Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Seven Stories: St. Bede's School #2 Collagraphs and Felt

Detail from a stitched and coloured collagraph print

Since March I've been working with a class at St. Bede's school on Prism Arts second library project. Looking back over my blog I realised I've only written one post so I thought I'd do a short series of posts covering some of the things we've been up to over the past three and a bit months.

Preparing paper with tea bags

Painting the blocks with printing ink

Using a roller as a brayer for an even print

Before I started working with the class they'd been working with a writer, Mr. Beautiful (aka David Napthine) on stories inspired by a 700 year old manuscript they'd seen when they visited Carlisle library. So, as you can read about in my previous post, I began by making collagraph plates with the students based on the characters in their stories. We used the collagraph blocks to make a series of prints on paper and fabric. One of the things I got the students to do was to prepare some papers using tea bags to give more of an 'ancient manuscript' feel (and because it's fun and it's good to think about the surface you're working on rather than always using plain white paper.) Some of the prints they produced from these blocks are fantastic and we spent a bit of time working back into the prints with fabric crayons and stitching.

Moment of truth

Revealing the print

Multiple prints

The basic theme we've been working on for the library project is vessels and I wasn't sure how or what kind of vessel we would produce as a class. However, I began the project confident that along the way the pupils and I would come up with an idea or the work would naturally start to suggest a finished form. When we were looking at the finished collagraph prints one of the students said "they look like flags" and he was right, they did. This led to me thinking about prayer flags and so we decided that our finished piece would be a set of flags inspired by the characters and landscapes of their stories. This is possibly stretching the term vessel but it just works so beautifully with the work the students have produced that I think it's an allowable stretch!

Print on prepared paper

Print on fabric

Print on fabric

Having decided we would make flags I started thinking about the construction of the flags and what I wanted the students to get from the project. I wanted to give them the opportunity to try a wide range of techniques and experiment with different media as often in schools there is not the time or resources for this to happen. I think this is a great shame as I believe creative activities are really important to help develop imagination and problem solving skills, motor skills, communication and team work skills and to build confidence and self esteem. It's also a lot of fun and I think that's a lot more important than we think.

Stitching into the collagraphs

Adding detail with fabric crayons

A finished coloured and stitched collagraph

Once again, I digress. having made the collagraph prints we needed to make a second side for the flag. I was very inspired by the collages they'd made in the first week with me and thought they would lend themselves well to felt making. I also liked the idea of having the characters on one side and the landscapes on the other.

Preparatory drawings and pastel studies

Blending colours

Laying out the samples

I started out by getting the pupils to create the landscapes from the stories in pastels, as they blend well which helps in getting into the mindset for felt making, before making small sample pieces of felt. I wanted them to make samples for several reasons, firstly it's a good way to get used to a technique without the pressure of producing something 'finished.' Felt making is a very accessible process but like everything the more you know about it the more things you can do with it. I wanted the students to have a chance to encounter some of the potential problems and find out how to solve them before they started on their flags for the library. Secondly, throughout the project I have been encouraging the students to keep all their preparatory work (sketches, collages, print blocks and so on) so that at the end of the project we can each make a book showing the techniques we've experimented with and how we got to the finished piece.

Rainforest sample

Some of the finished samples

The samples the students produced were excellent. Building on their experiences from the collagraphs I reminded them that this wasn't the best technique for getting fine detail and often, simple bold shapes worked better. I also encouraged them to look at carefully blending their colours to create different effects. As well as creating lovely samples it was also great to see the pupils helping each other out and working together when it came to rolling the felt.

Laying out the flag pieces

Adding hot soapy water (not milk)

Starting the felting by rubbing gently

The next session we moved on to making our flag felts. This was really interesting as the flags needed to be laid out much bigger than the samples (felt shrinks to between 20-50% of the original size) and this change of scale seemed to be quite challenging for a lot of the pupils. They also seemed to forget, or chose not to heed, a lot of the things they'd learnt previously about laying out the fibres as finely as they could and in particular being gentle when we started the felting process. However, we overcame these challenges and each student produced a successful piece of felt. Felt making can be quite physical and I think the challenge of working hard on a process for two sessions on the trot was difficult for some of the students. They like instant results and to be on to the next thing!

Team work rolling the felt

Team work rolling the felt

We also made some felt beads

I mounted the finished felt onto coloured fabric so that when we came to make the flags all the pieces of work were roughly the same size. It was interesting seeing how different all the pieces were, reflecting the individual character of each child.

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