No Fear

Looking back at some of my travel photos, I found this snapshot taken at the Dom Luis bridge in Oporto, Portugal last year. I love the way the jumper is suspended in time, legs and arms akimbo as he plummets into the deep, blue Rio Douro, while those on the bridge reveal a number of thoughts and expressions!

Many may think this was an incredibly risky or even stupid thing to do, but as we watched this lad and his friends make numerous jumps from the bridge, it was clear that they had worked out all the risks and figured out their escape route back up the rocks to repeat the jump over and over again. They clearly also seemed to enjoy the attention their actions were generating from the onlookers and tourists as they balanced on the steel beams before taking the leap of faith.

This for me sums up risk-taking up beautifully: where the environment forms the ultimate playground, where things are measured and tested out, where nerves are conquered and a sense of achievement is high. This is not to say we should all hurl ourselves off high bridges. However it does demonstrate the beauty of successfully taking risks!

Here's a lovely blogpost which echoes these sentiments, with more pictures (in Portuguese) here.

I've been busy blogging elsewhere again....

I've had my head down and have been busy with work at two fab art galleries in Manchester!

See what I've been immersed in at the Whitworth Art Gallery in this culturebabies blog post HERE !

Also, read my write-up on how we plan Mini Art Club sessions at Manchester Art Gallery, in this Studio Sketchbook blog post HERE !



Lime Art: the Art Works, Wigan

The Art Works was the second phase of a community arts project working on behalf of Lime Art. I worked with textile / surface designer and educator Hazel Hewitt to engage a group of adults who attend a weekly job club at a college in Wigan. The aim was to create a programme of weekly evening sessions, to provide the opportunity for job club attendees to learn new creative skills, increase their confidence and co-produce a community outdoor artwork.

Our workshops quickly evolved into a creative, drop-in social space for a number of core participants. As opposed to taught sessions, it became clear that participants wanted to try out new techniques such as printing, mark-making, sewing, paper-construction, etc. The project evolved as a safe space to express feelings and personal issues through creative activity, rather than work in a prescriptive manner to create an end product. The approach was participant-led as it emerged that each participant had a particular idea or interest and wanted to develop this individually.

As an example, one participant who was initially reluctant to join, revealed a former interest in photographing local landscapes, building dry stone walls and making charcoal! His enthusiasm and confidence increased as he brought shoe boxes full of photos to sort through, edit and select. We facilitated this process of editing, selecting and curating an exhibition of photos. We also suggested ways to mount, frame and potentially sell the photos, encouraging him to recognise the value and quality of his photographic 'hobby'.

Although aimed at adults only, a couple of dads decided to bring their children along to the sessions. This altered the dynamic of the group as the children were energetic, easily excited and enthusiastic to try out lots of different things. They confidently worked their way through the range of materials in a more exploratory manner. It was perhaps a good thing that there were two artist-facilitators present as it meant that we could take turns to engage/work with the children, whilst the other could give more attention to the adults, who regularly asked for one-to-one assistance.

We felt that we only touched on the surface of what we could offer in terms of developing individualised projects. Unfortunately the programme of sessions didn't seem enough for the group to really become absorbed. Project momentum picked up halfway through and participants couldn't always arrive on time or attend every session. At the end, participants expressed their desire for the sessions to continue as a regular, social, drop-in creative space - a place where they could work, talk and have lots of tea and biscuits! It also became clear that they felt like things were suddenly ending, just as they were building confidence to engage, try new things and take risks.

The programme of activities followed on from another project led by artist Johnny Woodhams during the summer, in which another group worked together to create plans and artworks for an outdoor shelter to be installed within the local community area. This group will be building and installing an outdoor gazebo, which will function as a shelter, alternative gallery/performance and multi-purpose space within a community garden. The structure is due to be installed in spring 2013 and it is hoped that, from this, the groups will come together in order to decide on a programme of creative, community activity.... watch this space!




Mini Art Club is 50!

We've just had our 50th Mini Art Club... and what a morning!

As part of the 'We Face Forward' summer programme, we responded to artist Nnenna Okore's work 'Where Heaven Meets the Earth', concentrating on the theme of decay and transformation. Materials to be explored and transformed were a variety of recycled papers, different consistencies and types of clay, as well as natural materials such as hessian, twine, vegetables and spices!

