Art lesson resource: Candy skull lino printing

At this time of year, we tend to roll our timetable forward so that students can begin their GCSE art and design classes before the Summer break. For us, this is Year 8 into 9 (12 to 13 year olds) who may lack maturity and sometimes skills. My new classes are keen as this is their option choice but need to be engaged by skills, topics and presentation. For this purpose I pick something that they find slightly familiar; Day of the Dead candy skulls (calavera).

What you will need

  • Linoleum tiles cut to A6
  • Day of the Dead resource sheets
  • Lino cutting tools (v and u shaped blades)
  • Water-based printing ink
  • Ink rollers
  • String and washing pegs – to provide a drying line for prints

Inspiration

Dia de muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican cultural festival that takes place over three days from October 31st to November 2nd. Although essentially linked to Halloween and gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, there are links to much older traditions such as the Aztec festival for goddess, Mictecacihuatl.

day of the dead skulls
Mexicana: calavera skulls

Day of the Dead family

Decorative skulls (calavera) are a symbol used during the festival applied to decorative or edible skulls made from either sugar or clay which are used in the Mexican celebration or even face paints for party-goers! As an inspiration for print-makers, they provide a cultural reference point from which to explore symmetry, shape, pattern and texture.

© damoward 2017
Artists’ examples

Method

I get students to draw from examples of calavera, concentrating on symmetry and pattern. Once they understand common motifs, they can begin to produce their own designs. A double-page spread in a sketchbook can show research and presentation skills – this forms my home learning tasks and a deeper understanding of looking into other/unfamiliar cultures. I think this idea was magpied from @LeedsArtTeacher on Twitter as she found it an engaging theme for Year 9.

The video at the top of the post help the students understand the Lino printing process from sketch to mono print.

Resources such as this image help the artists achieve a variety of textures and they are asked to explore at least two blades for cutting details.

Finally, reviewing progress against a simple ladder of achievement (below) can help move ideas and details forward.

© damoward 2017

A single colour mono print can be a starting point for further exploration of lino printing, experiments with other media on top of dry prints or gradient effects with wet ink rolling. Final prints can be used as part of the double-page spread presentation or as individual page presentations.


 

A month of plastic-lite living

In June the Marine Conservation Society encouraged us to take up a “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. This blog post explores the challenge a little further with some solutions to the issues that arose.

My family and I attempted the plastic challenge for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. In addition, in preparation is the end of May, we replaced our plastic shopping bags with jute (natural materials) and our own paper grocery bags for loose items.

Why cut down on plastic?

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.

A single plastic bottle takes hundreds of years to break down in the ocean, which is dangerous to wildlife. It could be swallowed by a whale or a shark, while its bottle top might be picked up by a seabird who then feeds it to its young. If it’s not swallowed whole, the bottle will break into smaller and smaller pieces, which can then can be ingested by creatures ranging from zooplankton to whales, which mistake it for food. Slowly but surely it will turn the ocean into a kind of toxic plastic soup. — Greenpeace Connect, Summer 2017

#plasticchallenge

The five supermarkets we went to during June were: Asda, Lidl, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. All are guilty of over-packaging; presumably for the convenience of warehouse storage prior to shelf display. We bought loose vegetables and placed into our own paper grocery bags; every time we went to checkout we got quizzical looks but we were keen to explain the plastic challenge and every time we were commended by the staff who said they would pass on to managers and what a great idea. Any processed, packaged food was scrutinised for the materials logo:

recycle-logos-1So we felt that by getting some items (ready-meal curries for example) in a PP tray would be ok as the curb-side collection take this plastic. As we soon found, on collection day all of the PP plastic was left behind in our front garden (even stuff previously taken).

Although this was a bit of a set-back, it was an even more tricky shop when trying to avoid food items we would normally buy not available in a recyclable form. Such as Alpro yoghurts. Tweeting about it directly to Alpro was very satisfying:

Alpro were very positive, they may even have something in development for June 2018! We did have trouble finding toilet rolls in paper packaging, all the supermarkets we went to use a plastic film that is not recyclable. We even had a look at other supermarkets in the area in case they had something; Tesco, Aldi and the Co-op. Nothing. This was our first compromise; day 12 of the challenge and we had little choice as we were totally out of supplies!

This was a great response on Twitter:

So we will certainly be prepared next June! We found Morrisons the best for frozen food packaging (cardboard boxes rather than sleeves with plastic/film lid inside). Lidl was the only one to supply brown paper grocery bags for bread (even though plastic supplied for loose veggies). Only the Co-op sell recycled toilet paper; and this is in a plastic package. This is shocking. All of the supermarkets need to be a bit more plastic-conscious; people always agree and usually have a positive comment about the habitat of wildlife so it is really should be  a case of ‘the customer is always right’. If a supermarket wants to be the first to put environment as priority they need to take adapt Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:

  1. Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
  2. Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
  3. Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
  4. Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.

