'Catalyst' Teacher Training Event - Video Clip / Flickr Upload

Following my last post re. the 'Catalyst' Teacher Training Event at the Chinese Arts Centre (please see below), I have uploaded some pictures and a couple of short video clips on to my Flickr site. The pictures and vids show some of the activities the teachers participated in, both in the Chen Man exhibition and in the Jasmine Suite Studio downstairs at the Chinese Arts Centre.

The event was organised by the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts, as part of their Start Programme.

Please click on the link here to see more:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/michikofujii/sets/72157629271461558/



'Catalyst' Teachers' CPD day at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester

Working with artist and textile designer Hazel Hewitt, we developed and delivered a teacher's 'toolbox' training event as part of the 'Catalyst' teacher training programme for the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts. The training day took place at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester and was specifically aimed at encouraging Key Stage 2 teachers to try out different Visual Arts and Drama activities in the classroom. It also aimed to demonstrate ways in which teachers could work with contemporary art in galleries and visit spaces like the Chinese Arts Centre, as an additional site of learning.

For the first part of our session, Hazel and I asked the teachers to spend time in the current Chen Man contemporary photography exhibition. We initiated various activities to get teachers looking at the artwork and engaging with it, such as word games, drawing games, etc. We also demonstrated ways the teachers could use the work of Chen Man as the starting point for discussion and generating ideas, before carrying out practical work.

Hazel and I both initially found Chen Man's work quite challenging to respond to. However, as we and also the teachers realised, the more time we spent looking at her photographs, the more intriguing and multi-layered they revealed themselves to be. Contrasting themes began to emerge as we spent more time viewing the work from different perspectives and discussing this with different people. By the end of this part of the session, the teachers felt more prepared to begin the practical activities, in which we challenged them to create paper costumes for each other, and also asked them to explore a variety of layering techniques.

The main focus of the workshop had been to allow teachers the opportunity to explore different materials and processes and, also, think about how they could incorporate some of these techniques or ideas, either in their own practice or in the classroom. This was complemented by a drama workshop delivered by Sarah Clough from Griffin Theatre Arts in the afternoon.

We asked the teachers to play a surrealist story game with each other as a way of interpreting Chen Man's work (below). They had to think about who was in each artwork, the landscape and the mood or personality of the model in the photo, passing their paper on to somebody else each time. Please also scroll down to read their feedback in relation to the workshop.

'Consequence' Game Responses to Chen Man's work:

"Jade - Scottish Highlands - Peaceful and Confident"

"A teenage girl called Clementine - In the Mountains in a faraway land - Happy, Free"

"Jewel, the Ice Princess - Ice Palace of  Snow Queen - Powerful"

"Mi ice - Iceland, Mountains, ice, water, quiet, deserted - Bitter and in need of revenge"

"Sparkle - Beneath the surface of a frozen lake - Lost and yearning! Soulful"

"Hena: Western Girl - Stepping through a round window of a traditional house in the mountains - Determined, powerful, controlling, ready to take over"

 "A psychic, omnipotent goddess - Mini sci-fi world - Feeling? Empowered"


Teacher's comments and feedback about the workshop:

"Inspirational, challenging, thought-provoking"

I liked...

"The traffic light system for generating ideas and conversation related to art"

"The northern twist"

"Good to have got to do different activities. Very calming."

I learnt...

"More about digital art"

"Reminded to 'see' rather than just 'look'"

"I learned and gained more understanding of layering"

I was surprised that...

"I both liked and disliked the images - but the exercises made me look again"

"I was surprised that the Chinese Arts Centre had so much contemporary art"

"My picture became so sentimental"

'I could see so much in Chen Man's work' 

"How calming it was"

I would change / do differently..

"Incorporate art through projection / OHP etc."

"Rely less on language. Use more visual skills."

"I will take more risks"

I most enjoyed...

"Calm - loved doing creative activities and being in an art space"

"Creating a piece in response to the gallery"

"Exploring the images in the gallery"

"I enjoyed the hands-on activities"

"I enjoyed the visual impact of the exhibition"

"Making art"


N.B. Keep an eye out for video clip uploads soon! 









