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Art in lockdown: creativity in confinement

Head of Art, Mrs Sylvester, breaks down the challenges and rewards of bringing Art lessons online.

What Art projects are different year groups working on right now?

Online learning has proved quite a challenge for the Art Department (that’s me!). Art is all about shared experience, creative thinking, discussion, making and analysis, which results in quite a challenge while we work apart! I have tried to design projects for each year group that take into account limited resources, but include actual making skills inspired by artists and designers.

Year 3 are doing a project inspired by Georgia O‘Keeffe’s flowers. I was struck on my daily dog walk how people’s gardens have been very well tended this year and so many beautiful flowers have come into bloom. The pupils are working towards a large single flower composition based on their own photos.

Year 4 have started a Van Gogh project looking at his landscapes, the gestural marks that he uses and his colour palette. Did you know that he spent time in Ramsgate, just around the corner from where I live and taught in a school for a year? He said his time in England was the happiest time of his life! The pupils are now working towards a large landscape piece based on their own photographs.

Year 5 are continuing to work on a project based on leaves and have been inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris. They collected a range of leaves, pressed them, drew them, made a pattern and an illuminated letter based on their collection. We are now moving to transferring this pattern onto a design for a mug. This would have been done using clay had we been undertaking the Summer Term as normal, but we are going to be resourceful with card and silver foil!

Year 6 are continuing their colour and pattern topic and, having looked at the amazing collage artist Rex Ray, they are now exploring henna designs. They will be producing their own patterns in relief on a large hand.

Year 7 have just started a photomontage project and have been learning about the technique and its political significance. We have been influenced by the work of Hannah Höch, John Stezaker and John Heartfield, to mention a few. The pupils will be producing their own photomontage and drawing this in Biro.

Year 8 have just started an abstract project following on from their illusion topic before half term. We have been exploring the definition of “abstract” and getting to grips with the key elements. Mondrian has been a real influence and the pupils have taken some abstract photos inside and outside, looking at geometrical shapes. We will then be developing these into paintings using masking tape to create straight edges or collages.

The planning and delivery of the lessons has been quite a shift for me, but I have really enjoyed trying out and learning lots of new techniques. My house is quite full of these try-outs and my step-sons have absolutely loved being my guinea pigs!

What has the work been like that you have been sent?

I have been really impressed with the work that has been sent in! The standard has been incredibly high and pupils have worked well independently, facing lots of creative problems, and developing interesting responses and use of materials.

How are you finding the live elements of your lessons?

The live element is working well. It can get a little fraught when everyone has a question or opinion as I am teaching whole year groups at a time! But I love seeing the pupils’ faces and it’s great when they show me their work.

What has been your Art highlight of the year?

Definitely the 90th anniversary mosaic crown, which is still up in Reception. It was quite a logistical challenge to get every pupil in the prep school making a tile but it came together beautifully in the end and I really think it is a great testament to how a collaborative piece can work. The estates team were amazing with how they put it all together. And working with a professional artist was a great experience for everybody!

Who are your favourite artists?

Well, this is a tricky one… To teach, I love showing pupils Picasso’s work as he was such a genius and so prolific. He crosses so many styles and techniques that you could really design projects for every year group using his work. I also absolutely love William Morris’s work as he was so influential on the path that design took, from architecture to furniture to textiles. He also had an interesting background and social conscience and used his art to influence change.

To hang on my wall, I like work that you could look at every day and see something different in. I love Peter Doig’s work. I saw an exhibition of his a few years back at the Tate Modern and I went back five times. His work is mesmerising! Anselm Kiefer is another favourite; a German artist who I first saw at an amazing exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof gallery in Berlin. I actually cried!

If money were no object, I would absolutely love to hang a Rembrandt on my wall. I would love to examine his fantastic use of colour and light every day!