This art project was delivered to Year 3 pupils at Mordiford Primary School, Herefordshire by creative practitioner and teacher Fliss O’Neill over a total of four days spread across the month of October 2018.
The aims were to explore Mythology; with a dragon myth linked to the village of Mordiford and to explore and represent myths from the European countries that are part of the schools’ Erasmus Student Exchange Programme. The school expressed the wish for all pupils to have access to view and interact with the finished work, with a preference for it to be displayed outside. Fliss devised a plan for a ceramic tile mural to answer the brief that included a visit to Haugh Woods (home of the Mordiford dragon!) with the children, as part of their Forest School activities where natural materials were collected to use.
Day 1: Friday 5 October – Half Day
INTRODUCING THE PROJECT, DISCUSSING & EXPLORING IDEAS, MAKING DRAWINGS
Fliss introduced the children to her plans for the project and enjoyed a very positive and interactive discussion with them to establish their understanding of the meanings, differences and purposes of Myths, Legends and Fairytales. It was impressive how much 7 year olds knew and how confidently they were able to contribute.
Day 2: Friday 12 October – Full Day
3 PART ACTIVITIES: a) STORYTELLING OF MYTHS & LEARNING ABOUT ANOTHER ARTIST
b) FOREST SCHOOL VISIT TO HAUGH WOODS TO COLLECT NATURAL MATERIALS
c) PREPARING THE CLAY; ROLLING OUT SLABS, IMPRESSING TEXTURES USING COLLECTED NATURAL MATERIALS
It was the WETTEST day imaginable! We began in the classroom with some visual stimulus and learning before togging out in wellies and raincoats for a visit with Forest School to Haugh Woods.
a) We looked at a PowerPoint about artist Antoni Gaudi to learn about his work, examining some of the details of his buildings to demonstrate how natural forms inspired his designs and creations and specifically those that relate to dragons.
We watched mini YouTube videos of myths from the countries that are part of the Erasmus school exchange.
b) At Forest School we collected textures and surfaces would make good textures in clay, we had planned to make a giant dragon on the ground using materials we found in the woods but it was SO wet that we abandoned this idea and instead we drank hot chocolate and then the children did what 7 year olds do and had the best fun sliding down the hill between the trees and clambering about getting muddy as well as wet! Creative chaos! When we got back to school and changed back to school uniform – some had wet socks or no socks and dripping wet hair but everyone behaved so well and no one complained. Fair play!
c) After lunch the children learned how to roll out slabs of clay, sorted through the mornings’ collection and rolled or ‘impressed’ the objects to make textured surfaces in the clay. They loved it and were very proud of their achievements.
Day 3: Tuesday 16 October – Full Day
Our aims for the day were to build the mural; Fliss had made giant clay based tiles and had experimented with ways to create an Erasmus dragon based on the shapes of the countries from the school’s exchange programme. She shared her ideas and basic plan layout with the class.
Mr Fair the class teacher and two TA’s were to be the ‘assistants’ for this stage of the proceedings. They too learned a number of creative skills and tips for working with clay during the activities- Mr Fair openly admitted to not believing he had artistic talent found himself taking part and subconsciously completing a CPD session showing his class that he too could learn to express himself and have fun making art.
We then began sorting out the textured clay slabs made the previous Friday and decided which textures suited different features to use on our mural. ‘Pointy Scales Leathery Wings Sharp Spikes Spikey Claws Licking Flames Curly Smoke’ In each group of 5/6, an adult supervised the children whilst they used clay knives to cut around paper templates of shapes placed over the textured clay slabs; the shapes were laid out on the big clay base slabs and traced around them to mark them out on the mural.
After break we refreshed our memories of the key aspects of myths we’d seen in the videos, for example:
Sicily = Cyclops eye; Turkey = Snake and basket of grapes; Spain = Maiden; England (1)= Knight; Poland = Cave under a castle; England (2) = Woods and a Barrel and Portugal = Roses.
We got out the sketchbooks and everyone chose one or more of the myths to illustrate; Mr Fair and Fliss chose some to use on the mural inside each of the country shapes.