The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment - Beginnings of a Visual Arts & Dance Project, Manchester Art Gallery

Playing with Paper

Playing with Paper

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working alongside dancer Shrikant Subramaniam from the Yorkshire-based artist-led organisation Manasamitra, to develop and deliver a project at Manchester Art Gallery. Combining my passion for exploring, manipulating and playing with paper and Shrikant's exploration of dance, we aim to work with a group of young children (0-2 years) and their parents and carers, to develop and perform a visual story in response to a selected Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Currently showing at Manchester Art Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment is an evolving exhibition project space, which aims to re-interpret key Pre-Raphaelite paintings from the gallery's permanent collection, through the eyes of Manchester residents. It seeks to question whether paintings such as William Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' (1851), James Collinson's 'Anwering the Emigrant's Letter' (1850),  John Everett Millais' 'Autumn Leaves' (1856) and Dante Gabriel Rosseti's 'Bower Meadow' (1850-72) are still relevant to today's audiences. It also attempts to focus on the radical spirit of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and examine their concerns in relation to modern society, depicting landscapes and remaining true to nature. To visit the gallery page click here: http://www.manchestergalleries.org/the-collections/the-pre-raphaelite-experiment/

During our first meeting with the group of parents and children at Crumpsall Children's Centre, we introduced different visual art and movement activities. We also introduced the gallery and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings we would see through photographs and a short game. The following week the group visited the gallery for the first time and we were able to get a sense of their interests as they looked at different artworks. We were also able to gauge the young children's initial responses to the gallery spaces and artworks.

It was clear that Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' was a painting that the group found easiest to engage with, particularly as it is full of details and symbolism and was the most colourful and bright in the gallery space. The painting itself shows a young shepherd, perhaps hired help, who has abandoned his flock of sheep as he seems to flirt with a young maiden in a meadow. Perhaps he tells a superstitious tale, whilst holding a Death's-head moth close to the maiden. On one hand the young woman seems passive, on the other sceptical or suspicious. Meanwhile a lamb sits on her lap munching an apple, whilst the rest of the flock wander off into a corn field.

When stepping up close to the painting, we can see that Hunt wanted to idealise the English rural setting as the attention to details in nature are astonishing. Grass, plants, trees and flowers are painstakingly painted and the different animals (sheep, lambs, birds, insects) are as much part of the English countryside, as they are part of Hunt's symbolic criticism of the English church at that time. The scene itself seems rather chaotic and ambiguous as the sheep appear windswept and neglected and the relationship between the shepherd and the dishevelled maiden is unclear. What will the visiting group make of the story in the painting and how will this be interpreted by children of such a young age?

Creative Partnerships - Staff Training Day

"How can we deliver a sustainable, creative, stimulating environment to enhance investigative play in the Foundation Stage and especially challenge more able children?" This was the rather long-winded enquiry question posed during a Creative Partnerships project at Athelstan Community Primary School, North Yorkshire.

Beginning with a staff training day, I worked with teachers, challenging them to question what the word 'creativity' meant to them. Questions posed to them were as follows:

  • Is creativity inherited and a natural talent/ability or is it something that is developed through interaction with others and different learning environments?
  • Does creativity come about through having more time, space, resources (money) and freedom? Or are we forced to be creative when time, space, resources are restricted?

Teachers were also asked to consider their own personal creativity. Furthermore, they were invited to think of examples where they may have restricted or encouraged creativity within the classroom.

We also spent time exploring materials, experimenting and considering the way open-ended approaches to so-called 'art'-related activities could also enrich and develop other areas of the Foundation Stage curriculum and beyond.

Interestingly, the staff seemed to enjoy having the chance to 'play' and also seemed keen to introduce new materials and processes with their children. Practice and experimentation tended to triumph over theory (through presentations related to other pedagogical approaches - I asked them to think about different learner styles and also introduced the Reggio Emilia approach as a key example).

It was really important to run this event before the project actually started. I was able to introduce the aims and intentions of this enquiry project, as well as the Creative Partnerships agenda in the current political climate - funding cuts! It would also prepare the teachers for a sense of what was to follow, enabling us to identify a collective plan of action and generally provide some food for thought before the project started.



Story Catching Project for Creativity Culture Education

As a way of celebrating continuing creative work with young children, I was asked to take part in the Story Catching project for Creativity Culture Education. Two recent Early Years projects were identified and a positive story or learning journey was captured in each, following the Story Catching framework. This involved identifying the main characters within each story, the setting, their mission and achievements.

Stories were captured for the monthly Mini Art Club I run at Manchester Art Gallery, and also for a positive learning journey of two boys - 'The Gunpowder Plot',  identified during the recent Midas Touch project for National Museums Liverpool in St Helens.

In both, time was given to capture images and sound recordings, interview participants, collate information and put together a story. The stories were originally designed to sit within two micro-sites designed by Rachael Kearney at Grassroots Creative. Unfortunately, time and web development restrictions on CCE's side, meant that it was sadly not possible to support the two beautiful micro-sites that were originally designed.... I am still hoping to find somewhere else to host these so watch this space!

