A message in hands

A creative journey through art and story telling 

I am your servant,
I am your slave,
I obey your command.
And never once do I question your demand.

Food I bring and drink I serve
Often more than you deserve.

Like a clock I can change with time,
Yet unlike a clock I am able to mime.
Though words I can’t speak
I can say a lot.
Things I can feel,
Though feelings I have not!

What am I?

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This was the riddle I showed my class of 28 on the Monday of our school art & storytelling week.

It took a lot of logical thinking from one particular girl to finally answer the riddle correctly. She analysed every part of the riddle and justified her answer in such a beautiful and reasonable way and to everyone’s astonishment her answer of ‘a hand’ was entirely correct.

Our theme was hands and over the week I took the class on a whistle stop tour of some famous paintings, sayings and stories of hands. We began with a pair of the most famous and unfortunately commercialized hands throughout history. Albrecht Durer’s ‘Praying hands’. I story-told the famous, but untrue story of Albrecht and his brother Albert’s almost unobtainable dream to become artists and study at art school. Read here for a version of the story.

Albrecht Durer Hands or ‘The Praying Hands’

On day two we looked at our own hands and then grabbed ipads between pairs and went out into the sunny spring garden of our school and shot some gorgeous photos of our hands. The children had two tasks, first to find an intriguing natural object and photograph their partner holding that object. The second task was to get together into groups of 6 or 7 and put all their hands into interesting positions and take photographs of them. Here are just a few of the photographs the children took.

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Before we looked at any art works we discussed how hands could have meaning. The children thought together in pairs and groups of all the ways they could think of that hands convey meaning. They thought of mime and sign language but strangely did not link the communication they do with their own hands on a day to day basis as part of hands having meaning. So we did some drama and acted in silence short scenarios that use hands to communicate something to someone else. The sudden upward shot of hands when something or someone is about to hit us, the outstretched hand when we want someone to give us something or help us and shaking someones hands to say hello were just some of the situations we explored.

Shaking Hands: My children,son and daughter, shaking hands, used for a buddy program for school age kids. Comments Welcome :)

I taught the children how to do what I call ‘scribble drawings’. A sure way to free anybody feeling constrained by having to get everything right. The children have not been trained in observational drawing and as a result have quite negative attitudes towards their work. Scribble drawings in pen are so free and fun that they forget the tiny details and look for the big shapes and shadows. Here are a few of their ‘scribble’ hand drawings and some foreshortened fingers.

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Encouraging children to annotate their drawings, saying how they would change them what they don’t like discourages pessimism and them crossing out work. It get’s them to think in a practical way how they could improve it. The drawing below shows my favourite annotation ever! Having drawn a hand that she wasn’t too happy with, this young lady commented quite accurately that it resembled a turkey!

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We discussed the work of Kate MacDowell, in particular her sculpture titled ‘in the hand’ and we story told another beautiful folk tale from India called The answer is in your hand. The children were amazed that Kate MacDowell’s sculpture linked so much with this Indian tale and they listened entranced as I told it. Kate MacDowell ‘s sculpture is so delicate, detailed and yet sparse with it’s crisp white porcelain finish and the children found it really interesting.

Having viewed images of many artworks involving hands we discussed together what the different artists might be saying through their art works. We learnt that some artists have a hidden message behind their art work and some have a message that is more obvious (like this Sudarsan Pattnaik sand sculpture). The children talked with each other about what was important to them and decided on their own title or message that they wanted to convey through their art work. They all created punchy titles that help their message to come across. By this stage they knew that they would be creating a 3D hand sculpture later on in the week and their message would need to be reflected in their sculpture.

Two particular titles I thought were brilliant. One was ‘Nature’s Hand’, the girl whose title this was, wanted to convey her love of nature and her desire for people to help conserve and look after nature. The other was ‘Soft, gentle Mom’, this was a boy who was stuck for any ideas, yet when asked: ‘What is important to you?’ he immediately answered, ‘My mom’. He described his mom’s hands as soft and gentle and so this evolved into his title.

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Nature’s Hand

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The children have completed their 2D designs and the plaster of paris hand casts have been created. Liquid plaster of paris was poured (by adults) into gloves that the children bought in, the top was then securely sealed with a rubber band. Then we then bent the fingers very sightly and pressed into the palm of the glove to give it a realistic feel. Quickly the plaster set into the new positions and then children were able to peel the gloves off and sand off any lumps and bumps. More information about how to do this. For health and safety risk assessment. You can also make balloon sculptures in this way.

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Below are some of our 2D designs, some children have also written about why their message is so important to them.

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Be Happy

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Save Tigers

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Stop Pollution

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The Nature Hand

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Racism & Violence Don’t Belong in Football

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For children who have little experience drawing and sculpting, this is a nice way to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D work. The plaster hands can then be scratched into with different objects in order to create the creases and details of the hand. This must be done in a ventilated area because of the dust and goggles should be worn just as a precaution.

Our next task is to paint our 2D designs onto the plaster of paris glove/hand casts. I will post more photos of these as we get them painted. And of course, use some E600 glue to stick a couple of broke fingers back on!

