Young ProspectUs ‘A precious hoard’

‘A precious hoard’ was my immediate response when I saw the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) students’ work displayed last week at the Taunton Flower Show. The centre piece was a collection of characterful ceramics that the students had made on a workshop, guided and encouraged by  Somerset artist Megan Players.Inspired by the work of ceramicist,  Claire Curneen, the project took influence from ‘Tending the Fires.’ Created for Collect, her porcelain installation entwines winged figures and dismembered limbs, jostling among branches, broken pottery and birds. Certain elements are gilded in gold, suggesting golden memories, or highlights amid the good and bad experiences that make up everyone’s lives. 

Among the characters created by the PRU students were some incredible self portraits, lots of cats and a discerning owl. The PRU staff also joined in with the making and SAW’s Natalie Parsley, who has been documenting the project was unable to resist getting her hands covered in clay.

The quality of the resulting work is quite astounding and I think this not only lay in the students willingness to embrace the project but in the quality of the materials they were provided. So often, due to lack of funds or the thought that perhaps certain students simply would not appreciate the more expensive materials, that they would be wasted, results in them being given cheap paints and equipment – which in turn means the outcomes often look messy, colours are muddied and of course appear amateur.

Megan provided Crank Clay which has a gritty texture and is great for creating large forms and can withstand a little over handling. The pieces were left au natural, without an overall glaze, and the students selected highlights that were finished with a real gold lustre. The result gives an ancient, ritualistic sense to the sculptures and displayed en masse evoke a newly discovered treasure hoard that could sit comfortably in any museum. This sense of preciousness was accentuated by the delicate pieces on display that were created on Jacky Oliver’s cuttlefish casting workshop; again good quality materials were provided and the results were jewel like. Displayed on the ink stained wood blocks carved on Jane Mowat’s print workshop they looked quite sophisticated.

The general feedback from the adults viewing the SAW PRU Project stand was one of admiration, and also that they too would like to benefit from such workshops, one asked me where in Taunton could they attend pottery classes. Some took up the opportunity there and then as Megan Players was on hand offering drop in workshops where for one pound, you could spend as little or as much time as you wished getting to grips with Crank Clay. When I left at lunchtime her area was quite busy with all ages keen to have a go.

It wasn’t all natural, tonal hues on display, as strong splashes of bold colour made up the patchwork of tactile machine embroidered wall hangings. Apparently it was the boys who took to this workshop with gusto, relishing in experimenting creatively with a sewing machine – neat straight lines were not the order of the day, instead cutting, slashing and wonky lines were king.

Graphic designer, Rick Crane, spent a day with the students creating a branded logo for ‘their’ project. Although not such a hands on workshop as the other sessions,  the students soon discovered by sharing their sketch books that they had a greater understanding of what graphic design entails than they had at first perceived. Collectively the finished design that they produced depicts a colourful exploding volcano. The volcano symbolises the frustration and anger that the students occasionally feel, but demonstrates how this energy can be spent positively by being creative.

The Young ProstpectUs Project was set up as a pilot scheme but gauging from the overwhelmingly  positive response of its participants and the quality of the work produced I do hope this project is able to continue and is embraced by other PRU centres within the county.  Beccy Swaine, who oversees SAW’s educational projects, is optimistic for future developments thanks to recent recognition by the Arts Council awarding National Portfolio status to Somerset Art Works. This will enable the team to confidently seek match funding.

For me, The Young ProspectUs Project highlights the potential of youngsters, who for varying personal reasons have been excluded from regular schooling. Their time participating in this dedicated programme demonstrates that they do have skills worthy of encouragement and it is sad that many schools are not supported fully enough for these students to remain within their local area to study, but have to travel further afield to find a more equipped and understanding education provider.

