with which they had become bored. My last hour with them is on Thursday and I can't say I'm sorry.

I know what the solution is and it's very simple. I can't change their attitudes but I can change mine. I can care less, I can try less, I can worry less. I can back off in order to retain my sanity and allow them to squander their education and opportunities. But how sad is that.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Three movements

Some of the kids have made a really nice job of their stitched piece. Others can't see the point.
'Just wait till you have your big house and you need something modern and beautiful to hang on the wall' says teach.
'I'll get someone in' replies unartistic pupil. Please don't let it be me. I don't need the money that much.

This is collaborative hanging number two. Pieces don't look much in themselves but they have a certain fascination when you join them together and the bigger it's getting, the better it looks.

From here they move onto using the skills they have learned this month to do their own thing, any way they want. Like punching holes in each other's clothing and pushing paper fasteners up their noses. You think I joke? Just getting used to school culture as it's almost coming to an end. Next week is my last week then it's back to civilisation with mixed feelings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

We have lift off!

Ladles and jelly spoons, may I present.........wall art! One week to go and we are getting there. From asking which end of the metal stick you dig into the pillow (how to put a needle in a pin cushion) we've come a long way. Today I overhead a BOY saying he was enjoying it!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Playing at Project Catwalk again!

I made my first garment without a pattern today. You impressed? I am! Beautifully soft wool fabric, light as a feather. Machined at high speed so rather wonky in the stitching department. A bit of hand stitch to draw the eye elsewhere. Nice and snugly.

Colour and curl

Okay, so I did it. Took them apart, coloured them and reassembled them. They look much better I have to admit. Also reckon I like them joined with a bit or order and without the distortion. Think the kids could have fun with this one, just letting it grow as an organic hanging. Those who are into it can make loads, those who are not can struggle their way through one.
Found a young entrepreneur of the future in class last week having the girl next to him do his sewing for him. Ahhh, nothing like a traditional Scottish upbringing to instill the gender roll models. Just wait till she's waiting behind the door for him with that rolling pin!

Friday, March 16, 2007


I need an activity for the kids who have finished their stitching to move onto. Going for something much more free form but still based (loosely) on music. Expense and practicality have made me compromise my constuction method (isn't that how buildings collapse?) We were going to staple these together but 40 kids would need a lot of staplers. Paper fasteners are more practical and means no waiting your turn which can rather snuff out your creative flame when you're on a roll, or so I'm told.
This is still pelmet vilene and will of course be coloured and a lot more interesting looking than this. If I have time, I'll take it to bits, colour it and reassemble it....once I have all my mushrooms stuffed. Or is life too short?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

First child finishes

We achieved our first finished module today, complete with rattly seed heads to convert it into an art/percussion piece. My plan had been to add the seed heads in a straight (approximately) line because the rest of the piece is really busy. I still think I prefer this to just plonking the seed heads any old where but it does give me a bit of a weight problem given that the collaborative aim is to join all the modules together to make a hanging. I'll live with it until we've joined the first three or four. Guess we could balance it out by not having all the seed heads at the same side. I'm pleased with the kids progress so far. They really seem to be into the main. Apart from one very voluble little prophet of failure and doom who prompted me to tell him he need to do less of this (point to mouth) and more of this (point to ears) and work on developing a Positive Mental Attitude! Wow, wish I listened to my own advice!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The wearing of the tartan

I was having a rummage around in the very wonderful Scrap Store today looking for more buttons for the kiddie winkies. Found fastenings a-plenty and also these beautifully soft 70% mohair 30% wool fabrics made by the prestigious Loch Carron. I think I feel a tailoring event coming on!

Also found knitting needles and brown paper bags. All kinds of mystery plans on the back burner!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Button it

We began stitching today, with good success, as you'll see. Decided to take them in smaller groups. In the first session I made the mistake of taking them out the classroom. This left me with the challenge of maintaining discipline without the teacher's help. Second time round I took my group in a corner of the main classroom which worked much better. Ya live and learn! They are certainly yomping through the work and making a better jog of it than I thought they would.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lovely day for a hanging

This is only a very rough and ready sample experimenting with the plastic joining ties used as hanging mechanism although I would envisage supporting it on a perspex rod rather than an old stick.... and yes, I do still have wood chip wallpaper. You may laugh, but it's coming back I tell you!

