Image credit: See Mitch Joel

I had a serious rethink about social media at the end of last month that coincided with half term. The other major deadline at the end of May was compliance with the GDPR data law. If you’re not sure about this new EU regulation, you need to be as:

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) seeks to create a harmonised data protection law framework across the EU and aims to give back to data subjects, control of their personal data, whilst imposing strict rules on those hosting and processing this data, anywhere in the world.

If you have any kind of digital web presence, such as a blog, feedback form or comments box, you will need some sort of compliance with this regulation.

Also, many of the original ‘friends/followers’ I discovered on social media about 10 years ago were becoming less active in each domain, some choosing to suspend or leave altogether. Whilst I missed their contact, I also was effected by the Facebook-trust meltdown and the exposure that social media is making all of our lives less private and we’ve never been more manipulated by tech companies. Leon (@eyebeams) is a tech enthusiast I have had several real and virtual contacts with since 2006 and he tweeted:

So these little triggers led to a drastic action; I deleted all my social media. Everything.

No Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, Blogger,  You Tube, Path, Wikipedia, PBwiki, Pinterest, Tripadvisor or any other social media. I deleted without backing up and said I wouldn’t return. If you’re wondering why Facebook isn’t on my list, this is because I never really got into it. Most of the others I have used since 2005 ish and kept prett much active in all.

My off-grid/dark ops period lasted about 5 days.

Why? Mainly because I used all of these tools intensively as a teacher and as soon as the half term holiday was over, I couldn’t find my resources any longer. I needed Pinterest first as an essential tool for an art teacher. Luckily it restored almost immediately. Twitter too was and is a source for my ‘community of practice’ and I was shocked on re-entry to find 0 friends and 0 followers. A panicked search found that not everyone had left or hidden away like me and they were still there to contribute, scowl, laugh and cry. I then rebooted Tumblr as the place where I post newspaper articles to read later. WordPress (including this personal blog) had gone decisively unfortunately and seemed never to return without the help of the WordPress tech team who helped me undo my mistake. Since my social media reboot, I have also found that some of the videos I made as skills demos were only to be found on You Tube and Vimeo and there is no way of retrieving deleted video. Frantically, I have searched every usb and external hard drive to reinstate the useful stuff (some I fear lost forever).

Instagram and Flickr I will not rush to; perhaps a long period away before I recreate these if I ever do. After all, my personal content is mine and perhaps I don’t wish to give away all of my create data.

i hope you find this rebooted personal blog as useful as I have even if you’re coming across it for the first time or revisiting for a much used art lesson. Part of my rethinking is to focus on what the blog is for and about. For this I now include a brand new tag line:

art education, creative tech and ecology

I hope you enjoy it as much as me!


Flying starts

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Students’ first ideas based on secondary source images on day 1 of their exam

It is the time of year for us art teachers to begin our preparation period for the Unit 2 external exam. This reflective blog post concerns launching the fine art exam at GCSE; the potential pitfalls, successful methods and what ifs.

How to do it? Many teachers start with a Powerpoint of inspirational ideas, or work through a mind map for each of the 7 themes, or alternatively present students with a blank page and instruct them to draw something/anything just to get off to a flying start.

After discussing the hour long lecture method with my students on what each theme means to me, I decided to go with the ideas and images that first come to mind for just one or two of the exam themes. I’ve fallen into the stand and deliver method in the past and it just doesn’t work. Kids don’t have the attention span and anyway it just sounds like the teacher out of Charlie Brown to them (“wah, wah, wah”). Students can explore the others at home in more detail but I like to get straight in to a visual response on day one. To do this, I prepared monochrome photocopies of images collated on Pinterest. First task: select two images, cut out and place in sketchbook then reproduce in part or whole using a mixed media approach. Combine any two or three media methods to make a visually interesting response.

Extrinsic motivation doesn’t always have to be another person, but it is some outside demand, obligation, or reward that requires the achievement of a particular goal. Intrinsic motivation, however, is an internal form of motivation. You strive towards a goal for personal satisfaction or accomplishment.


Students who lack motivation often want spoon-fed resources and this method of getting them started didn’t alleviate this issue. Anything provided as a secondary source needs to engage the viewer and what if none provided the necessary spark? A handful of students picked ‘any’ image and their visual response was just as disengaged. Their follow-up task was to research their on secondary or primary image and similarly make a transcription or reproduce elements in part or whole on an A4 sketchbook page. Likewise, if not motivated by the art theme then this might not get done.

Possible solution

Make your own resources with their input. Get them to select from a website, set of images or put a camera into their hands. Stand over them and direct if you must but they have to make a visual they can then start to work with. Discuss these images with them and draw out further possibilities. Mind maps will only work with someone bursting with ideas and trying to get them all down on paper. Blank pages are for students with good visual memories and the skills to represent them. An hour long lecture won’t help anyone but the teacher get their own ideas across. The extrinsic motivator is fulfilling exam requirements and prepping for the ten hour session. The trick is to provide an intrinsic motivation; personal satisfaction in having completed something worthwhile. As can be seen from the broad range of responses above, getting anything down on paper that has a visual cue gets them off to a flying start and will motivate for at least the next few lessons.

Next issue: motivating disengaged AS level artists.



Further reading

Eight motivational theories and their implications for the classroom, The Language Gym, 2015


Day in the Life

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This is an experiment with documentary photography. A photo taken every half hour in monochrome using a Canon 1200D with 50mm lens is an exhibition of the mundane as well an exploration of composition. I set this as homework for my Y10 GCSE Photography group with a couple of revisions. Firstly, they could use whatever was at hand to take their images (phones, iPads as well as any kind of camera). Secondly, if every half hour wasn’t a realistic preposition, then take 28 images throughout the day.