Participants on this inaugural Young ProspectUs programme have successfully improved self esteem and some can now confidently visualise a future continuing their education within a college environment. The thumbs up self portrait pictured as the header for this article sums it up perfectly.

links connected to this post

CLAIRE CURNEEN

MEGAN PLAYERS

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley

Bridgwater and Taunton College Workshops: 20th – 30th July

MEGAN HANDS 2

Over six days, students from Northfields and the Taunton Centre PRUs attended workshops by Karina Thompson and Megan Players at Bridgwater & Taunton College. These workshops were selected as an extension of the previous ones held throughout April and May. The aim of this phase of the project was for students to be allowed more time to develop a piece of work both individually and as a group as well as experience the college environment and access its facilities.

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Across two of those days, Karina Thompson ran a textiles workshop; encouraging students to explore the potential of sewing and embellishing machines. The first session saw two young men from Northfields try the sewing machines. They admitted to having had little or no previous experience, yet very quickly took to having a go! They practised using the needle to draw onto different types of fabric and trying different programmed stitches. Using the analogy of learning to drive a car, Karina was great at making students feel comfortable at being allowed to make mistakes and the importance for taking time to familiarise with the machines. It seemed to work and the silence and concentration from the students was testament to their engagement in the activity. Students also tried the college’s embellishing machines and made some felt, badge-like pieces. I thought the freedom of allowing the students to first try and then create what they wanted to make worked really well. Given more time one of the students would have likely continued their drawing piece that they had made using the sewing machine; it was really rewarding for both them and me to see what they had created.

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Staff also participated in Karina’s workshop, a slashing technique in which layers of fabric are sewn, cut and then distressed with a wire brush was really successful. They often told me how valuable it was learning these skills that would benefit next year’s students as ideas and techniques could be fed into future lessons. It also opened a dialogue with the college and technicians who were very supportive in allowing access and advice in using the equipment.

During these sessions the idea of creating pockets, or ‘things in which to hold things’ arose through a conversation with students. In Karina’s second workshop staff and students worked together cutting up samples they had previously made to make a collage of pockets that could contain the pewter pieces made with Jacky Oliver or thoughts and aspirations written on luggage tags to hang on the outside.

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The most successful aspect of this project I feel from having observed and participated was the way in which none of it was forced. The decisions have been a dialogue with support from staff and adapting from the artists; students have always steered the workshops to make what they choose and have been encouraged to try everything but been allowed to develop in the things in which they enjoyed the most. It is also important to note that these workshops happened at the end of the GCSE final year for many students. Those who came commented on enjoying the chance to do something practical after having sat so many written exams.

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The other five workshop days were with artist, Megan Players in the ceramics department. The kilns, the potter’s wheel, cupboards of glazes and racks with other students’ work waiting to be collected meant that all of the college environments were particularly exciting for students and we talked to them about how they were hoping to study here the following academic year.

During Megan’s workshops students were given crank clay to make pinch pots, which later they would add their own personalised tops to turning their pots into Egyptian inspired canopic jars! This idea related to the theme which emerged in Karina’s workshop of creating a vessel, a space in which to contain or hold something. ‘Holding’ became a really important word for talking about holding dreams, aspirations and knowing when to let go of some of the more negative things in these young people’s lives. Tiny scrolls of paper tied with string held secret and individual messages written by each student and will later go inside their pieces once they’ve been fired.

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Five days allowed much more time for production and students from both PRUs were prolific! Many students making more than just their pot and working on branches, leaves, a portrait bust and other objects to add to the group display we were making. Lots of exclamations of, “Look what I made!” and even a “Can I take a photo for my mum?” as students reflected each day on their efforts.

A touch of gold is still to be added to each pot, Megan explained during the firing process which seemed to generate a sense of pride and importance to what the students were making. The gold signifying a kind of hallmark of worth and approval that feels very deserving of all the students and staff who have taken part and shown us that they are motivated, conscientious and more undertaking than preconceived, often negative, stereotype of PRUs. One of the most memorable moments I experienced in this project was when a student taught me how to make a pinch pot. They explained and showed me how to mould the clay in my hand and use my thumb and fingers to pinch, forming the sides with the other. Another observation of a student who had made a pot which hadn’t been so successful showed resilience in making a second pot which was much improved. Generally all the students who came over the five days spent a minimum of three hours, in most cases far longer at carefully perfecting what they were making which was great to see and meant that the results were all the more personal. “Can I make my cat?” was mentioned more than once, as many people used their pets for inspiration and we did get many as well as a dog, birds and organic shapes and forms made, each one reflecting a story or something of their maker.