In the mean time, content for the two stories can be viewed on the Creativity Culture Education website, although not as originally planned and created:

Mini Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery:  http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/mini-art-club,448,AR.html

The Gunpowder Plot at Midas Touch, St Helens: http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/gunpowder-plot-at-midas-touch,449,AR.html


You can also see the original microsites here by following these links:





For general information about Story Catching and to read one of the other 14 stories selected from across England go to: http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/



Creative Spaces for Learning

"How can different creative practices have an impact upon writing in the classroom?"

"How can we develop creative spaces to stimulate creative writing?"

These were the two enquiry questions posed as part of a Creative Partnerships project, based in two primary schools in Cheshire. Working in collaboration with artist Johnny Woodhams, myself and Johnny began to consider different ways to begin to creatively research and answer these questions over the course of ten days working in both schools.

Year 1 and 2, Cheadle Primary School

Initially, we presented our practice and work as artists to the children, providing visual examples of different creative spaces that we could create as artists and creative thinkers. Our attention focused upon exploring the concept of space, considering ways of constructing spaces with the children. To widen the children's vocabulary and understanding of different spaces, we explored the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste). This process was captured in the children's journals.

We began to consult with children to develop their ideas for building spaces. We explored the school building and surroundings, taking photos and identified potential building sites. The children were asked to draw/write their ideas on postcards and later in their journals. They each submitted an idea and then ideas were voted to choose class favourites.

Eventually, the class teacher suggested that a space called 'Sparkle World' would be the most ideal space for the classroom as she could use it as a project space or corner for research and investigation. Rather confusingly, she also wanted to focus on the topic of 'outer space' and therefore this ran alongside our 'creative spaces' project.

The Design Process

The children were asked to draw their ideas for building their own 3D structures. They then went on to build these using paper straws and sticky tape. This developed as an outdoor activity, in which children worked in small groups to make dens out of garden canes, string, sticky tape, etc. They were asked to record this process in their journals, through drawing and writing. They described their structures, plans, ideas, experiences of the process, what they had learnt and what they would change.


The process of designing and building structures was particularly useful as the children were required to exercise motor skills, problem solve and work together successfully in teams, in order to realise their design. They also discovered that they had to think before rushing straight into making.

Interestingly, once the dens were built, a few children began to write without being asked. One group of children were particularly concerned that their foil-covered den would be destroyed if left outside in the playground, so they began to write messages to others saying, "if you come in this den, please don't punch it - no teachs allowed!" Other children began to join in, writing more messages and creating flags.

Indoors, the children had also moved into a new classroom so we helped to develop this space. Johnny built a mysteriously dark 'space pod' in the corner. The children began to research the topic of outer space and we played writing games to develop pop-up alien characters and puppets. We also made outer space features out of recycled materials to begin to fill our space pod.

In the space of five days, we had covered quite a lot of different tasks and left both the teacher and the children with a range of ideas to be working on. To find out what the children thought about the work carried out, we laid out a giant piece of paper in their outdoor play area and asked them to write/draw the things that they learnt, enjoyed, would like to do more of, etc. They all huddled together to discuss this and filled the paper with comments!





The 'Midas Touch' Project, St Helens 2009 - 2010

The 'Midas Touch' was a pilot project developed to run for four weeks in St. Helens, Merseyside throughout March 2010. It was inspired by the ReMida project, a creative recycling centre linked to the Reggio Emilia approach in northern Italy. Funded by the Find Your Talent programme, the Midas Touch project was initially piloted as a 'Tent of Objects' at the St. Helens festival by artist Claire Weetman. Along with Project Leader, Nick Owen, Claire went on to manage the second phase of the project which we developed as the Midas Touch and involved the collaboration between an Early Years Practitioner, Laura Grindley and a Collaborative Artist (myself).

The project took place in a former clothes boutique located in St. Helens town centre over the course of 4 weeks. The team worked closely with local businesses and organisations to source recycled and reusable materials. Support was also provided by National Museums Liverpool to ensure the venue was well-equipped and fit for use as a community workshop space. The Midas Touch team worked together to make the space their own and created a storage area for materials which were cleaned and made safe for use.

The aim was to use such recycled, 'ordinary' materials and objects in a way that was open-ended and participant-led. As opposed to the practice of 'junk modelling', the intention was to introduce materials and objects as tools of play, work and learning. The Midas Touch programme intended to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary - to provoke a sense of curiosity, awe and wonder in the everyday lives of its participants.