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Here’s my documentary photo-shoot WAGOLL representing my Monday ‘Day in the Life’   It is quite a challenging task! My day consisted of mainly having the MOT for my car and wandering around our local town centre. I could have contrived something far more interesting, such as a walking trip to the Peak District…

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As an alternative documentary project my Wednesday ‘Day in the Life’ This was created using a mixture of Canon 1200D with 18-55mm kit lens and an iPhone for panoramas.

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Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life.

The mini-project can work as a one-off or the launching point to a more extended piece of work. I found these great tips for documentary photo projects:

  • Documentary means as it happens, naturally in an environment
  • To capture a person’s essence, their real personality
  • Record details and scene settings
  • To think ‘big picture’, take shots for the process and expansion of an idea
  • To create a story with images, leave a legacy of a moment in time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the students have responded to the task and any exciting or unusual responses may have developed from the challenge.



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Any art teachers involved in the teaching of the new 1-9 GCSE Art & Design will know there is a new emphasis on drawing in all it’s forms. That includes in the Photography endorsement. The implication for this ‘new emphasis’ is that drawing was a measure of rigour. I know some ebacc orientated school leaders who think that art is ‘an easy subject’ (it’s not, despite some schools achieving 100% pass rates recently) and they find it difficult to judge levels of craftsmanship (“These GCSE paintings are ALL great, give ’em a grade A*!” declared one while I reassured him there was a full range of grades on display). Drawing is often the means that art teachers use to acquire levels of craftsmanship appropriate to the quality of ideas expressed and the student’s confidence in their chosen media. On Radio 4 recently, an interview with illustrator, Stanley Chow was preceded by an introduction along the lines of Chow uses computers, ergo, artists don’t need to have drawing skills. This was corrected by Chow during the article who recognised the importance of digital media to his style of illustration but said that budding artists should learn traditional media first.

To encourage and develop drawing skills as appropriate to the new GCSE, we went back to drawing from primary source material and the ubiquitous soda or soft drink can.

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These Year 9 student examples (13 year olds) used the direct experience of the soft drink can as a man-made form with a malleable aspect; the can be drawn as a cylinder and then dented, ripped and torn to change the form. Surface as well as typography/graphics on the can are also an interesting feature. For this task we used oil pastels in order to effectively blend colour and achieve shiny, metallic surfaces. These were selected for use independently but could also be intriguing as a contrast to a natural form or grouped with other reference materials to develop and idea or concept. My idea for the project is to explore the theme of the polluted shoreline by contrasting seaweed, sea shells, rope, plastic toys and fast food packaging. Other conceptual approaches could include:

  • Light and reflection
  • Decay
  • Distortion
  • Colour range
  • Patterns and relationships
  • Metamorphosis.

My next step is to introduce natural forms and explore colour. I have a selection of stones rocks and sea shells but also sheep skulls (some children have difficulty understanding what these are and if they do, some often ask if they are real). I could look toward a variety of natural objects of similar colours to develop understanding of the basic properties of one colour (a selection of plants for example). Drawing shouldn’t be used as the measure of academic rigour and achievement in our subject but rather the means to acquire craftsmanship and confidence in drawing media and a launching position in which to project oneself with our own ideas.


Art lesson resource: Film Noir Photos


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.



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.


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.


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”


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Art lesson resource: Graffiti 3D Bottles

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This project extends the urban art project that I do with year 8 students. Instead of completing large scale cardboard ‘walls’ for their graffiti work, this expires smaller scale 3d ideas.

Like all good art projects, always start with a basis in skill development and drawing; typography and lettering are explored as well as hip-hop/graffiti styles.


Next step was to do a bit of research into SeakOne’s graffiti. Much of his recent work sees the individual characters living within each typographic form. Insect-like robots mimic the shapes of roman letters usually in industrial colour schemes.

SeakOne has recently begun to produce 3d models of these letter-creatures and this is forms our main inspiration for graffiti bottles.


Students need to bring a plastic bottle of their choice; mainly water or pop bottles with some 1 litre style shapes occasionally too.

Either on a piece of paper or directly on the side of the bottle, create the creature letters and build up using paper-mache. This is a bit messy of course! When working on separate paper, this needs to be formed on to the bottle, filling in any spaces as the glue mixture dries.

Finally, use acrylic paints to add bright colours, blends, details and outlines. I asked students to leave the cap un-covered so that the bottle could retain functionality.

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Using elements of urban art style such as primary colours, outlines and even ‘dotty’ textures adds an extra element of skill and is quite manageable for Year 8s. The personalisation aspect meant that students really wanted their own bottle at the complete stage not just as a sculpture but a trendy water-retainer!

Recording art demos

Do you find yourself repeating demonstrations of art techniques? I keep my most recent art sketchbooks in school as a reference to show the kids that I have also ‘had a go’ at whatever I set them. However, this is not the same as seeing a work in progress. I am reminded of the video of Picasso painting on glass:

Seeing the artist at work often can give more hints and tips to resolving art problems than merely the finished piece. With our abundant availability of tech these days, it isn’t too hard to create a mini-video to share as a ‘what a good one looks like’. The popcorn task above was filmed with an iPhone in my left hand. Ok, so I added some music after but this isn’t so hard these days especially on a tablet. My advice is: record it, upload it. preferably to YouTube so that they can review it at home (review, rewind and pause).