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I like their enthusiasm,” commented Megan watching students literally get stuck-in to the physicality of making. Everyone was very quick to take part and not fazed by the challenge of making their own pot, “I love the feel of it [working with the clay],” remarked one student who was ambitiously starting to sculpt a large portrait. Students were interested in the firing process and as before in Megan’s workshop the session allowed students to feel at ease and talk. It has been a pleasure for me to work alongside all the students involved throughout this process, they have been very welcoming and forthcoming to try new things. I believe that the number of students who participated and outcomes they produced and developed further in their art lessons is but one example of evidence that makes a case for why more PRU students should have access to working with artists, as it opens up new ways in which to communicate and develops confidence in learning something new. The lasting impression I had from a student on the project, “Didn’t think I’d like it until I tried it,” summarises for me the shift in their attitudes that should be matched by our own open-mindedness to providing opportunities and inspiring these young people.

A video documenting these workshops made by Nathan Sibley will be available to see here soon and with the support of SAW the outcomes and other work made throughout the project will be exhibited for the public to see at the Taunton Flower Show this August.

Thinking Ahead…

Young ProspectUs was set up as a pilot project. Positive responses from the PRU students and teachers, and from the artists involved, have exceeded our expectations so we are already thinking about what next?

How can we work with more PRUs across the county? Work in community settings with young people not in education, employment or training? Work in disadvantaged areas with low social engagement?

Carol Carey (SAW Director) is busy exploring fundraising opportunities and Nathan Sibley (SAW Bursary Assistant) has made us a new 2 minute film to support new funding applications, have a look here:

 

Jane Mowat Woodcut Printmaking Workshop: April 26th

A comfortable silence filled the room as students concentrated on their wood carving, well nearly silent if not for the rhythmic sound of tapping as mallets were wielded to steer the carving gauges into blocks of wood. Concentrated faces and active hands could be seen delicately cutting along lines as they followed the design of their drawings on the wood. The workshop on Wednesday 27th with printmaker Jane Mowat was a very productive day!

Jane Mowat Workshop 2

Students at the Taunton Centre are beginning the busy exam session so the change from revision to something more hands-on and practical saw a good attendance of students at Jane’s workshop. Today’s session would give students the opportunity to make their own woodcut from which to make prints. Looking at the blocks of wood provided (elm, ash, oak) and images of woodcuts that inspired Jane’s own printmaking practice, such as Shiko Munakata, were starting points for showing the possibilities of what could be achieved.

Jane Mowat Workshop 1

It was not long before sketchbooks were out and students were drawing or tracing imagery from their books onto their blocks of wood. Students drew designs of leaves, a Renault car logo, a brain cell, a forest scene and flowers; a confidence demonstrated from each in selecting their own chosen image based on the creative work they had already made. It was good to see a progression of ideas developed from work that they had started in their sketchbooks.

Keen to progress quickly some students spent less time drawing, eager to try the tools on the table. Attempting anything new is often met with some hesitation and questioning, “how do I hold the mallet?” “How hard do I hit to cut the wood?” There was a willingness from all students to try cutting into the wood to carve their design and with practice and the guidance of Jane those questions were soon answered. The amount of control needed and discipline to not to be heavy-handed or aggressive in using the tools were useful skills to learn as I witnessed students learn to angle the tools effectively so as to create shallow or thinner cuts when necessary.

Jane Mowat Workshop 3

When it came to inking-up the wood blocks, again most students were keen to follow the entire process through and see their work evolve to the next stage. Jane asked students to select their colour of ink and helped them in rolling it out ready to apply to their wood blocks. Students looked pleased to see their prints revealed as they lifted them off the block and what was particularly satisfying about this process was that it produced two art works, the resulting print on paper as well as the actual carving of the block itself! There were also some good examples where students had responded to the grain of the wood using imagery such as leaves or forests.