Further: Get involved

Try the #plasticchallenge next June and support the Marine Conservation Society’s efforts – information here.

Greenpeace is leading the way in a campaigning against plastic waste; targeting one of the worst global offenders: Coca-cola. Sign their petition to affect change at Coke here or donate for their plastic appeal here.

Advice from EatDrinkBetter on reducing food packaging here (image at top credited to this website).


 

Art lesson resource: Split pin characters

Here is an extended task to go with the animation project we normally do with Year 7. This is actually suitable (with adaptation) for Year 5 or 6. Some of this is fairly straight forward but does require some technical know-how. I will include an example character resource below.

What you will need

  • Cereal boxes or thin white card
  • Scissors
  • Choice of colour technique; paint, felt tips etc.
  • Split pins (essential)
  • Green cloth
  • Camera
  • Computer to create final cartoon

Inspiration

Still image from Ivor the Engine

To accompany the many types and methods of animation, it is worth showing students Oliver Postgate’s work, especially Ivor the Engine.

The story behind the artist and Smallfilms:

Method

There are many templates for split pin characters (here is a split pin model free resource), however, for Year 7 we like to get students to develop their own ideas in a sketchbook. These can be story related or based on characters by Sjors Vervoort like ours. Here you can see development of my example character; a cheeky fox.

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Next transfer the character outline to card (use thin card like cardboard cereal boxes as easier to cut with scissors). Use an appropriate method to add colour but remember to separate arms, legs and head or any moveable parts!

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Cut out each part carefully. Make a pilot hole using a compass at each split pin position. Attach the split pin carefully. As you can see from the example, I painted the tops of each split pin to match the background colour.

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Photograph against your green cloth in a well lit room. Change positions of limbs etc to suggest movement in each frame/photo. Transfer the set of images into the movie editor of your choice or use an app like Doink on iOS.

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I used iMovie and followed this simple green screen tutorial. I have added a bit of music and sound effects just for fun but this is only supposed to be a screen test. The real fun is getting the students to make their own!

 


 

Art lesson resource: Alice illustrated

Here is a popular project we do with Year 8 toward the end of our key stage 3 as they opt for GCSE choices (we do GCSE in y9 and 10). It has developed from a drawing and painting project into a mixed-media compositional approach as we felt it best readied students going on to GCSE or brought up motivation and skills for whom it was the end of their art studies. Although we have chosen Alice in Wonderland as the inspiration, it could actually be anything that students are aware of from literature, movies or other popular culture. The examples used here are either current or go back over the last 3 years.

What you will need

  • Card; we save cereal boxes for months prior to recycle but you will also need some more robust cardboard too
  • Scissors or x-acto knives for the brave
  • Newspapers or old books
  • PVA glue and yoghurt pots
  • Black Berol fine-liners/sharpies or similar
  • Either cheap acrylic paint or watercolour sets and ready mix white. If you can afford gouache for ks3 then this would be better.

Inspiration

Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland is as relevant a story today as 1865 due to the wonderful interpretations by artists and film makers based on Caroll’s imaginative prose. Many students have seen the Disney animation or more recent Tim Burton movie (2010). They are less aware of the Jan Švankmajer movie (1988), the Sony PS3 game or too numerous to mention book illustrations. Those ‘class experts’ can still be amazed by at least 10 things they didn’t know about Alice in Wonderland! The point is to look beyond Disney’s characters and even the original Tenniel illustrations.

Alice book illustration by Kay
Gertrude Kay
Alice book illustration by Steadman
Ralph Steadman

Method

We like to start with drawing and water colour studies; focus on symmetry based on secondary source images. Initially, we use bugs, butterflies and creatures then move on to fungi and flowers. Using Austin’s Butterfly as a reminder of critique and resilience, we try to create a tessellation of studies across a double-page spread in the students’ sketchbook.

sketchbook page
Student’s studies

This is a great opportunity to introduce other media; in the above example there is a study using black felt tip and a watercolour/wax resist attempt. Notice how newspapers/old books are used to ‘patch in’ around studies to become aware of negative space?

Next, we begin to plan how the elements of the illustration begin to place together as a scene in Wonderland. We use thin card and a base card of around 20cm x 20cm to try out different compositions. This is done as collaborative tasks and a trial and error approach – nothing is stuck down until the next stage.