At the end of the day, the completed tiles were taken home by Fliss to be dried out before being put in the kiln to be bisque fired. Because of the size and thickness of the tiles this process took a whole lot longer than originally anticipated which meant that the plans for the children to glaze the tiles the following week could not go ahead. A Plan B had to be hatched instead and the glazing would be completed by Fliss during half term.
Day 4: Tuesday 23 October – Full Day
It had been agreed that this project would be an ideal opportunity to introduce into the school Arts Award with the Year 3 class starting out on this learning journey into the arts, we used the Discover Booklets, the first of five levels.
We spent the first part of the morning reflecting on our work to date, collaboratively discussing and sharing our experiences before completing three of the four sections- the majority of the class wrote responses in their own words.
After break the class finished off their small dragon tiles and then combined to make two groups to develop further the dragon proposals they had been working on at the start of the project into ‘real’ clay dragons, using some of the techniques we had learned. Once the clay had been rolled out, the dragon drawn out and ‘impressed’ with textures the children had to build a wall of clay around the slab. Fliss then introduced the children to plaster casting; this was yet another CPD opportunity for Mr Fair who was as wowed by the process as the children were! Fliss showed the class how to mix up plaster and pour it into the moulds they had created; needless to say this was a really pleasurable, messy and fun activity! The plaster was left to set during lunch break.
In the afternoon any outstanding drawing work from sketchbooks was finished off or embellished with colours and an additional drawing activity was offered that encouraged children to make careful observations of large scale close up dragon/lizard eyes. Fliss introduced children to the technique of working with coloured pencils on black cardboard – looking at how to achieve tones of colours by varying the pressure of the pencil – i.e. pressing harder gives brighter, stronger colours and a vibrant and effective outcome. The finale of the day was revealing the plaster casts made earlier in the day; peeling away the clay wall and separating the plaster from the clay tile beneath was exciting and the children were amazed at how all the lines and shapes they had pressed or drawn into the clay were now raised areas in the plaster. The casts looked like relics of dinosaur skeletons or better still dragon skeletons. We had come full circle in our exploration of dragons!
DURING HALF TERM BREAK
Fliss took on the ominous responsibility of firing and glazing the tiles as well as having to fathom how to mount the tiles so that the final outcome could be displayed outside. The children’s individual tiles were also fired then clear glazed.
Day 5: Friday 9 November – Half Day
Fliss returned to school to bring in the tile mural and the individual tiles made by the children. She collaborated with class teacher Mr Fair and the children themselves to democratically decide on how to present the project involving some of the children in the celebration assembly.
The celebration assembly was to showcase finished work and reflect upon the learning journey with the whole school, it took place after lunch break with Ms. Finney (Headteacher), teachers and children, Year 3 parents, villagers, Steve Wilson of Meadow arts and artist Fliss O’Neill.
Ms Finney led the main assembly before introducing the school, parents and visitors to Steve Wilson from Meadow Arts. Steve had initiated the project; he explained his role as Engagement and Education Officer at Meadow Arts and talked about the value of arts to everyone.
The children had volunteered themselves to take part and six of them were nominated to tell each of the myths that they had learned about , whilst all the others took their tiles and the plaster casts to the assembly to hold up and display to everyone. The mural itself was displayed on a table for viewing.
Fliss talked through the key points of the learning journey that had taken place and how the art on display had been informed and arrived at. Fliss celebrated the achievements, enthusiasm and commitment of the pupils to the classes. She highlighted the pupils’ ability to work both collaboratively and individually to express their creativity and explore materials with imagination and passion.
The whole experience was a pure pleasure and a great success for the artist, pupils and staff involved.
We were delighted to work with the school and to put 23 children through Arts Awards. For us and the school Arts Awards plays a big part in accrediting the children for their work. Arts Award enabled us to shape the project and to assist both our Practitioner, school and children to shape the programme. The children got a qualification and we were delighted to reward those who traditionally struggle with mainstream subjects. Having an Arts Award remains a positive experience for all.
Steve Wilson, Engagement and Education Officer, Meadow Arts.