Friday 19 July 2013

Wonderful Paul Klee inspired Felted Portraits by year 4 students

Felted portraits made by pupils in year 4 (8 and 9 year olds). Paul Klee was their inspiration.

‘Taking a line for a walk’ is an expression that everyone who has ever attended a college art class has heard, but up until recently I had no idea that it was Paul Klee who first coined the phrase.

One thing about doing activities for schools’ Arts Weeks is that you get the chance to do projects on new themes and also take inspiration from artists that you haven’t used before. I was delighted to be asked by Beech Street school, Eccles near Manchester, to run a day long session on Paul Klee for their year 4 pupils.

Paul Klee’s work is hard to categorise as his style was very broad ranging. My friend instantly thought of his goldfish painting but I was reminded of the postcard that I had on my wall a long time ago when I was a student up in Edinburgh. I actually saw the original painting in the flesh very recently too (see below).

Original painting by Paul Klee. In the Peggy Guggenheim museum, Venice.

So I decided to use Paul Klee’s portraits as the starting point for my felting workshop with the Year 4 pupils.

We started the day by talking about what we knew about Paul Klee; for example I told the children that he was a talented violinist and that throughout his life he still listened to music for at least an hour before starting to paint each day. We mentioned his illness and how that affected his paintings in later life - paintings towards the end of his life are done using darker colours and also have thicker dark lines in them - and we even managed to mention how much he loved cats.

I had taken various illustrated library books and these along with images sourced from the internet were helpful in giving the children an introduction to the artist.

We closed our eyes and did some taking a line for a walk exercises. At this point I wished that I had taken some atmospheric music with me to play as Paul Klee’s paintings were very influenced by his own emotions and music is a very useful way to arouse emotions in these sorts of drawing sessions.

The children did four ‘taking a line for a walk’ exercises and it was good to see how each person’s evolved as they became more relaxed and realised that there was no right answer. All that I asked was that they didn’t lift their pen from the page until we opened our eyes.

We did consider the shapes that the pen was making; spikey or smooth, looping or wavy, and as the children had their eyes closed they had to feel these movements rather than see them. 

I was happy for the children to use two pens at once, either in the same hand or one in each hand. It's always good fun!
Next we progressed onto laying out the wool fibres. I did a short demonstration to show them how to handle the merino wool fibres and we all laid out our first layer of unbleached wool tops. Then I demonstrated two methods of ‘drawing’ with wool fibres; one that was more suited to this portrait style (see below).

Paul Klee portrait alongside my felted example.

and another method that was appropriate to this portrait style.

Paul Klee painting alongside one of the pupil's designs. 

Dry wool fibres laid out before wetting.

In the afternoon the classroom was absolutely buzzing with activity and it was exciting to see how the pupils took what they had learned in the morning and absolutely ran with it. 

I had taken a limited pallet of colours, yellows, oranges, deep red, russet and a couple of greens. These had been selected as the majority of the portraits by Paul Klee were painted using these colours. The good thing about using a limited pallet of colours is that it avoided the felted portraits becoming completely multi-coloured and helped us to remember that we were thinking about the lines that we were making and also that this was about using felting as a medium but the work that we were making was still inspired by Paul Klee.

Each felted portrait is unique and not just felted but felted to a good standard. 

I love this one for the energy and personality that it manages to convey
This minimalist one uses no lines at all! 

And in this one there are more lines than facial features

I can feel Paul Klee's anger as he suffered from a very painful illness here. 

I was really fantastically impressed and pleased with the children’s achievements and it was brilliant as a visiting artist to get such enthusiastic comments and feedback from them all.
“This was our best day!”
“I love doing this!”
“When can we do it again?” 

The day went so well because all of the children were enjoying the variety of the activities in their School Arts Week and also because I had excellent support from the class teacher Miss Orr, teaching assistants and parent helpers. 

And a Janitor who helps you in with all your felting materials and equipment is always a hero!

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Ceramic and Textile Carousel for Derbyshire Schools Library Service

Primary school pupils adding their own handmade cups to the carousel made by Kirsty E Smith and Wendy Johnson
I was recently invited to contribute to a really interesting project in Derbyshire. There were plenty of reasons why this project was right up my street. Firstly I got see behind the scenes of the Derbyshire Schools Library Service Collection (more about this later), secondly I was working with five other creatives including visual artists, musicians and a poet (a nice change from working alone!) Thirdly it included two busy days of working with lots (240) school children and lastly it culminated in an exhibition and workshops which took place in a very unique building; a octagonal gallery space within a school built in 1914.
The King George Gallery a unique space within The Ilkeston and Ormiston Academy, Derbyshire.
This was an outreach project where I could draw both from my own practice and also my experience in facilitating fun and interesting creative workshops

We started the project, called ‘Dear SLS’, with a visit to the Derbyshire and Derby Schools Library Service Collection and what a special place it is; the building itself was inspirational. 

Vaulted ceiling of the Derbyshire and Derby Schools Library Collection
Rather than being a library of books this collection is a library of objects, artifacts from around the world, prints of well known artworks, original paintings and also a good collection of textile art - stitched fabric collages from the 70’s in particular. 
Stitched fabric collages; these were especially popular in the1970's
The aim of Dear SLS was to help publicise the service and encourage more schools, artists and individuals to make use of this unusual object lending service. People will always have a stronger understanding of and connection with something that they have actually held in their hands rather than just seen an image of on paper or on screen. Pixels can’t match the real thing!

Dear SLS also helped some year 10 students gain their Silver Arts Award; they selected objects from the collection and curated their own exhibition with these objects. Ceramic artist, Wendy Johnson, and I looked at the items that Tim Berry had selected for his Fairground inspired exhibition (some gorgeous stuff that it was very easy to be inspired by) 

Colourful and bold illustrations in a children's book, Night at the Fair.
Detail from a well known Barbara Jones lithograph (1945)
and also the objects that had been selected by the students working with the theme of People and Places. There was an eclectic range of items including a Norwegian terra cotta cup, a Japanese tea ceremony set, some Polynesian Tapa cloth made from tree bark and a pair of dainty little embroidered silk shoes.

Wendy and I decided to work together to make our own contribution; a carousel which would be part ceramic and part wood, wire and textiles. This is the first collaborative piece that I have made and although not actually a Frillip Moolog sculpture I did use techniques that I have used in previous Frillip Moolog beings.
Me (Kirsty E Smith) with student Tim Berry and ceramic artist Wendy Johnson (right)
The primary school pupils who visited the exhibition completed our carousel by making and decorating their own paper cups which were then hung within the carousel. 

I designed a template for the cups and then printed it directly onto coloured card. The pupils decorated, cut out and  assembled their own cups.
Cups seemed the obvious connection between the cups in the People and Places exhibition and the tea cup roundabouts that are a longstanding favourite fairground ride with very young children. 

Terracotta cup from the Norwegian collection within the Schools Library Service and fairground teacup ride 
Despite having to work very quickly the students really rose to the challenge, they took inspiration from various patterns and decorative motifs within the exhibition. 

Motif copied from a hand painted African wallhanging and stylised eyes inspired by those of an Indonesian carved goddess (both items included in the People and Places part of the exhibition). 
Looking up inside the carousel canopy is one of favourite views
The other participating artists having a musical relax within the gallery space at the end of a busy day. 
Other artists contributing to Dear SLS: 

If you are interested in visiting the Dear SLS exhibition in The King George Gallery, The Ilkeston and Ormiston Academy then contact Kate Le Provost Community and Arts Development Officer on 0115 9948635
for opening times.