We introduce four main Alice characters:

resource sheets
Resource sheets

These are copied back to back on A3 in colour. Some will try directly copying, others will be inspired to create their own version s based on common character motifs and some will use carbon paper or even cut out characters from the sheet depending on motor skills.

We use cardboard platforms to bring some elements forward in 3D (working on many levels so that the illustration has depth), papier-mâché to create 3D relief bugs, cups and top hats prior to painting.

White ready mix paint is relatively cheap and when mixed with watercolours a serviceable gouache effect is created. Students are encouraged to select their own materials including wax and ink. Despite the restricted base, students can cut into the profile edge or expand beyond it, breaking square format dimensions (difficult to show in the photos).

Students are encouraged to explain the part of the story they are illustrating or create their own descriptive writing.

This example shows work in progress, before Alice characters have been made.

Kids’ Feedback

“The best piece of art work I’ve done”

“This project allows me to use art materials in a different way; I can use stuff that I know I’m good at or try new stuff”

“I can compose an idea now”

“I’m rubbish at painting; I didn’t have to paint my Alice picture”.


Modern life is rubbish* – Part 5: Plastic

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

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Plastic debris is strewn across the beach on Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers/AP via The Guardian

What a chuffin’ mess. The wonders of plastic have changed our lives, but what has been the environmental impact? How much is buried in landfill, floats out to sea or is unintentionally consumed? What can we do?

I hope The Guardian don’t mind me reproducing the above photo especially as I will include links to their articles on Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific. It has become one of the world’s most polluted places despite being one of the remotest.  Marine scientists have discovered the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.² The follow-up article featuring the McCreadie family’s response and subsequent attempt to cut out plastics³ for a one week period has elicited this post about modern life and what action we could take.

In June the Marine Conservation Society will launch its “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. I am going to attempt the plastic challenge for the whole month and encourage you to try the same! If consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs.

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Helping you make a choice in plastic packaging

One of the things I didn’t realise was the actual component materials that plastic packaging comes in. I use our local curb-side scheme, filling a large green tub every fortnight. However, some of these plastics aren’t recycled locally and should have gone to  a recycling centre. They may even end up in landfill despite having been placed in the green tub! During June, I will avoid single use plastic altogether. Here is a handy guide:

recycle-logos-1 1. PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) is single use plastic used for pop and water bottles. Can be recycled into fleece textiles but not refilled as harmful chemicals leach from the material and could be carcinogenic. AVOID.

2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is thicker, more durable plastic used for toys, benches and weather resistant products. Can be recycled.

3. V (Polyvinyl Chloride) aka PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled. AVOID.

4. LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) is a non-rigid plastic used for shopping bags, detergent bottles and some clothes. Not widely recycled so best to AVOID.

5. PP (Polypropylene) is widely used for yoghurt pots, bottle lids, crisp packets, margarine and butter tubs. This is widely recycled in the UK. Can be recycled.

6. PS (Polystyrene) is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. AVOID.

7. Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN) is used to make baby bottles, cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. Compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, are being developed to replace polycarbonates and will say Compostable or PLA on the base next to the No. 7 logo. These are ok, otherwise AVOID.

How to shop without single-use plastic

The Marine Conservation Society can be provide a starter pack for members including jute shopping bags, cotton bags etc via their online shop. The plastic challenge is not about being completely plastic-free but avoiding wherever possible. I have replaced plastic bags with these from the UNICEF site as the money for each bag goes toward 4 polio vaccines. All loose vegetables will be placed in paper grocery bags from Amazon rather than the pre-packed plastic ones in store.

I am sure I will discover just how reliant we are on plastics during my plastic-lite month and will tweet about it with the hashtag #plasticchallenge. I expect each shopping trip to have it’s own challenges and discoveries! Perhaps you would be willing to do a day, week or whole month too?

Further: Do more

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.

 


¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Life_Is_Rubbish

²38Million pieces of plastic found on uninhabited island, The Guardian 15th May 2017

³Could you cut out plastic from your weekly shop?, The Guardian 27th May 2017

 

Art lesson resource: Film Noir Photos

noir1

Here is  a recent project I have completed with Year 9 GCSE Photography students based on the theme of Film Noir imagery. Developed from a project created many years ago for the NCFE level 2 course, there are a few essentials needed but basically it is about interpretation of the visual style. The examples presented here were all produced this half term by the students working in teams of 4 or 3 (there are 27 in my class).

What you will need:

  • Ideally DSLR cameras but use what you can
  • Photo editing software, ie. Photoshop
  • Battery torches – even cheap £1 LED ones work well
  • A studio light would be great
  • Black sugar paper and masking tape
  • Costume props: police-style caps, Macintosh coats, long gloves
  • Props: plastic handguns (must be relevant style to 1940s USA), plastic Tommy guns, plastic handcuffs and/or police badges.