In the afternoon one student grew in confidence and seemed to surprise them self at how quickly they picked-up the skill of working with the wood cutting tools so produced a second carving on the back of their first block. Jane explained how the potential for variation in using different coloured inks, papers and revisiting the block for a second cutting to refine it further were all possibilities for developing the work. The blocks were left for students to take more prints from at a future date. For students that had drawn more ambitious imagery they demonstrated perseverance in the physical endurance it took to carve their block, remarking that it ‘was hard’ and that it made your ‘fingers feel weird’. They stayed working past the end of the session to see the result of their hard work. The timing of Jane’s workshop was good for the Taunton Centre as it seemed to provide a different set of practical skills in what is a stressful exam-based time of year and it was very encouraging to see students choosing to come back to finish their blocks despite their attention being divided by exams happening throughout the day.

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“It was really inspiring to teach in a totally different context than my normal one across the campus – or, for that matter the printmaking workshops I do for adults in my studio.”-Jane Mowat

Rick Crane Graphic Design Workshop: April 19th

No one ever said working in a Pupil Referral Unit was going to be easy. I and the visiting artists have always had the warmest of welcomes from staff and students, though for the first time during this week’s workshop at the Taunton Centre I realised two things; firstly just how challenging it can sometimes be for staff to engage a seemingly uninterested group of teenagers in an activity or learning and secondly, that I have learnt not to underestimate the untapped potential and sometimes hidden desire to learn in any of their students.

The beginning of Rick Crane’s workshop was initially met with a post-Easter break apprehensive start from students. No fault of Rick’s whose enthusiasm in setting up his Mac and laying out his t-shirts for students to see did eventually coax some of them into inspecting his professional, colourful and sharp looking designs. Visiting artists in this project, like Rick, have soon learnt to adapt to not using a traditional, structured lesson plan and Rick was great at responding to what the students did take an interest in. After all, even to the most uninterested student, it is not every day that you get to see t-shirts, notepads and images designed by a working free-lance graphic designer.

“Can I have one of these?” one student asked in response to seeing one of Rick’s self-designed stickers. “Can you put these on a phone case?” Another asked. There is a lot of interest in personalisation that has been present in nearly all of the workshops so far. Soon we were discussing shoes, fashion and brands; unbeknownst to the students they knew more about graphic design than what they perhaps first thought.

Rick Crane 1

Students Art Work

Today’s workshop was always going to be less practical in some ways, as Rick explained his own process for creating his designs begins often in drawing, sketching, words and building up his source material from which to generate ideas from. The aim of today’s session was to develop a logo/brand for the Young ProspectUs project and explore the whole process from ideas to finished artwork and how it could then be applied to appropriate merchandise such as t-shirts and stickers.

Students became more animated when asked to share work from their own sketchbooks which led to a brainstorming exercise whereby Rick wrote colour, image and word ideas that students felt represented them or the Young ProspectUs project. “There is a lot of creativity in this room,” Rick shared with the students and I would agree that it was inspiring to see the students take pride in showing us work they had created. Leaves, ink splots, Aztec designs, flowers were symbols pulled from students sketchbooks that Rick explained could be adapted into designs on t-shirts or for the logo. One student picked up on the reoccurring theme of the Aztec design in her sketchbook and a stitch pattern she had used previously in Karina’s workshop.

Rick Crane 2

Words such as adaptable, transition, together, stepping-stone, moving-on, colourful, texture and shape were generated by students from the brainstorm. The motif of using a triangle soon transformed into the idea of a volcano and how that represented some of the anger or frustration students sometimes felt. We talked about dreams and aspirations, what students wanted to do after school and more motifs such as stars, rays of colour or light and diamonds soon appeared. It was encouraging to see one student deciding that they wanted to create their own tie-dye t-shirt in the afternoon session, another was keen to see what their photo would look like on a t-shirt using the Red Bubble site that Rick explained he used to produce and sell his designs. This same student then spent the afternoon drawing logo designs and sketches with Rick.

