Drawing from nature… and a feline surprise

Teaching other teachers can be daunting but last week’s training session at Kew Gardens was a gentle and affirming experience. I team taught the session with my colleague Stuart Simler and we began with two warm up exercises to focus and encourage observation: blind drawings and desperate drawings in the dry tropics of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Then onto some sgraffito, using black card and oil pastels which are applied thickly before scratching in details such as cactii spines and ridges with a sharp skewer. Finally, Stuart guided the group into the rainforest where they focused on outlines, tearing shapes and creating patterned layers in a range of papers to recreate the spiralling foliage of the wet tropics. During the plenary, feedback from our group was really positive and teachers reflected on aspects they’d enjoyed: the relaxed warm up sessions and using materials in a new way.

As the light faded at the end of the day this spectacular, handsome beast appeared by the Palm House – it turned out he was at Kew for a fashion shoot. Apparently he had died of natural causes at the Zoo

lion in the garden

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Happy new creative year

Happy New Year dear readers! Apparently cleaning a corner of your house, going on a local adventure or spending time with children can all stimulate creativity. Or perhaps send the kids on their own little adventure and forget about tidying up!  This new year I wish you many creative and messy moments. Sometimes juggling elements of life can be quite hectic and here are some rather belated posts.

First to feature is Artsdepot, the undiscovered South Bank Centre of the North (well North Finchley). Last Autumn I was invited there to create some artwork with two Barnet Schools, inspired by an English National Opera rendition of Laika the Space Dog. Laika never survived the confines of her space shuttle but I worked with the children to reimagine a happier ending. They developed simple sketches and pastel drawings suggesting pitted lunar surfaces, aliens and strange plants, referencing desert plants and rocky landscapes we had spent time researching. I guided the children into transforming their drawings into experimental 3D pieces, felting around wire, plastic discs, bubble wrap and glass beads.

There are only a couple more days to catch the tail end of Creative Routes 2013 featuring a felted installation I’ve titled ‘Laika Escapes’.  Many thanks to fellow artist educator Stuart Simler for these photos.



I’m also pleased to mention a project I ran in November on behalf of Eastside Educational Trust with St John of Jerusalem School in Hackney. 120 children each designed a face to represent diverse communities around the world and we felted these onto a woolly globe. Some fabulous volunteers supported me in this demanding feat to create artwork for the school’s International Week in a single day.

2013-11-20 15.56.59

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Creative routes

Here’s a sneak preview of some work I’m creating with Year 3 children from Barnet schools as part of artsdepot’s annual Creative Routes project. The work is based on the theme of Outer Space and is inspired by an opera for schools devised by the English National Opera about Laika, the first dog in space. We’re re-imagining the tragic ending by designing a planetary space where Laika has escaped to.

Laika space dog  Laika space dog Felted shibori  Laika space dog

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Thinking with your hands

I’m thinking about other accessible felting methods for adults or children with poor dexterity so I’ve been playing around with felting scraps of commercial felt cloth onto needlepunch felt. I love using the negative shapes left over from previous projects. The one on the left is my daughter’s who’s always pleased to be my felting guinea pig.  We discovered that assembling is great fun, but the felting itself is extremely tricky as some of the commercial felt is synthetic so it won’t become entangled with the woolly base. But I’m going to see if we can try again using tiny wisps of merino fleece to secure the blocks of colour.

experiment with felt

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Felting and dementia

Kathleen tells me for what could well be the 100th time that she used to like colouring-in books. Next, she points to a colourful piece of handmade felt with her name on. “Well I don’t know who made that” she tells me. “Somebody must have made that and put my name on it,” she laughs. In fact Kathleen has just spent about 45 minutes carefully making this artwork with me. Jennifer is also nonplussed. She doesn’t remember making the felt either, but decides to keep the one with her name on as a souvenir. This has proven to be just one of the many challenges I’ve met on this 6-week project working with residents of an Islington care home, many of whom have severe dementia or have suffered strokes.

felting and dementia

It’s not the first time I’ve run feltmaking sessions with the elderly, but this time the levels of need are very high. As well as memory loss, many of the residents have limited dexterity and the support staff I was promised must be on their tea break. Luckily, I’ve taken some advice from fellow felters and decide to try felting the wool in a ziplock bag. It must be a very strange experience for my elderly friends, place the wool into a bag and, once I’ve poured in some warm soapy water, for them to rub it till it felts together. A very strange experience indeed, but for some, hopefully, a pleasant one at least for a fleeting moment.

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Lollipop, lollipop, ooo lolly lollipop

I made these with a zillion children at Harrow Arts Centre’s open day last Sunday where I had some amazing help from volunteers and lots of eager little felters were born.

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Felting with your feet

I’ve been wanting to do this for such a long time… shoes and socks off, let the soapy felting begin! This wonderful project took place at Fitzjohn’s Primary school with an exceptionally talented Year 1 class (5 and 6 year olds). They began helping me to create a wool oak tree before felting it with their bare feet, a massive hit! The next part involved working with a partner to make these incredible felt drawings of creatures which live in or near oak trees. I’m staggered by their beauty and delicacy.

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