Inspiration

noir2

As a starting point we looked at clips from some of the best Noir movies of the ’40s. We used collaborative team methods to identify the key elements common to each of the examples (lighting techniques, good guys, dubious gals, the femme fatale etc). We also looked out for common costume, make-up and hair as well as props. Students went from there to research contemporary artists (and movies) that employ some of the iconography of the 1940s Noir. The mood board above shows that a student has identified Noir ideas in the work of Vandervell and Carr.

Method

Usually in a photography project, I will start students with idea research to get visual prompts for the imagery they will go on to experiment with and develop in their own way. However, the Noir style is quite intuitive once you have the props. It is surprising how many members of staff had a classic Macintosh coat hiding (probably hardly worn) in a cupboard and I sourced three. The handgun props I found at Poundland and even got a Police Set that included a badge and cuffs. Tommy guns were trickier; eventually I got some made in Hong Kong in bright blue and orange that took an age to arrive in the UK; cost just £5 each including p&p. Trilby hats and police-style caps we had in school already from drama performances.

So session one included the smaller teams of 4 wearing/using props in a drama studio and basically improv acting, more accurately ‘acting up’! Cameras were gradually introduced to the teams who were starting to get it. These were photography students after all and didn’t want to be the ‘models’.

After a review of the first shoot, students identified what did or didn’t work the first time. Here we introduced lighting effects. Bringing in their own family torches (and the odd Pringle tube*), we blocked out all the natural light in the studio to get a more developed contrast in tone. Using our two studio lights too and lots of black sugar paper also helped create more abstract tone shapes.

*Empty Pringles tubes with a torch gaffer/duct taped to one end make a makeshift snoot or mini spot-light.

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Sample contact sheet

Contact sheets of the second shoot were compared to inspiration and to a checklist of creative studio techniques. What was missing? How could we develop further using adjustments to light meters, aperture, ISO etc.? What can be done in post-production to create a Noir look and feel?

An in-depth analysis of the projection room sequence from Citizen Kane (1945) helped us to understand how important a range of grey tones can be in obscuring detail. How could we do this without a smoke machine? This informed our next two studio shoots before post-production editing.

Editing

To help develop the Noir style, students used monochrome, spot colour, curve/level adjustments, fog layers and when a neutral back drop had been used, replaced backgrounds. The editing and refining aspect took a number of lessons to get right.

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Specific skills lessons were undertaken on picture planes (creating depth), cutting out around hair and rendering lighting and clouds.

Kids’ Feedback

“Best project so far; really enjoyed the studio sessions especially dressing’ up”

“Made me use my imagination”

“I can’t draw so this is my most creative piece of work as I could imagine being a character in an old film”

“I liked using the lights to make a Noir scene. Not using Photoshop all the time”

Examples

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Class sizes

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It is most unusual for me to turn to Twitter for a poll to back me up in an argument at school. After all, we know Twitter is an echo chamber (in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition amongst peers), but I wanted a bit of proof to back up my assertion that most people don’t teach huge classes of art and design at GCSE. In almost 25 years of teaching, I have never had over 30 in a GCSE class and can remember the early 2000s as being a time when it was a Labour government policy to ‘keep class sizes small’. This was GCSE mind (15, 16 year olds) not KS3 (11-14 year olds) and not considered safe or manageable.

In the last few years though we have had the implementation of the e-baccalaureate in English schools; core subjects are arguably considered more important and the arts, sport and design technology. This hierarchy is considered to give more time to English language arts, mathematics, modern foreign languages and the sciences. We (the remaining subjects) fear the impact in the long term, however, short term issues are currently raising their heads. These are: budget cuts, option choices, staffing and class sizes. Obviously I will not divulge details about my own academy, but my experience is currently of a frozen budget, options are no longer called options but ‘guided pathways’, our staffing is not currently under review but there are only two of us for 1400 on role and a prospective class groupings of 29 and 32 next school year. We have not been ‘bashed’ by the ebacc so that students no longer are guided to the visual arts but as a third option subject, students look for a relief from the academic. Undoubtedly some of these 61 students have interest and ability in fine art and photography, but for some on the ‘pathway’ it seems like pure fantasy or convenience. Hence the poll above; is it becoming normal to have over 30? Manageable and even safe?

Apart from raising the issue with colleagues, I also hope to take the results from the poll as evidence to my senior team to try and elicit a cap at the mid-twenties. What is the optimum class size at GCSE? Are you expected to push for the 100% pass rate? Issues for us all to consider in the next few years.