During October I will be exhibiting at Robinson-Gay Gallery on Market Street Hexham with a group of Hexham artists. Our exhibition is called ‘A Delicate Balance’.
At a time when some people still think the climate crisis is somehow not real, we wanted to show how delicately balanced the natural world is, how close to disaster we are. At the same time, a story of extinction and crisis is difficult to hear so we wanted to celebrate the beauty and diversity of natural life. We have to be aware of just what we will lose if we don’t all take responsibility for it. This is the ‘Delicate Balance’ – between pessimism and activism; between beauty and devastation; between fear and celebration.
I was inspired by reading a dystopian novel called Station Eleven by Emily StJohn Mandel where a troupe of actors and musicians tour a post apocalyptic north american landscape trying to keep alive the aspects of human culture they value and miss. I wanted to celebrate in some way the mind bending diversity of non-human life that we utterly take for granted. I devised the idea of an Extinction Masquerade where humans could mourn and celebrate the animals we’ve crowded out.
I will be showing a small selection of these animals, from a tropical tree frog to a more familiar, but no less endangered, badger. They are all wearable masks but also look good on the wall
For the past 3 Saturdays I have been wending my way to Benwell, Newcastle to run a Saturday morning workshop for children at Atkinson Road Primary. What a lovely idea for a school to supply regular, extra curricular art workshops with practising artists.
I was teaching the children about wet felting, and, with 3 sessions to play with and the help of a fabulous TA Mrs Duffy I could afford to try some different things
Week 1 saw the introduction – I don’t think the children knew what to make of it, how on earth was this fluff going to make a picture? We used Black Face Leicester wool in 3 different undyed shades to make a simple landscape, with a tree made from curly Iceland locks. (Apart from Usain who was inspired by the curly locks to make the face of the ‘GoCompare’ man!)
In Week 2 I wanted to show the children the fabulous colours of wool roving that are available so we made flowers. I made some basic templates but let the children choose the type and the colours they wanted to use -some were slightly over ambitious but everyone finished a piece for our beautiful bouquet.
In week 3 we had advanced to 3D felting. The kids just couldn’t see how what they had learned so far would enable them to make a 3D ‘pot’. We based our design on sunsets – more lush colours – and used circular plastic resists. The wool fibres are laid down and gently felted first on one side of the resist, then the other until they contain it. Another layer of fibre is overlaid for the sunset colours and well rubbed in. The piece – still a circle – is rinsed in hot water then cold and rubbed and rolled until it begins to pucker and shrink. Then we can cut a small hole on one edge or in the centre of the circle, remove the resist, then get your hands, fingers, spoons, whatever fits inside, to round out the hollow shape into a sphere. Resulting in lots of fabulous ‘pots’ that now looked more like planets than sunsets!
On May 13th I made my way to Throckley Primary School for a wet felting session with Mrs Wright and Yr1.
As we set up for the session one or two children snook in to take a peek at the exotic ‘artist’ who was coming in to visit them. We had a group of 38 children with a couple of teachers and assistants. They listened intently and obviously couldn’t wait to get started. The children really enjoyed the soft feel of the wool roving – calling it ‘cobwebby’ and ‘candy floss’.
Using luscious blues and greens they laid out the background for their sea themed piece, then made a picture in contrasting colours – lots of pink jellyfish, orange octopuses and the odd, rather ambitious ship! Then came the hard work -the wetting, soaping and rubbing that turns fluff into felt. Some sang along with sea shanties as if they were scrubbing the deck!
We had visits from curious teachers and the Head – I hope she was impressed by the focussed, industrious atmosphere.
We ran out of time for the final fulling session where the felt is rinsed in hot then cold water then rolled and rubbed in bubble wrap to make it shrink and properly felt together. The teachers did this the following Monday and were very happy with the result.
Mrs Wright told me the children really enjoyed their session and it was good to have an art activity they hadn’t tried before. You can see a lovely gallery here.
If you’d like a similar workshop for your school or group please get in touch.
I’ve been working in a first school for 10 years – the longest I think I have been in any job! I love working with children, witnessing that ‘lightbulb’ moment as understanding dawns never gets old. Just as pleasing is when a child who has been working very hard makes a quiet improvement and is, maybe for the first time, proud of the work they’ve produced.
Sadly though, it seems that art, my very favourite subject, is slowly being squeezed out. For a long time it has been seen as expendable in a crowded curriculum, policy makers not seeming to understand the value of free creativity as a basis for learning.
So, to preserve my sanity and because life is short, I have decided to embark on a new journey – as a travelling artist and crafter, taking my arty skills into Primary and First schools around the beautiful county of Northumberland. Devising lessons and workshops has been great fun and I can’t wait to share them. I have my first workshop at Throckley Primary School this week and will post about it later.