I've changed my mind about dyeing the ties. They have a degree of invisibility depending on the wall colour behind and the distance from which they are viewed (the flash emphasises them here). The piece is going to be so busy, I think maybe yet another coloured element would not be a good idea.

A ripping time

We had another lovely day of gluing and sticking in the museum with just a slight hiatus at the beginning. I pointed to a large table of old magazines and told them those were for ripping up. How very literal children can be. I turned my back for a second and was defend by the sound of paper tearing. When I spun round, a volcanic explosion of magazine page fragments was erupting from a group of children whose hands were a blur.
Whoa! Not that kind of ripping! You've got to have a reason before you can rip. Either you like the picture or you like the colour. 'What's your reason?' I demanded of one of the culprits. I like doing this she replied......not unreasonably.

Less jingling, more bells

I duly took myself off to the garage and sprayed my poppy heads gold (missed one) but it was all a bit too much Christmas decoration for me.

I randomly oversprayed them with some teal blue and they looked a lot more interesting.

Rubber gloves! Now there's a good idea!

...Drum Roll.....................

Yesterday's session where the kids and I looked at percussion instruments has sparked off an idea for me. What if this piece of art we are making was itself a percussion instrument? The pelmet vilene is very light, it is not going to be backed with anything and is destined to hang in their music room where it will move at the slightest touch. I'm sure the children would appreciate the opportunity to annoy the teachers by making it rattle every time they go in.

These are dried poppy heads. I've had a huge bag of them for the longest time and almost threw it out when I tripped over it the other day thinking I would never find the right project for them. But I think I just found it. I have enough to give each child a couple to incorporate into their piece. I've caught curtain rings round some of mine in this sample which makes it even noisier. Once sprayed gold, they will echo the beautiful alto sax we looked a yesterday which was an art object in itself.

The cross curricular aspect of this project is mega important to to organisers. How much more fully can you fill the brief than this?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Amazed and Relived!

Well,whatchknow? Amazingly, the music lesson was the best session I've had with the kids so far and I actually wish I had started the project by having them describe musical instruments. We were helped by the fact that there was a weird and wonderful selection from rainmakers to guiros to claves (don't ask) . Also a lot of the kids play an instrument and were happy to talk about that. They came up with some fabulous deep ideas from torture and lollipops to deception and seahorses. Wow, that would be some piece of work!

It's made me completely rethink where I'm going to lead them from here. To a much larger extent, I'm going to let them lead me. I'm also going to the hardware store to buy the biggest load of old junk I can find so the kids can let their imaginations run riot.

It's a shame you just have to fly in and fly out again to do these project without getting to know and build up some trust between each other. Making art is scary and personal but I feel we took a big step closer to being able to relax in each other's company today.

Aye Karamba!

This is the aspect of the cross curricular art/music project I'm involved with that has been making me loose sleep. I have to go into the children's music class today and get feedback from them. The words blood and stone spring to mind. I've tried to write some stirring words and will show them some odd pieces of art that might shock a response out of them.

I'll feel better if I put he words here. It kind of makes it real but if you don't feel like wading through it, I quite understand. We'll be back to the jolly pictures soon. (The sooner the better!)

Hello everybody and sorry to interrupt your music lesson. I want to talk to you very briefly this morning about inspiration. As you know, the inspiration for our art piece were making at the moment is the Caribbean music we were playing when we did our big drawings. They do say that a work of art is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration, in other words, you’ve got to work hard at it and we’re certainly being doing that over the last few weeks.

When I was at home making these samples to show you, I didn’t have the Caribbean music to listen to so I was taking my inspiration from the way musical instruments look . What I have made is not a model of a musical instrument, it doesn’t look anything like a music instrument but that’s okay. Sometimes there is a long journey between your inspiration and what you eventually make.

All kinds of artists who make all kinds of things – jewellers, architects, fashion designers – do a lot of drawing when they first have an inspiration in order to turn an idea into something that they can see. I tend to miss out that step in my personal work.