Okore is particularly concerned with re-using and transforming materials, working into them using a variety of techniques to test the limits of each material as it deconstructs, falls apart, decays, fades, changes colour, etc. We attempted to explore this laying out a wet clay and natural dye room with paper and also a dark, shadowy paper room. To complement and extend this further, dancer, percussionist and musician Danny Henry interpreted key words (such as rip, stamp, fold) through a series of beats, rhythms and movement - much to the delight of everyone involved! It was really insightful to work with such a diverse and experimental performer who instinctively understood the ethos of Mini Art Club.

Such a great way to celebrate our 50th session!

N.B. Lo-fi mini vid clips hopefully coming up soon!




Mini Art Club April - 'Shadow Land' (Inspired by Roger Ballen)

After 2 weeks of 'Colour Pop' workshops (see previous post), colourful prints were stripped off the studio walls and replaced with clean layers of black & white paper for Mini Art Club - how different it looked!

Families followed a trail up to Roger Ballen's beautifully rich black & white square-formatted photographs in the current 'Shadow Land' exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. Despite the slightly dark, adult-themed nature of Roger Ballen's work, families with young children responded well to his photographs - making simple connections with textures, lines and imagery in photos in certain areas of the exhibition. Children particularly loved feeling feathers, twigs, drawing with wire and finding animals hidden in the photographs as well as in toy form on the gallery floor.

Downstairs, two studios were set up to recreate the rich aesthetic of Roger Ballen's photos as children were invited to explore textures of key materials and, also, shadow and light on a large scale.



'Light Trails' - Mini Art Club, Manchester Art Gallery

Mini Art Club is a monthly session for children aged 0-5 and their parents / carers at Manchester Art Gallery. It runs as 2 sessions from 10.15am - 11.15am and 11.30am - 12.30pm every 2nd Friday of the month. The aim of the club is to encourage young children and their adults to creatively explore and respond to artworks, spaces and materials both in the gallery and in the learning studio. Mini Art Club has really grown as a project space for working creatively with young children and their adults, mainly through:

good team work, careful planning, time and space to set things up, making observations, documenting sessions, reflection, evaluation, paying attention to details and maintaining a desire to keep things fun, child-led, family-friendly and innovative (phew!)

We've also tried to develop new ways to engage with artworks and gallery spaces, so that families/carers with young children can feel comfortable visiting the gallery. The aim is not to simply make and take something home, it's all about having the time and space to play, explore, encounter, discover, engage the senses, get messy, have fun and develop new expressive vocabulary.

Looking through my photos, I realised I have been developing and delivering Mini Art Club since 2008. This month it'll be our 43rd club! I was going to wait until the 50th club to blog about it but I'm a little impatient so I thought I'd make a start now!

Please click on the link (below) to see the wonderful Mini Art Club film created by filmmaker and fabulous Mini Art Club Assistant, Jessica Wild (Wild Bees Production). Jess filmed our recent 'Light Trails' Mini Art Club session and created this wonderful video clip. Also here are some stills from the session:

In this session we asked families to explore the light and dark spaces of the Craft & Design Gallery, using torches and coloured acetate to find objects, shadows and different light features on the top floor of the Art Gallery. We then invited everyone to explore a specially created light laboratory in Studio 1, where there were a number of materials to explore (touch, crawl into, shine torches through, hide behind, etc). In Studio 2, we also played music in a fairly dark, empty space with a small blue-light projection screen, which provided the opportunity for families to interact with each other, move around, dance with torches, listen, look and just enjoy spending time together relaxing:

Please click here for the Mini Art Club film:

For Mini Art Club 'Light Trails' stills, please see the pictures below!

Related links:,448,AR.html


Pre-Raphaelite Experiment Project videos - currently being exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery

Just a quickie... To see the video for the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment project, worked on with Crumpsall Sure Start Children's Centre and Manasamitra, click here:

It's currently being exhibited in Gallery 6, First Floor of Manchester Art Gallery, along with other project work!


