Meeting Shelley Jayne and her pre-school group at Tate Liverpool

I was lucky enough to meet and work with Shelley Jayne, an illustrator and Early Years professional based in Liverpool. She brought her lovely pre-school group to visit Tate Liverpool and I had a lovely time exploring the DLA Piper Series: Constellations exhibition on the first floor and also working with them in the Clore Learning Centre studio. 

She wrote a great review of the session here. I hope they visit again soon! 

Building A Bridge of Books

I'm currently immersed in a new project at Tate Liverpool, working hard to bring the world of children's stories and Tate Collection artworks alive! As part of the Liverpool City of Readers initiative, I'm working with artist-educator Denise Wright, filmmaker Jake Ryan and groups of young children and their adults to create narratives and stories, inspired by children's books, artworks, gallery spaces and materials in the studio. For my first session, I installed a story den in the Clore Learning Studio which became our base for story-telling and making. This initiated the beginnings of our adventures to discover a 'strange land' in the galleries as children encountered artworks, installations, puppets, props and provocations to create narratives based on their experiences. Back in the studio, children explored materials which they could use to create costumes or make models and props for their story.

The project will culminate in an exhibition and celebration day in the Clore Learning Centre in November. Check out my guest blog post on the Tate Kids website.


A Beautiful Partnership

See some of the things we have been up to at Tate Liverpool over the past year or so in this insightful short film about the Early Years partnership at Tate Liverpool. To watch it, click on this link and press play to see more.



It's reflection time! Here are some pictures from my July and August sessions in the Clore Art Studio. They show some crafty ways we've been working with small geometric-shaped mirrors in addition to the coloured paper shapes and plinths in the Clore!

Reflective Forms

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

I've been following a bit of an abstracted, reflective theme over the past couple of months!

Here's a link to some Mini Art Club mirror-like fun at Manchester Art Gallery

Read about what we got up to here!

A Space for Curiosity and Free Play

After a long period of planning, research, studio time, workshops, material sourcing, installation, documentation, delivery and reflection (phew!), I am uploading my experience of working on the new Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery. Working in collaboration with fellow artists (and partners in crime) Sarah Marsh, Katy McCall and Family Learning Manager Alex Thorp, we created and produced the Clore Art Studio, a playful, interactive space which took initial inspiration from Grayson Perry's current exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences. For more information about the exhibition click here. The process behind Grayson Perry's work can also be viewed in his Channel 4 documentary In the Best Possible Taste (still available online on 4OD). 

Our brief was not to develop a direct interpretation or response to Grayson Perry's tapestries. Nor was it about creating a learning experience that attempted to 'educate others' and explain the concepts, processes and ideas behind Grayson Perry's work. It was more significant for us to respond as individual artists, distilling visual or aesthetic elements of Perry's work which related to our own practice and interests.

In addition, the intention was to create a space that would provide opportunities for free play, open-ended interaction, conversation and inter-generational activity, whilst at the same time making connections to Grayson Perry's exhibition in the neighbouring gallery . 

To develop this space, Sarah and I initially tested out our creative ideas and activities on a class of 5-6 year olds from St Augustine's Primary School, Monsall, Manchester. Workshops took place over one week, allowing us to develop themes, processes and a wish list of materials, resources and structures. Sarah was interested in 'lines' and I focused on the interplay of objects, colour and sorting. These themes were all pulled out as conceptual strands from Grayson Perry's tapestries, during our initial planning meetings.

As the week of research progressed, we began to understand the ways children could totally pull apart, deconstruct and re-figure a theme or idea! With this in mind, we needed to create a space that could provide endless opportunities for interaction with a number of robust, appealing objects and materials within an equally engaging, unbreakable installation framework. At this point, Katy came on board to lend her wisdom to the positioning and installation of tables, storage, furniture and objects. 

The end result was a deconstructed version of Perry's world of furniture and colourful, domestic objects in a vibrant, quirky installation. In his work, Perry suggests that different household objects and interiors are indicators of a particular class taste and identity, but what happens when children are placed into such a space? At what age does a child begin to demonstrate a sense of taste and a preference for one item over another?  And why? Would children even place such meanings and values over a particular object or would their response be completely 'innocent' and untainted in relation to adult-oriented notions of class taste and identity? 

In the Clore, a storage unit fashioned out of reclaimed deep, blue crates displayed an arrangement of enticing, colourful, domestic, pound shop items, textiles and ribbons laid out ready for play. White, deconstructed furniture provided a framework for play and interaction within the space. Opposite, a drawing table was laden with silverware and looping lines of words, which encouraged people to look at and choose objects to draw in a continuous line. Meanwhile, key words were positioned around the space, prompting action: wrap, stack, sort, shadows, line, patterns, twist, weave, hide, same, different, etc. Meanwhile, on the side walls, photographs of children from St Augustines were displayed, facing old TV monitors with films of children playing within the studio space.