I like to use unusual materials and just play with them in my hands while I think about what has inspired me.

When you’re making your personal art at home, it doesn’t have to be ‘for’ anything, it doesn’t have to have a use. It doesn’t have to hang on a wall, you don’t have to be able to do anything with it, it doesn’t have to look pretty. All that matters is that it says what you want it to say. If you’re going to show this strange art to people, you’ve got be pretty brave because a lot of people won’t get it, they won’t like it and they’ll probably tell you. That’s not a reason to stop making it. You just have to develop courage and strength and belief in yourself and belief in your art. Remember at the beginning of this project we were talking about Tracey Emmen and her unmade bed? She’s a woman who believes in her art!

There are also musicians out there doing this kind of composition, this kind of invention, in modern classical music, modern jazz, probably other fields as well. I don’t have an educated music ear and to me what they are making doesn’t sound like music but just like the people who might criticise your art, my opinion doesn’t matter as long as the musicians believe in what they are composing.. Maybe to me their music doesn’t have rhythm, it doesn’t have melody, it doesn’t even use ‘proper’ musical instruments. It sounds like noise. But who cares? That’s only my uneducated opinion. If there were no cutting edge artists and musicians forging ahead and inventing new things, it would be a pretty boring world. So have faith in your art an have faith in the music your inventing.

So, let me show you two of my stranger pieces of art. These are made from coaxial cable which is the cable your cable telly goes through. When I made this first one I was thinking about our grannies and great grannies who used to knit and crochet these big shawls. This is not the kind of shawl that would keep you warm. It’s really more body adornment and it’s called ‘my granny was an electrician’.

This is another piece made from coaxial cable and it’s called ‘bag lady’. You can see it has handles and it kind of looks like a shopping bag although you couldn’t put anything in it and I don’t know if you can see but it sort of looks like a human form as well, doesn’t it?

Why I’m telling you these things, why I’m here, what we’re going to do this morning is try and get some more ideas about musical instruments that might help us as we go on to stitch and embellish and manipulate the piece of art that we’re making. As I said to you yesterday, the main thing I was thinking about when I was making this sample was strings and I want us to try and see if we can think of other characteristic of different kinds of instruments that we could maybe use for inspiration..

...Roll on this afternoon when it'll be all over!

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Oh my golly gosh goodness me! 40 children and 20 craft knives! Not as bad as it might have been because they move so slowley that only a handful out of the 40 managed to get to the cutting stage. I had hoped they could cut holes today and string them on Tuesday but alas, the hole cutting struggle must continue. The work is looking good if we can just manage to get everyone to this stage. Hopefully the point of the heavy emphasis on contrast will now be making itself obvious.

S-t-re-t-c-hing the imagination

I'm off to do another collage/book making sessions with kids at the weekend. Thought I would post a photo of this very easy stick binding just in case you hadn't come across it before. You simply punch holes in covers and pages (envelopes), thread an elastic band through and catch it with stick.
I was worried I wasn't going to have an elastic band long enough. How lucky am I? So short of things to worry about I have to be concerned over the length of my elastic bands. Then I remembered Chinese ropes. Anyone else play this at school? You join yards of elastic bands by looping them together. Two people would stand facing each other with this giant elastic band rope round their ankles while the third person did intricate jumping things in between them. Don't know what they jumps were - no-one ever asked me to play!!!!

So, revenge of the Chinese ropes....I'm going to loop my elastic bands together, forever more, and never again worry about their length.

On the subject of elastic bands and their ability to concern and perplex the human species, last year I made junk puppets in a primary schools with plastic bottles, safety pins and our old friend the elastic band. My puppet was hanging above my workroom window and just recently his arms fell off - or to be more exact, he fell to the ground and this arms remained suspended from their wooden aeroplane control. On closer inspection the elastic band had perished in what I considered to be a very short space of time. My mind was filled with a distressing image in children sobbing over their broken puppets but I think I flatter myself. Much more likely they forgot about them the moment I left the classroom. However I wouldn't used stretched elastic bands in this construction method again. My partner tells me elastic under tension is more likely to perish. Hhhhh, hope my knickers don't fall down.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Turn up the contrast

Chaos reigned at music school today. Take 20 children with 9 irons and stir briskly for an hour. Repeat with a fresh set of children. By the end of the second period I was getting a bit ratty.

