Friday, April 16, 2010

Thinking about Workshops

I didn't sleep much last night... I was thinking about art workshops. I've recently started doing them again, and although the children seem to enjoy them, I am not, to be honest. I get to work in some lovely venues, friendly schools, with children who show enthusiasm and respect and produce surprising things. There are nice parents and teachers. But the one thing that is lacking is materials, pretty much every time. I'm finding it hard to get my head around this, because when I went to school every child had a good quality watercolour box and a pencil case full of well-pigmented pencils. There were material cupboards full of brightly coloured papers, and we never had shortages of scissors. Materials just seemed to... materialise.
Now I am in charge, and they don't. Well, what do I expect? I'm not an art teacher, I can't demand that schools and parents buy stuff because I say so. They think I just want to tell the kids a story and then let them draw a pencil picture of a cat or something, so when I ask them "have you got art materials?" they say "yes, here" and give me some computer paper and pencils - completely adequate for an author's visit, after all the author is meant to be the main event themselves, and is supposed to put on an inspiring performance.
But I don't want to just tell them how they can all be future artists. By what authority could I do such a thing? I want them to be artists NOW. I don't want them to go home saying "I saw an artist and she said she liked my drawing", I want them to come home and say "Look what I made!"
I want to be like the people who taught me how to do things, not like the people who I was supposed to be interested in because they'd done something or other themselves and I just used to think: if you are so interesting, why do you have to bring a talking bunny?
(I understand about the bunnies now, kudos to people who really make them work. - Not me!)
I am starting to realise what I've been taking for granted - we might not all have had great art lessons in primary school (I didn't, really) but we sure had a highly pigmented box of paints each, including process colours and a little tube of zinc white: an introduction to proper art materials, not a toy.
I am sorry that my drawing workshops haven't provided materials like that.
There is a very obvious difference between my sock monkey workshops where I supply all the materials, and every other event where I don't. Both are good fun, but one leaves people going away happy and creative hugging a monkey. The other leaves them with a signed book, at best.
I will change this. No more cheap pencils and sugar paper. I'll source some real materials, take them to the venue myself, and we will make real art.
It'll take me some time to cost and organise it all. I'm going to try and learn some more from my mother, who is a great art teacher by the way. I'm going to collect enough decent stuff to let thirty people be properly creative at a time, and keep it in a suitcase that I'll take wherever I visit.
Until that's sorted out properly I'm putting drawing workshops and school visits on hold... but this is too important to me to do any less than the best I possibly can.


Rima said...

Really Interesting Viviane :)
I think you should put a shout out here for donations for this supplies suitcase and you'll get Stuff Galore in no time :)
I bet your workshops are brilliant.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Ha, thank you. - No, they aren't brilliant yet, they are fun, which is a good start. I've got some ideas how to get some stuff together, at the moment I'm collecting ideas for materials to use with children who aren't dressed for messy activities, just to avoid complaints and ruined fitted carpets.
If it goes really well I'll try and add a bunch of smocks to hand out and really get painting...
But for starters I want to get a load of collage paper, richly pigmented sticks of colour of some sort - pencils and crayons and such - and some easy system for using PVA glue without too much mess...
Lots to think about!

alexia said...

You can buy these squeezy travel cosmetic containers at superdrugs. They used to be under a £ but that might have gone up. You could bet them in two sizes too. They are for moisturisers and things but you could put PVA in them to distribute among workshopers and just refill them..?

Viviane Schwarz said...

Yesss! Little Squeeziebottles! Genius! Man, you truly are the queen of thrifty art-making and if this gets going I'll consult you all the time. That, and little glue-paddles for all - that sorts out the most expensive part of collage workshops!

Sarah said...

That's a great post, Viv! I totally agree.

I taught art one day a week for a year and I ended up spending a lot of my own money on art supplies and not getting reimbursed. Just because it made such a difference seeing the kids being proud of their work and thinking myself that it was really good stuff. Oil pastels on quality black paper was a particular hit (in a workshop after we'd studied work by Aristarkh Lentulov), I remember.

The only thing I don't like about sourcing stuff ourselves, even if we get reimbursed for it, it that it means we have to store the stuff in our flats and studios and carry it ourselves. That gives us space problems and back problems. :(

Viviane Schwarz said...

Exactly! I worry about that as well. It's hard enough to store my own art materials...
I'd like to ask you some time about what you did, that must have been really good practise, teaching once a week. I need more of that so I don't have to revert to "oh dear, just do whatever" when things don't go to plan.
I remember one workshop I pushed through anyway and the kids somehow made good stuff out of hardly anything at all, and in the end got shouted at by the teachers for being "too messy".