Here are the some of the completed hands. We added PVA over the top of the paint to give a soft sheen and protect them a bit.

Be Happy

Be Happy

Nature's Hand

Nature’s Hand

Save the World

Save the World

Violence and Racism Don't Belong in Football

Violence and Racism Don’t Belong in Football

Help Snow Leopards

Help Snow Leopards

Soft Gentle Mum

Soft Gentle Mum

Save Animals

Save Animals

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Exciting ways to get creative with your children-for the tentative parent.

Sketching upon waking

There are many research articles suggesting that spending positive, quality time with our children at home (especially at primary age) directly impacts their attitudes and beliefs in their own capabilities at school. If you’re interested in reading more about this then here are a few articles.

Article 1 Parental involvement in children’s education. Why does it make a difference?

Article 2 Parental involvement in their children’s learning

Quality time put in by fathers, mothers or any other important family member gives  children the opportunity to see, copy and integrate skills that are important on a social, practical and emotional level. Creative activities are a fantastic way to begin some quality interactions with your child and is often an irresistible distraction from the addictive pull of PSP’s, Nintendo, T.V , etc.

In this article I will share some of my ideas (all tried and tested), some useful places to visit, some tips along with great links to online resources.

Get Creative: No 1

  1. Choose a book
  2. Pick a related topic
  3. Choose your focus and skill
  4. Get Creative

Choose an exciting, well written story book suitable to your children’s level of understanding and find a family time where this book gets read everyday (its bed time in our house). Now you’re probably thinking, How’s this creative? Well I’ll explain.

Let’s take The Iron Man and The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes, or The jungle book by Rudyard Kipling. Both books contain excellent language, and vocabulary as well as perfect subject matter to stimulate fantastic art, drama or creative writing.  What I often do with my children is to pick a topic that links in with the current book I’m reading, so for example you could choose topics like recycling, wildlife, pollution, save the planet, reduce, reuse, junk,for The Iron Man/Woman. And for the Jungle book you might choose topics such as forests, jungle animals, India, tigers, traditional peoples.

Once your book and topic are chosen (either by you or by the kids) then you need to decide what you want to get out of this. For me, there are some occasions where I know precious little about our chosen topic so its a chance for the kids and I to learn together. Other times I know that I have a skill, or a particular idea in mind that I want to pass onto the children. And yet other times it is simply another ploy to distract them from the t.v. or from bickering with each other.

Lets imagine that you’ve chosen The Iron Man/Iron Woman, your topic is recycling and your aim is to improve skills in art, creating from imagination, sculpting, painting, cutting and such like. You could then collect all the house hold recyclable junk like cereal boxes, toilet/kitchen rolls, tin cans, milk bottles and lids etc. and build the Iron man out of them and paint him metallic colours. You could make ‘space bat angel dragon’ wings using old black plastic bags, or Iron Woman masks out of old cd’s, wire and cardboard. You could make papier mache half men half fish, or air dry clay painted models of fish and hang them from the ceiling. Go and visit a fish farm and draw the fish there, if you’re in Oxford then here’s a great place to visit. Go and take photos of pollution in a lock, canal or river near you, then make a piece or art work or poster persuading locals not to dump rubbish into it. I know a few local children near me who made posters, laminated them and tied them with string to the fence along my local stream. Also show them this.

All this can be done with any good book at any level and ability. I will suggest some more fantastic books at the end of this article. Just to add one more example for a lower age group lets take a fantastic book like The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (a book appropriate to pre school and foundation year children pictured above). You have topics such as the sea, seaside, whales, snails, sea wildlife, and from these topics can stem all sorts of wonderful art such as painting shells, collecting empty garden snail shells and decorating them with acrylic paint and then varnishing them. Visiting the seaside and collecting objects that can later be put together into a piece or art, or stuck onto a cardboard frame for a picture, making a sand sculpture of sea creatures (remember to photograph them and you can make them in any sand pit), look at Hokusai’s The Great Wave and make your own painting inspired by it. Play them this, a beautiful composition of John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

Get Creative: No 2.

  1. History, Art, Music Drama (and a bit of science too)
  2. Chose the topic
  3. Bring it to life-visits, online links/games, references
  4. Get creative

I did three history topics with my children that worked really well and will share one of them. Although this idea can work with any historical topic of your choice it is obviously most effective if it is adapted to the children’s age, ability and preferences.

My three topics were Castles, the Vikings, and Ancient Egyptians.

Castles hold a fascination for children so it needs little persuasion to capture their interest. I connected it to the battle of Hastings but there are many castles that can be used and many kings, queens and historical events that you could connect to your topic for even more drama. I ‘story told’ ( this is my special term for dramatically retelling a story in an animated way) the battle of Hastings cutting it down to the key events, Of course the most dramatic being that King Harold of England gets an arrow shot in his eye. Naturally here you’ve immediately got the perfect situation for some drama, one child is the Normans, the other child acts out the Saxon army and they have a great big battle using pencil swords and Harold can then rather dramatically die a slow and grueling death upon the living room carpet. Need I mention that your arts and craft’s session is already organized as you will need to make some helmets out of cardboard for your little solders to wear, some cardboard swords wrapped in kitchen foil, some shields with coats of arms for each army, and naturally bows and arrows out of string, garden canes and cardboard. Oh and what about milk-carton horse faces, with knitting wool mane and brown paint.