Also, please click on this link to see this lovely video of work carried out in the Far, Far Away story world / exhibition space during the summer:


Far Far Away - The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment, Manchester Art Gallery

It has been a busy summer of creating Pre-Raphaelite story worlds and paper play!

As part of Manchester Art Gallery's current Pre-Raphaelite Experiment, I worked alongside artists Katie McCall, Sarah Marsh and Family Learning Manager, Alex Thorp to develop, create, install and co-ordinate activities in a large, interactive story world on the top floor of Manchester Art Gallery.

Programmed for the summer holidays, 'Far, Far Away' invited children aged 0-11 years and their adults to follow a treasure hunt through the Pre-Raphaelite galleries, finding characters from different paintings along the way. Families were encouraged to work together to make up their own stories inspired by the different exhibited paintings. As a way of sparking their imagination further, paper clues and props were laid out in baskets along the way to help.

Rather than returning to the usual learning studios to do a creative activity, the whole of the Gallery's top floor temporary exhibition space had literally been transformed into a land 'far, far away'. Children followed a trail of leaves to begin their journey through the story world.

In the main gallery, three large tents were suspended from the ceiling - each stretching across at a diameter of 5 metres. Families visited each tent to put together the elements of their own story:

Katie created and co-ordinated the 'Who' tent, where children could create a costume to turn themselves into a character from the paintings.

I created and co-ordinated the 'Where' tent, a shadowy, multi-sensory paper forest, where children could be inspired to think of the setting for their story.

Sarah developed and co-ordinated the 'What' tent - the final part to the story - what happens to your character along their journey. Here children could make speech bubbles and put together their plot to act out in front of the camera. Their films were then cast as huge projections onto the gallery wall!

0-2 years - activities for parents with younger children

As a way of providing activities for parents with very young children, I was responsible for providing a multi-sensory, exploratory experience in the paper forest! Birds recorded during a recent trip to Poland could be heard hiding in the trees, among a growing army of paper leaves. Natural forest materials (e.g. leaves, flowers, apples, pine cones, etc.), fluffy birds and torches were hidden in 'treasure tubs' filled with ripped paper that children could search through. Older children began to make stories up about the objects they found, whilst younger children enjoyed tipping the paper out, shining torches or sitting in the tub itself to have a paper bath!

The tent also housed a light box to investigate the details of natural materials using magnifying glasses (as inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites' attention to details in nature). Older children could also make paper cuttings to make the forest 'grow' and some began to make hidden box gardens which they shone their torches into.

As an extension of this fascination with nature, I also worked with a team of volunteers to develop a landscape outside the tent:

  • a nature trail - a winding path around the tent which revealed hidden messages, leaves, scented flowers and herbs, etc.
  • a paper corn field, which families could create out of tubes of yellow card
  • a clay area for capturing natural prints and constructing
  • a mark-making/printing area to capture the details of leaves and flowers with ink (these changed with the 'seasons' over the 4 weeks)
  • a river of pebbles that young children loved to position and build with around the outside of the tent

Please see above for images taken over the course of the project!



'Far, Far Away' Preparation Underway

I've been a busy bee, developing ideas to create a paper forest, in a tent, at Manchester Art Gallery...  I am working to fill a large tent (5 mtr diameter) with the beginnings of a paper forest, so that gallery visitors can explore the tent and join in with some paper-cutting action!

The aim is to create a story world inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites and their interest in staying 'true to nature'. Here, I hope to bring woods  and forests to life, inviting visitors to jump into an imaginary world of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. In the tent, there will be other items hidden away, so that the experience will be multi-sensory (smell, sounds, things to look at and feel as well as make). We also hope to play with light and cast shadows...

Please see the pictures below for progress...

Developing Sustainable Creative Learning Environments

"How can we deliver a sustainable, creative, stimulating environment to enhance investigative play in the Foundation Stage and especially challenge more able children?" Working with children and teachers across two Foundation Stage classes at Athelstan Community Primary over the period of 3-4 months, I initiated child-led, exploratory, creative activity both indoors and out.

The project aimed to develop a creative approach to challenging, investigative, play-based learning, which would enhance the children’s confidence to become enquiring, risk-taking learners: self-motivated and engaged: active and with an ability to reflect on what they had learnt.