To follow-up on the installation of the space, we were invited to facilitate artist-led interventions within the studio during the weekends, while a team of volunteers were trained to maintain and run the space throughout the week. The studio became a lively, popular place for visitors of all ages and many observations were kept of the variety of weird and wonderful interactions and happenings witnessed over the four months! All in all, it was a rather, wacky, ambitious and fun project to be involved with, once the inital stress of rushed installation deadlines was out of the way!! 

For more information, see Manchester Art Gallery's Studio Sketchbook blog. Click here for a write-up by Alex Thorp and also click here for my Top 10 observations working in the Clore!

Art for All: the Thomas Horsfall Project

'..probably one of the best ways of increasing our happiness would be to train us to notice some of the great quantity of  beauty on which the eyes of all of us rest...' 

'A Study of Beauty', Thomas Horsfall, 1883


Thomas Horsfall (1844-1932) was a philanthropist and art lover who collected over 1700 artworks and objects which he displayed in his Manchester Art Museum which opened in 1877. His aim was to bring beauty, through nature and art, to those who were less fortunate and had few opportunities to experience it in their daily lives. He was also a pioneer of art gallery education as he ambitiously programmed a variety of public classes, performances and events within the museum. Horsfall also established one of the first art loan schemes to schools. He was therefore certainly a pioneer, given that he did this well over 100 years ago!

Horsfall's museum in Ancoats eventually closed down and became part of Manchester Art Gallery's collection in 1953. Parts of the Horsfall collection can now be seen in an exhibition Art For All: Thomas Horsfall's Gift to Manchester, which was co-curated with children from St Augustine's CE Primary School, Harpurhey, close to the original museum site. This exhibition also features artworks and a film made by the children and artist Pat Mountford, filmmaker Jess Wild and sound producer Dan Beesley from Wild Bees Production. For more information about the exhibition click here. Also click here for the curator's blog.

As a second phase to the project, I was asked to work alongside 3 other artists to each explore a formal element within art: line & shape, form & composition (space, perspective), texture & pattern, tone (light) & colour (hue, value, intensity). This exploration would occur with two school groups from two contrasting areas around the city. This process of investigation and work produced will then be turned into a gallery interpretation guide for visitors and also a film.  

I was asked to select an artwork from the exhibition which I felt most exemplified my assigned formal elements: tone and colour and this was to be the starting point of a series of workshops working with Goostrey Community Primary, Cheshire and Manchester Communication Academy, Harpurhey. After a few days reflection and decision-making, I chose Andrew MacCallum's Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest, 1877, which I think is screaming with examples of tone and colour through my interest of light and shadow!

As my practice is concerned with creating immersive environments, I wanted to focus on bringing the world of the artwork to life in some way. I also wanted to use different lighting and sound to create a natural environment that would encourage the children to 'zoom in' and feel confident to explore details of colour, tone, light and shadow within nature. I also wanted to engage the groups with different drawing and mark-making techniques to free themselves from the fear of not being "good at drawing", which can often be the case.  

I turned up at both schools with a wheelie bag filled with plants, lamps, art materials and a recording of bird sounds and set up an atmospheric 'art studio' to encourage a simple study of nature through observational drawings - something I have to admit, I haven't done for a long time myself! I also then paved the way for a path into abstraction as we began to hunt for shadows cast by the natural forms and explored layering techniques with different materials ,such as tracing paper and acetate.  

The process provoked much discussion about freedom vs. control, and how certain challenges encouraged the groups to really look and observe the details, without the pressure of having to do something 'perfectly'. Teachers also commented on the way the specially created environment encouraged a heightened level of concentration and focus for both groups (year 6 and year 9). 

Watch this space for news on the guide and film that is to be produced and can be accessed when visiting the exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery! 

Mini Art Club at 60

Mini Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery is still going strong at 60! Well, it's probably a lot more than 60 as we actually run the same session twice every second Friday of the month. The session has certainly evolved and progressed since I first started running the session in June 2008 ... that's five years ago!

Here are a selection of pictures taken from Mini Art Club over the past few months. Sessions responded to Cyprien Gaillard's video The Smithsons, Kelley Walker's Dreams Without Frontiers exhibition, Paul Nash's Nocturnal Landscape and Marion Adnan's The Living Tree. We incorporated themes such as 'cityscapes', grids, musical dimensions and surrealist landscapes and dream spaces. 

Many thanks to everyone who helped support and run each large-scale installation and session.

Click here for the latest on Manchester Art Gallery Family workshops.

Playing with Paper: The Hepworth Wakefield

Here are some lovely pictures taken from weekend 2 of my paper workshop at the Hepworth this weekend, working alongside sculptor Liz Pontin:

Artigami! Enjoy!