In total, seven groups attended once a week for four weeks. Groups came from various children's/ community centres and primary schools across St. Helens. As part of a collaborative team, Laura, the Early Years Professional and I developed themes based on identified materials which we linked to learning goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage. Week 1 concentrated on 'Plastics', which involved introducing a number of objects and items made out of this material. The following week, the same materials were laid out, alongside new materials: 'Wood & Metal'. This continued so that in Week 3, we introduced 'Natural Materials' and finally in Week 4, 'Black and White' Materials.

Participants engaged with these materials in ways which were sometimes predictable and other times completely unexpected and wildly imaginative. From simply tipping, sorting, collecting and arranging to using real tools, creating musical instruments and using objects in different spaces as complex props for role-play and fantasy scenarios, the children took the adults on a learning journey and provided a valuable insight into their world of play.

Comments from adults were as follows:

"I loved the approach. I believe it's how children should learn in an ideal world - exploring their own ideas. We are there to scaffold that learning." (Reception Teacher)

"Why do we spend lots of money on expensive resources and things like dressing-up clothes when children have such vivid imaginations and are so creative? Practitioners and parents/carers need to see this project to see the importance of developing their children's skills in this way... Everyday materials + freedom = LEARNING." (Learning Development Officer)

"There was so much talking going on. Excellent way to promote language development... Great imagination." (Teacher)

What I noticed..

"The confidence - how it has grown... and the LANGUAGE." (Teacher)

"Given us lots of food for thought. We'll look to set up similar activities at the centre." (Community Group Leader)

What I would change..

"The group should be longer than 4 weeks." (Parent)

"To develop / continue at school, so more children can enjoy the experience." (Teaching Assistant)











Chester Performs, Roam the Rows Festival: Postcards from the Edge

This project aimed to encourage participants and festival visitors of all ages to explore, document and record Chester in different ways. It provided the opportunity to try out new ways of defining place - making images, drawings and developing narratives which were then turned into a series of postcard images.

I worked with two groups, a mixed class of Y3 & 4 pupils at Tushingham with Grindley Primary School in Shropshire, and also a youth group based at Save the Family in North Wales. Interestingly, my project plan was submitted before I knew who I was going to work with as the idea was for different groups to choose the project they most liked the sound of. This is different to how I would normally work as I believe it is useful to plan a project in collaboration with a particular group of participants.

I was hoping to work with a group who were based near Chester as I had been given the brief of responding to the city centre and its surroundings. I hadn't expected to work with groups who were positioned in more isolated, rural areas and this, perhaps, changed the dynamic of the project, particularly as my aims had been to work with participants to explore their city and its people, buildings, sights, sounds, textures, stories, etc. The emphasis of the project was to document with cameras, drawings, mark-making, charcoal rubbings, sound recorders to capture words and sounds. However, time to explore surroundings was limited, and cameras were also in short supply. Despite this, I feel that participants from both groups responded well to the task and captured some interesting snapshots of their surroundings, in order to

Time was spent with both groups, photographing the outdoor areas surrounding each group base and themes were co-developed as focal points for pointing and shooting. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to organise transport for the youth group from Save the Family to visit Chester one morning. It was here that I met a rather excited group of people, ready to hit the streets.

Their first task was to find some people to interview and photograph. Then to collect images which related to a particular theme such as 'close-up', 'people', 'in the crowd', 'words and signs', 'window displays', 'buildings', etc. You can see a sample of these images taken (see above). Unfortunately, the multitude of great shots taken couldn't be uploaded onto this blog!

The pupils from Tushingham-with-Grindley primary school spent time documenting their outdoor areas, taking photos and tracing textures on different surfaces using graphite and o represent where they lived to their exchange partners in France. Initially, they worked on their own and then, as larger pieces of lining paper were placed on their tables, they began to explore different ways of designing images with a partner or in a slightly larger group. They began to create their own imaginary maps of their town (or ideal town). The images were later photographed and the children also wanted to be photographed holding their work outside.

The final part of the second day was spent creating models of a particular building or place which could be put together to create a model town out of recycled cardboard boxes. The imagination really did get to work here, as the children created a zoo and a shark-infested football player's swimming pool (out of a Kleenex tissue box), a toxic waste disposal centre, 'Harry's Hotel' and a carefully considered bungalow, to name but a few!

Finally all the work was captured on camera and selected to create postcard images which somehow recorded these different responses and explorations. The postcards were pegged to washing lines along the rows on Watergate Street and lining paper, blank postcards and different drawing tools were provided for visitors to add their own ideas, drawings, messages to the ever-evolving installation.