The children were offered a very wide range of creative stimulation as follows:

  • Exploring the senses - touch, smell, sight and sound, incorporated into simple story-telling and story-making
  • Outdoor den-building, prompting rich imaginary responses and varying levels of communication
  • Mark-making, developing shape, patterns, lines, using different mark-making tools
  • Colour mixing - exploring paint through selected colour combinations and paint consistencies
  • Using interesting everyday materials and unusual objects to initiate child-led exploration of the senses, construction and creating props for music, role-play and imaginary responses
  • The promotion of the extension of the classroom outdoors, e.g. initiating large-scale mark-making, construction, role-play activities outdoor


Where possible, activities tied into month-long themes identified by the teachers such as 'weather', 'toys' and 'Africa'. However, the emphasis was on identifying and responding to children's interests in sessions, working with those who expressed a strong motivation to continue working in a particular way. Although, I was mainly leading activities in each session, I recorded key observations and quotes, filmed activity and transcribed dialogue between myself and the children. I also encouraged continuous dialogue between myself and the teachers throughout the project. This mainly took place through email conversations as teachers often had little time to commit to reflecting upon observations and planning the next session face-to-face.

Towards the end of the project, I accompanied teachers during a CPD research trip to the McMillan Nursery School, Hull. Recognising that the McMillan Nursery's outdoor spaces had a lot to offer, the teachers identified the need to improve and extend their outdoor provision. They returned to their school and began discussions concerning the extension of their outdoor space. We identified the need to offer different activities and opportunities for investigative play outdoors. Therefore my final task before finishing the project was to initiate this re-development.

Through observations of the children's interests during outdoor play, spaces for role-play and performing, hiding, exploring the senses and mark-making were identified. I therefore installed a series of hooks and rope networks across the canopied outdoor area, which would provide the means of suspending different fabrics, lights and materials (both at adult and child height) to create different, interchangeable play areas. I also presented the teachers with a kit of resources, materials and ideas, which staff members would hopefully go on to use after I had left the project.

Key impacts:

  • An increased interest and confidence in children to use different tools for mark-making, construction and manipulating materials (exercising both fine and gross motor skills)
  • Children were engaged with problem-solving and some began to demonstrate the confidence to solve problems independently or working together, as well as with adults
  • Children's enthusiasm and excitement towards using key materials was noted through verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Some of the children were able to demonstrate a rich, imaginary response to situations, which led to the beginnings of story-telling and role-play
  • A rich variety of verbal and non-verbal expressions and responses to activity was documented throughout the project (see examples below)

Examples of observations:

'E was shown a Chinese paper dragon puppet and she took it for a walk around the classroom to show her friends. She returned to show MF that the dragon had got slightly “hurt” so they decided to leave him to recover in hospital (above the white board). As the session progressed she would come back to inform MF of the dragon’s progress. She also began to suggest different creative ideas. “Let’s go outside, we need a big cardboard box to make a car!” she kept telling me.'

J picked up a China tea box and wrapped some elastic bands around it to make a guitar, which he pulled to make a snapping noise. He was quite happy with his creation, although he then began to consider ways to lengthen it so that it would look more like a guitar! He also found a cardboard tube and inserted this into the box. He asked me to help secure it with the electrical insulation tape, choosing the colour carefully so it would match the foil on the tube. As he opened the other end of his guitar-box he discovered that he could look down the entire length of the tube. “I’ve made a guitar telescope,” he told everyone and proudly demonstrated how it worked. He later added red cellophane to one end of the tube to change the colour of his viewfinder.'

'MF laid out some lining paper and sprinkled some dry powder paint onto the paper, then introduced a measuring jug with water and also brought out some pipettes and a water spray, demonstrating how to suck up water and then squeeze droplets/spray water onto the paper. … The children had to learn how to squeeze the pipettes in the water, in order to extract droplets to squeeze on the paper. They also had to learn how to hold the water spray carefully upright, in order to spray water on the paper, whilst at the same time not spraying each other. Some could do this more easily than others and S and K were particularly quick to develop this skill. The children also respected each other and didn’t try to squirt water around! They also began to learn how to take turns as they passed different tools around.'