School Drawing Workshop

I SPENT MOST of my day at Horbury Primary School book week encouraging the children to draw but had time to do some drawing myself during the morning assembly and when the teacher was taking the register.

I like the way that with a quick sketch of the details and pose of a figure you can start building up a character. Adding a quick wash of colour helps to bring the drawing to life. I’d like to do more little sketches of a variety of characters.

Although I’m only here for the day, I felt quite emotional when they sang ‘The Leavers’ Song’ in assembly. The older children are going to have to make the break from this school where everyone knows each other to the High School next door, which specialises in teaching languages and is the size of a small university. It must be difficult to get to know all the teachers, let alone the pupils in an institution of that size.

‘When you look under the rocks and plants . . .’

In the assembly the children sang The Bare Necessities from Disney’s version of The Jungle Book in which Balou the Bear advises Mowgli:

‘If you act like that bee acts, uh uh. You’re working too hard. And don’t spend your time lookin’ around. For something you want that can’t be found ..’

I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Balou’s point of view but I don’t think that would serve as a motto for life at the High School! You’re really getting onto the treadmill when you commence your studies there. I think this is why I find the older primary years, aged around 8, 9 or 10, the right age for my workshops. They can enjoy the world for what it is, and the drawing and writing as activities in their own right, without looking over their shoulders wondering how it’s going to relate to their curriculum and their future job prospects.

Horbury Primary is 1950s redbrick but, in addition to the asphalt playground that normally accompanies schools of this period, there are leafy grounds to the rear with picnic tables under the trees where I could start my drawing sessions with the children. The trees gave a certain amount of shelter from the odd bit of drizzle and we managed a good 45 minutes drawing before heavier rain brought both the morning and the afternoon sessions to a close.

I gave them five minutes to draw a tree to get them started but also to get them to focus on a particular tree, rather than the standard tree symbol that younger children sometimes draw. Some of the children particularly enjoyed the next drawing which was a close-up of a piece of branch or bark from the chippings around the tables. They were fascinated by the detail and texture, as if they were drawing a whole landscape in miniature.

Vegetable Plot

Next we moved on to the school vegetable plot. The onions were looking good and are well ahead of ours. The children who chose to draw them were able to capture that sense of life and growth that comes from the swelling bulb and lush spikes of foliage. Some subjects have such a strong visual identity that they seem to help you get their image onto paper.

We settled in a corner of the playing field at the edge of a narrow strip of woodland and I got them to listen for 5 minutes and to write down what they heard. I thought that possibly we could work this up into some kind of poem but when we asked several of the children to read their notes, I realised that they had effectively written poems already with specific observations, cadence and rhytmn in the way they’d listed what they’d heard and a real sense of atmosphere; the breeze, bird song, distant traffic noise.

There was time for a short ‘nature notebook’ session where we drew and made quick notes about the bees, hoverflies and birds visiting the brambles and bushes on the woodland edge. Balou would consider that the bee was working too hard.

During the afternoon session we ran to a wooden shelter and drew what we could, including my usual standby, a hand. They soon got into the intricacies such as the folds of skin on the fingers and the true shape of a finger nail.

Picture Map

I was impressed with their writing and drawing skills. Back out of the rain, I got them working on another of my favourite ways of a recording a location; a picture map. Being in a 21st century classroom, we were able to conjure up a Google-map satellite image of the school grounds on the computer-linked projector.

Each child, while producing a perfectly accurate sketch map, was able to bring out a different character in the patch of landscape they’d just walked through, from architectural precision (one boy used a ruler to produce an immaculate plan) to expressionist wildness in the tangle of the woodland edge.

With the sausage shape of the running track, topped by two zany ‘eyes’ formed by two areas marked out for rounders the aerial view of the playing fields resembled a cartoon frog . . . wearing a fuzzy toupee (the strip of woodland).