Sunday, 2 August 2015

Giant Fishes: St. Bede's Puppet Workshops

Giant Fish!

Back at the end of June/start of July I worked at St. Bede's Primary School (where I'd been working on the Seven Stories Project) with Year 5 making some puppets for this years Puppet Parade which is part of Carlisle's Pageant celebrations. As we did last year Prism Arts are running a summer school as well as working with schools to create puppets for the parade.

Fish head designs

Fish head designs

Fish head designs

The theme this year is the Jacobites (and more specifically the second Jacobite rebellion) so we've been looking at Jacobean embroideries and carvings for inspiration. Carlisle has a strong connection to the Jacobites and Bonny Prince Charlie so there is lots to inspire us in and around the city.

Building up the features with newspaper

Building up the features with newspaper

Building up the features with newspaper


Jacobean embroideries are characterised by large, stylised natural motifs, in particular floral motifs but birds and animals also feature. For the school workshops we chose to make fish because the shape means even with limited time and experience we can create puppets with big impact for the pageant.

Paper mache!

Paper mache!

Paper mache!

The fish puppets are created from large milk bottles which we covered with paper-mache and painted and the bodies are made from embroidery hoops joined together with strips of fabric. This gives them an articulated body which can be used to great effect when parading.

Fish heads on the windowsill
Drying out

It was really interesting working with a different class, having worked with Year 4 for so long I'd got to know them well and had a good idea how they would respond to different activities. Working with Year 5 was quite different, the class as a whole were less confident with creative activities and some of the things I thought they would find easy they really struggled with. For example, tearing the strips of fabric to make the fish bodies seemed to present them with quite a lot of difficulties.

Joining the rings together for the body

Choosing and cutting fabric

Cutting strips

I started the workshops off by asking the students to design their fish heads, the class already had sketchbooks so I got them to work in these. Some of the students got stuck in straight away whilst others really struggled and were very worried about getting it wrong, despite my reassurances that these were just ideas and didn't need to be master pieces. With a bit of encouragement they came up with some great ideas and designs. Then came the first major challenge...

Colour designs

Painting

Painting

The class was split up into groups of three to make their fish and the next part of the process was to amalgamate their designs into one. Some of the groups worked really well, taking a bit from each child's design and coming up with a design that used all their ideas. For other groups this was really difficult, with some students finding it difficult to let go of their ideas and accept other peoples. During the two days I was with this class I did a lot of mediating!

Building up the bodies

Ripping fabric

Working on the bodies

Once the designs were agreed (more or less) we used newspaper and masking tape to build up the shapes of the fish heads. Again, some of the students worked really well and created some great structures while others struggled with working in 3D. Once we'd built up the heads we covered them in paper mache. Again, team working was a bit of an issue for some of the children and I had to rescue some of the paper sculpting they'd done as they kept pulling it apart all trying to do something different at once! However, by the end of the morning we had seven fish heads all covered with paper mache.

Finished Fish

Finished Fish

We then moved on to making the bodies. I had thought that this would be the easier bit but again some of the children found it difficult to compromise and respect others choices and they also struggled with the practical side. We used the tables as a measure for how long the strips should be but still ended up with quite a variety of lengths! In contrast, some of the groups worked really well, organising themselves so that one person selected fabric, another cut it and the third person tied it to the rings. By the end of the first day all the fish had partial bodies and I was ready for a cup of tea!

Cat Fish

Cat Fish

Finished Fish

The second session was much easier, partly I think because the students knew what to expect a bit more and partly because they could see how it was all going to work. We began by working in sketchbooks again, this time looking at colours for the fish heads, before moving onto painting the now dry and tough fish heads. Most of the groups came up with really imaginative and quirky designs. Despite my best efforts a minion did make it through the net, so to speak, but it was better than them doing nothing!

Finished Fish

Shane the Rainbow Shark

Finished Fish (check out his eyebrows!)

There were similar team work issues to the first week but with a bit of perseverance these were overcome. Once the heads were dry we worked on finishing the bodies. I then took the heads and bodies home and attached them together.

Minion Fish

Despite it's challenges this was a good project to work on. I think that working together is really important so although they may not have liked it much I think it was good for the students and the sense of satisfaction when they saw the finished pieces I hope made up for the stresses. Most of them also enjoyed the chance to experiment a bit and get messy and many of them were really keen to come down and join the pageant so hopefully I'll see a lot of them on the 22nd for the parade.

All the fish on my bed!

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