We were trying to grasp the concept of contrast. You take your piece of pelmet vilene and you make it very dark on one side and very light on the other. Contrast? Yes? Lots of pattern one side, little pattern the other. More contrast? Yes? Remind me not to do anything else that requires concept grasping, even with visual to show them. Grasping of irons, grasping of large paintbrushes, fine. Grasping of concepts, less fine.

Unfortunately another concept grasping session looms on Friday when I'm going into their music class to brainstorm the visual characterises of instruments with them. Between then and now were going to tackle cutting holes but I'm going to have them practice on paper first. See, I'm learning, even if they aren't!

One lovely child did make my day by saying she didn't like the kind of art where you had to draw but she did like this kind of art. A girl after my own heart.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some child friendly stitching

Based on stringed instruments and wind instrument keys. But then, you could see that immediately, couldn't you? Think the kid's challenge will be to string each space differently. At least by the end of this they'll know how to sew on a button!


Then again, don't you thing these are so much more interesting? These are thanks to my good buddy Gill who recommend this little book to me at Christmas time. Thanks Gill!

Another sample

Okay, the sampling continues. Tried to make these two different pieces as if I was two different children. The plastic spacers will be longer in real life so the pieces won't butt up to each other quite so much. I could make it more coherent by giving the kids more instructions but they are only 12 after all and we're not entering for the Turner prize....this year. Obviously this sample has yet to have the holes 'strung' with stitching.

Cacophany or harmony?

It's a long time since I put pen to sketchbook for design purposes but I had to sort out a few things in my head since being told that what my school children are actually working on is a collaborative project destined for public display. I'm going to join their A4 sized pieces of work together in long strips. The first drawing shows that if we let them do their own creative thing it will look just like what it says on the tin - a whole lot of different creative things joined together.

On the other hand, if I set them parameters and say that
everyone has to use their piece portrait way up and take their shapes from the top to the bottom in some kind of fluid way you can see that a line of sorts emerges. All these pieces will be different on the front but it we make them all similar on the back (sunshine yellow I'm thinking) the yellow cut out fold overs revealed in that line will give the piece even more harmony.

I hate to put any kind of brake on their creativity and I REALLY hate to see an art class produce all the same thing. I will encourage individuality in the parts where that's possible. If it wasn't required all to hang together, obviously I wouldn't be doing this at all.

If we are super smart, we could have linking pieces top and bottom so the line appears to run up one panel and down the next. Whatch think?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

String section

Here's my opening prelude for the kids next piece. I thought they could turn their minds to the characteristics of musical instruments. I was going to have a brain storming session, asking them to image I am a creature from another planet (which I am to them) and they have to describe the look of musical instruments to me in one word only. Like - curves, holes, keys, endeth my personal knowledge of musical instruments........oh no........comb and paper.

Suppose we started with strings which obviously is the one that leads us most seamlessly into stitching. They could pick a shape from the Kandinskyesque drawings, half cut it out of their coloured double sided craft vilene, bend the shape back to revereal the reverse side and create a bit of texture then string it with a bit of perle cotton or whatever.

I was trying to impress upon them that in design repetition can be good but exact repetition can be boring so maybe the challenge should be to string each hole in a slightly different way. I plonked my sample here on top of my original drawing to photograph it and really like the effect so maybe they could back their piece with a bit of drawing as a finishing touch.

Half way through this project the school have dropped the bombshell that the result is to be a harmonious amalgam of finished pieces on permanent display in their memorial music suite. So no pressure then. Oh, and did I mention we only have three weeks to go? That would be 9 hours in real time. Was lying in bed this morning thinking about how to join the pieces speedily and effortlessly and came up with the idea of the plastic clothes tags I use for jewellery sometimes. Not fabulously beautifully but they can be dyed to make them less offensive. They are certainly fast and might prevent me from becoming furious.