Ways of Seeing

Last Friday we had an Art Day at Eversfield. Mrs Beech came in especially to work with a group of Form 5 pupils. Her aim was to provide the children with sufficient time and space to explore images and media at their own pace. Above all, she wanted to instil in them the idea that there is no problem if you make a mistake and that your best work is likely to be produced when you feel relaxed and you enjoy what you are doing.

As we tend to learn by our mistakes, the fear of failure can have a debilitating effect on children in all subjects, not just Art. As teachers, we endeavour to value all contributions made in a lesson and, where a wrong answer is given, to use that answer as a springboard for further thinking. Yet we still find that some children hang back, being over cautious. It’s very easy for us to read a wonderful novel or admire a fantastic piece of art and to see only perfection. We forget about the twenty drafts of the novel the author might have produced before achieving what they wanted, or that the painter may have spent weeks and months adjusting their image, making tiny adjustments before pronouncing themselves satisfied. That is why, at school, we put as much emphasis on the process we follow as we do on the finished result. Reflecting on her experience, India said she was very pleased to have learnt some techniques to help her feel less worried when drawing. Shyla observed perceptively that her concentration improved when she allowed herself to calm down.

The children had the opportunity to spend all day in the Art Room, where Mrs Beech took great care to ensure that she fostered a calm atmosphere throughout so the pupils felt secure and confident enough to experiment. In most lessons, before they start work, Mrs Beech leads pupils through a short session of mindfulness. Even something as simple as placing your hand on your belly and being still for a minute is sufficient to help children focus. She also plays soothing music to add to the feeling of serenity as the pupils work.

Too often when children are asked to reproduce an image, they are dissatisfied with the result because they haven’t given themselves long enough to look at it properly. They find themselves recording what they think they can see, rather than what is actually there on the page in front of them. Mrs Beech’s strategy last Friday was to present the children with a portrait image almost completely concealed by a separate piece of paper. The portrait was also upside down. Gradually, the children were to reveal more of the drawing, marking on their paper with pencil exactly what they could see. The results they achieved by doing this were astonishing. As a second stage, the children traced their line drawing using pen, finally applying colour and mounting the finished work on a background of coloured tissue.

After lunch, the group tackled a Leonardo da Vinci portrait incorporating texture and tone. This was much harder. Henry couldn’t resist the temptation to uncover the drawing before he had finished in order to check his progress, but the children all showed great perseverance. As Max put it, the work was “hard but worth it.”

For some children, like Lucy, the entire day was a great treat. She loves art, and both she and her mother were pleased that she’d had an extended period of time to do something she enjoys so much. Eva learnt a valuable lesson to take forward in her work, that when you make a mistake, you can just find a way to go over it. For other children, even if they wouldn’t consider themselves particularly keen artists, the relaxing ambience of the day and the calming music proved enjoyable. 

At the end of the day, parents were invited upstairs to view what had been achieved. They were all thrilled and impressed, not only with their own child’s work but with the efforts everyone had made throughout the session. All in all, it was a highly successful day, and Mrs Beech will be running more days like this with children in Forms 5 and 6 later in the year. The last word, however, should go to Zayna. She loved everything about the day and went home buzzing with confidence and enthusiasm. “I never knew I could do this well,” she said as she looked at her work. Well, you can, Zayna; we know you can. For Mrs Beech, and for all of us at Eversfield, when we see reactions like that, we are glad that, of all the other things we could have done, we chose to be teachers.