The resulting outcomes were a series of brainstormed ideas as well as the potential opportunities to develop the design of the logo with students and receive their feedback and design ideas.ProspectUS logo blk

 

Karina Thompson Textiles Workshop: March 28th

Using a sewing machine for the first time, making visual decisions, design and being selective with materials for creating items from scratch were some of the skills explored in Karina Thompson’s textiles workshop at the Taunton Centre on March 28th.

Karina uses sewing machines to make her own artworks and also works for a business that makes them. Showing examples of how sewing machines can be used in a variety of creative ways, Karina’s confidence put even the more hesitant students at ease.

Karina Workshop 1

Students practised with pre-programmed decorative stitches and drawing free-style with the machines. After some initial hesitation one student quickly grew in confidence and decided, “I’m going to make a make-up bag for my holiday,” and began the process of selecting fabric, measuring, cutting, decorating with the sewing machine, structural sewing using pins and eventually adding ribbon to create a draw-string at the top.

This process required a lot of work, time and patience; students made sophisticated visual decisions on which fabrics and buttons would potentially look ‘good’ or not. Karina gave assistance but consistently challenged and reiterated the importance of the students doing as many of the processes themselves, creating a greater sense of pride and achievement. The workshop also explored learning the confidence to make work and not worry about whether the outcome is perfect and that mistakes can be altered or even incorporated into the finished design of a piece of work.

“Can I stay longer?” a student asked, choosing to stay for the whole day so that she could not only finish her own bag but finish a small purse that had been started by one of the staff during the morning. One member of staff commenting, that this particular student had, “focused on this workshop longer than anything.”

“I know what I want to make.”

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In the afternoon two more students joined, one making a phone case, the other a camouflage surface using cut-out felt shapes that were tagged on to fabric using a micro-tagger gun. Karina brought with her a book of military equipment that included patches, medals and badges as inspiration for one particular student interested in the military.

There is much potential to take these new skills and ideas further; making products such as bags/purses/phone cases and adding personalised features such as initials, names, words or bespoke hand-finished details with buttons, sequins or thread. “Cool,” as I heard more than one student say throughout the day perhaps best summarises the sense of enthusiasm felt from the students.

Materials were left to finish the work started and the staff also gained by learning new skills, “It’s really helpful for us to have artists like Karina here to show us new techniques and skills that we wouldn’t normally have access to.”

Karina Workshop Outcomes

Megan Players Workshop: Portraits of the Self in clay -March 22nd

Busy pairs of hands from students at Northfields Education Centre, moulded, sculpted and crafted their own individual clay self-portraits in a workshop led by artist Megan Players on Wednesday March 22nd

MEGAN PLAYERS STUDENT WORK

The workshop began with an introduction to Megan’s work, examples of clay self-portraits and images of figurative sculptural work by artist Clare Curneen. Students were encouraged to comment on depictions of the human form and the subject of ‘self’ represented in these examples. Observations such as ‘subtle’, ‘sensitive’ ‘delicate’ and ‘softness’ were shared. The intent of Megan’s workshops to be exactly that, sensitive depictions of the self rather than a literal likeness.

The portraits will be a reflection of our essence which will be elaborated with symbolic references to the things, material or emotional, we aspire towards.”    Megan Players

MP GROUP MAKING

There was something truly inspiring about the attitudes of willingness and acceptance that students demonstrated, without question or hesitation as they threw themselves into the activity of manipulating a sizeable lump of crank clay into self-portraits. It is notable how it was the adults and not the students, who, at first approached the activity with self-conscious hesitation.

MP GROUP MORNING 4

As the morning workshop session progressed, a relaxed atmosphere allowed for conversations about the forms that students were making; an anthropomorphic animal/human figure inspiring stories around that character, another looming form emerging from a student’s nightmares into something more positive and less scary by taking physical form; a third student spoke about their future aspirations on their college course next year. This same student also later remarked, “I never thought I’d like doing art before…

Skills of working intuitively in response to the form that was emerging from the clay were developed and received well by students, all of whom took time to look at what they were making and think how best respond to the shapes and positions of shoulders, arms and posture being formed. Other skills of working with negative space and proportion were taught as students progressed to refining their figures. At all times this was never overtly a technical task with ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’, but promoted a conscientious way of looking, evaluating and making visual judgements, responding to the work in front of them. Activities that saw the students develop in confidence both verbally and in a commitment to resolving their pieces of work.