If you’ve got girls who are far too sensible to launch into full battle with pencils and garden cane bows then take a look at the Bayeux tapestry and try some easy weaving at home using cardboard and knitting wool. Then you can collect some large and small boxes along with cardboard tubes and first design on paper and then make your own cardboard castle. Make sure you all know the important parts of the castle such as the turrets, draw bridge portcullis etc. Why not make a draw bridge that actually works. Maybe make some actual knights that can defend the Queen/King of the castle. Go and visit a castle first to see all the things you need to make. Here is a fantastic cardboard castle . A good blog too. And don’t forget all castles have a well designed flag to tell everyone who’s castle it is.

Here’s a lovely blog all about homemade castles.

Here’s where bit of science comes in. Make a catapult out of lolly sticks and plastic spoons and make the ammunition out of clay, wet tissue and other objects and see which catapult works best with which object. Then investigate what it is that makes the ammunition go further or not and discover the forces behind what makes the catapult work. Here you could challenge older children to actually make a catapult that works using house hold objects or junk such as old spoons/ladle, rubber bands, old picture frame imagination.

Lastly I worked with a class of thirty children last year and we made musical instruments out of junk which we then used to create a series of soundscapes of the battle of Hastings. We made the shakers out of bottles with beans in, tissue boxes with rubber bands round, tins and old cooking pots with pencils and sticks to beat with, bunches of old keys strung together and more. I then set them off with each group working on one bit of the essential part of the story to create a sound scape which they then performed to each other at the end of every session and then to key stage one at the end of term. You can decide together what sort of noises they would hear at each part of the story and then find the instrument that lends itself best to that particular sound. Then put the sounds together in the right order to tell the story.

Places to visit linked with castles, Jousting day at Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, town of Battle, Castles of Great Britain and Ireland.

Web links for castles suitable for children, Castles for kids, Castle interactive learning, Crush the castle game, Bayeux tapestry comes to life

Further ideas. Dragons, George and the Dragon, Mythical castles, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast all have castles in (NOT the Disney version-the proper traditional tales), Jane and the dragon (CBB’s program-well made and beautiful animations), tower of London.

Get Creative: No 3.

  1. Fun and Funky quick ideas-choose one
  2. Acquire your materials
  3. Get creative

For some quick and easy projects requiring less thought than No’s 1 and 2.

  • Get two very large boxes (from super markets, recycling centers), carve an arch in the ends of the boxes with a craft knife so that they become a tunnel through which a child could crawl (you could leave one end un-carved so it becomes a den). Decorate the outside of the boxes. We made ours into a dragon tunnel, we attached cardboard wings using holes and garden wire, a neck and head and toilet paper roll ‘spikes’ along its back. Once painted it served as hours of fun for all the children in our neighborhood from toddlers to eight year olds.
  • Get air dry clay, roll it out flat to about half a cm thick. Impress into the surface found leaves, flowers, twigs, and other interesting textures and then cut sections of the clay and create a clay sculpture. Let it dry and then paint it using acrylic paints. Once the paints are dry you can then varnish it. Mix a little clay with water to make clay ‘glue’, it should be the consistency of soft cheese. When attaching one piece of clay to the other roughen the surfaces a little, apply the ‘glue’ and then press together. This ‘glue’ is properly named slip.

Air dry clay sculpture

Dragon

  • Get ceramic paints and a black ceramic/glass pen along with some old tiles you’re no longer using for DIY and draw and paint on them. Plan it on paper first just to be sure of what you’re doing. There are oven bake paints that makes your ceramic piece dishwasher safe and there are other ones that are air dry only. Here’s some we did inspired by William de Morgan.Boat
  • Collect some bottles with lids, some rubber bands and an old empty frame, and make your own musical instruments. Decorate them with paper and glue, sequins, threads etc. Have a family jamming session.
  • Try body percussion. Create a rhythm using sounds made with your body. experiment with how many interesting sounds you can make with your body and have a jamming session with them. Have a look at this for some inspiration. And this.
  • Lastly, start a sketch book with your kids. Stress to them that the sketch book is for drawings that they are going to take care over.(anything else can be done on scrap paper) Keep an eye on what they do in there, praise them, point out things that could be improved next time. Make sure that they colour pictures done in outline and stress the importance of finishing one picture before moving on to the next. If they cross out a ‘mistake’ then point out that there’s plenty of space next to it to try again and have another go-no need to cross it out. Remember to write the date when you got the sketch book, it may be a treasured memory later on.

I hope this article provides a place to start for some and a little inspiration for others. Please let me know if you have any useful suggestions or resources you know of that I can add.

A few more book suggestions:

Matilda by Roald Dahl, The clever boy and terrible dangerous animal by Idries Shah, The gingerbread man, Goldilocks and the three bears, The rainbow fish by Marcus Pfister, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein, Alice in Wonderland by CS Lewis, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Charley and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl, Grimms’ fairy tales, Beatrix Potter, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.