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

Up-cycled, hand painted t-shirts

Here are some of the fantastic, hand painted t-shirts that sixty year five children did for the theme of rainforests. They all brought in old t-shirts that needed to be re-vamped and up-cycled.IMG_1322 IMG_1323 IMG_1324 IMG_1326 IMG_1327 IMG_1328 IMG_1329 IMG_1330 IMG_1331 IMG_1332 IMG_1333

I just love how varied each of them are. There were so many fantastic ones that I simply couldn’t post them all here. I will run you briefly through the steps they took to complete these.

First I created a powerpoint presentation showing examples of hand painted t-shirts I found on the internet. I explained that first they were to come up with a design in their sketch books. Then develop and practice drawing the animal that featured in the design until they were happy. They were also to decide on the colour paint (and how to mix it), size etc and make detailed notes, also planning where on the t-shirt their design would go (front, back, chest, shoulder etc.) I also made a check list for each session to ensure the instructions were clear and all steps were completed in order.

Next the children completed a to-scale drawing on paper of the design. Using their notes, they worked out how to mix the types of colours they needed, again taking notes of any changes.

Small pieces of square t-shirt were then given to the children as well as a tiny bit of fabric paint to experiment with the feel of painting on fabric. Here are some of these.

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Before painting on the t-shirts the design had to be drawn onto the fabric first in pencil, checking that it was the correct size, proportions, and placing on the t-shirt. They put a white board between the two pieces of the t-shirt (front and back) so that there was a hard surface to lean on and also to protect the bottom layer of fabric from getting paint on it. They used pegs to secure it to the board to slightly stretch the fabric so that it was easier to  draw and paint on.

As the children had taken precise notes of the amount of paint they needed and the colours required for their art work it was easy to decant just enough paint for every one and avoid wasting precious and rather expensive fabric paint. The children took several 2 hour sessions to complete their t-shirts and were very excited and attentive throughout the project.

I mixed Acrylic paints (water based) with a Chromacryl fabric medium. Once dry it must be ironed on with a hot iron to fix it to the t-shirt (obviously follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results).

NB it took a while for the children to understand that painting on a t-shirt needed patience and a slightly fuller brush of paint as it takes a while for the paint to sink in to the weave of the fabric. Some of them brought airtex school tops to paint onto, these were less effective due to the fabric weave.

Bright Colours for a Rainy Day

What a boring, rainy, half term! We’ve all got coughs and colds with a hint of miserableness. So I decided that it was time to start a project.

The boys recently expressed an interest in studying rain forests with me so I decided to take them up on their interests. A friend introduced me to this wonderful book called The Tree by Tim Vyner, and we read it together. The boys loved it, and especially loved the facts about rain forest animals at the end.

Having read about the animals and the different part of the rain forests in the book we took a look at some fun and interesting websites. Check them out here, here, here and here. We decided to focus on the toucan first as it features in the book and is full of such bright colours.

I got the boys to draw a toucan image with charcoal (I sprayed it with hair spray to prevent the boys from rubbing it off with their sleeve). Then they used chalks and water colours to capture it’s rainbow beak and vanilla yellow chest. We talked about the direction the feathers grew and how to use the chalks to show the feathers. We decided whether the colours we could see were warm or cool before we mixed them.

Here’s the picture (above) we used to inspire us taken by Nina Stavlund (posted here with kind permission). And here are their drawings, we worked on them for about an hour and a quarter without a break.

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Hope this helps inspire anyone struggling to find something to do on a rainy day.

You could have a go drawing these huge, you could try collage, acrylic paint, or what about painting them on a t-shirt, or maybe a mural? If your kids are a little older and more able than mine then sponge a mottled green acrylic background first and then work with acrylics over this background when its dry. If your kids are less able, then try talking them through each step picking out the big shapes. Talk about shapes, curved lines and sizes of things rather than naming the parts of the bird, it helps with encouraging your child to access the right side of their brain. Ask them simple questions like ‘is this part bigger than that part?’ or ‘is this bit as fat as that?’ If you don’t have posh paper then cut up a cereal box and use the large inside area to do your painting. Nice idea to encourage recycling.