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Megan introduced clay working tools as the figures began to emerge from the clay and fluidly responded to the developments of each student’s work, working one-to-one on discussing their pieces and offering technical advice of how they could attach parts such as arms, to their creations and how to make facial features. In the end one student seemingly surprised at what they’d produced, commented “This actually looks something like me.”

The simplicity and direct nature of this workshop allowed for quality making time, sustained concentration and reflection that produced results which were individual and pertinent to the thoughts, creativity and feelings of their makers.

Jacky Oliver Workshops: Cuttlefish Casting – March 8th & March 15th

“Can we use the blowtorch?” is an encouraging question to hear from a student at the beginning of one of Jacky Oliver’s workshops. Jacky is an artist working mainly in metal, having trained originally as a jeweller before developing a career working as an artist. Bringing examples of her own work to show students, she led workshops at two Pupil Referral Centres (PRUs) in Taunton  – Northfields and Taunton Centre.

It’s been a great privilege to start off a brilliant project, working with such enthusiastic students and staff. Everyone worked enthusiastically to create individual artefacts. It will be great to see how they develop their skills in the other materials as the project develops.” –Jacky Oliver

Working with groups of five or six 14-17 year olds Jacky Oliver ran cuttlefish casting sessions with plenty of hands-on opportunities to make, think and do. From the beginning, students curiously investigate a box of cuttlefish bones and touch the metalwork examples Jacky has brought with her. This was an intriguing start!

Comments of, “I’ve never done this before,” reaffirmed a genuine sense of interest from students at the opportunity to try something new. The activities of casting, fabrication in wire and sheet metal, forging, etching and enamelling feature in Jacky’s metal workshops; they are skills and techniques that she both demonstrates and enables students to try themselves.

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Students drew designs to carve into the flat surface of the cuttlefish bone, creating either open or two-part moulds. The sound of chatter soon became replaced by the sound of scratching and digging tools as both staff and students intently explored the resistance of the soft, calcium based material they were carving and drawing into.

“It’s like meringue,” one student exclaimed, surprised it seemed at the softness and malleability of the material.There was an interest from some students to create objects with a commercial-function in mind as potential gifts of, a ring, heart, initial or the word mum in text were all explored. Staff at both centres got involved in the activity, picking up some new skills themselves and encouraging less confident students.

Under the supervision of Jacky the students proceeded to melt sheets of pewter with a blowtorch to pour into the moulds. The potential sense of ‘danger’ and being allowed to work with the blowtorch and later in the session a heavy hammer, piercing saw and tin snips was a source of delight to students, a chance to try something new.

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“What other metals could we use?”

“How hot does the pewter have to be?”

Fishy smells filled the air as the molten pewter filled the cuttlefish moulds and the sense of impatience and suspense as students waited for their designs to cool and be revealed. “That’s beautiful,” one student commented upon holding her heart-shaped casting for the first time. The accidental colour formations and patina from the texture of the cuttlefish bone creating a source of enthusiasm at both workshops.

Jacky Oliver TC

Whilst it cools Jacky shows students one of the castings that has just been poured.

In the second half of Jacky’s workshops students refined their castings with a piercing saw or tin snips and used a hammer to press letter stamps into their metal-work pieces. At Northfields one student commented, “that felt good” when working with the heavy hammer pressing letters into metal.

Students were exploring ideas to incorporate new skills into their other art projects and their Bronze Arts Award. Staff were keen to reuse the casting moulds and to try other materials such as wax in them and students at both sessions were introduced to the idea that they could continue working with these processes after the workshop and show their responses at Taunton Flower Show later this year.

The workshop concluded with a box of glistening objects that had been produced and a sense of accomplishment felt by those present. It is telling, that both sessions overran due to interest from the students and when one says, “is that the time already?” it is safe to assume that it has been a good day.

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