I launched a whole school Circle after attending an annual NSEAD conference and joining the TEA sketchbook circle for the first time. This was done with much uncertainty and apprehension as I had no idea whether I would have ten or 200 volunteers; the final figure was a nice manageable 48 ranging from 11 year olds who had just entered the school to staff members about to retire.
I linked artistic styles and preferences but also opposite approaches to create challenge and to get participants out of their comfort zones. I also wanted to use the Circle as a mentoring programme as much as an art club and therefore spent time considering which people would work best together in terms of personality. For example, I paired up some shy Year 7 students with Year 11 mentors to give the younger pupils a sense of security knowing they could turn to an older student if they needed to.
Students embraced the project however teachers took a little more convincing as they claimed they were concerned about the time involved. It became apparent that worrying about time involved was not the whole story– lack of artistic confidence also played a big part but by the end of the Year most staff members had thoroughly enjoyed themselves claiming that the Circle had caused them to slow down, become more creative and do something for themselves.
I was particularly surprised with how quickly and how successfully the younger students upped their game. The way they embraced the freedom the Circle offered them and the quality of the work they produced was inspiring. We would meet every month to swap books. The sense of excitement waiting for everyone to arrive and the suspense of waiting for the reveal was infectious.
I decided that each month would change thematically. For example, some of the themes were: collage; only black and white; words and lyrics and a photographic element. Some of the students liked the guidance the themes gave them whereas others felt out of their comfort zone but enjoyed the challenge. One Year 8 students commented that “It was great try new effects, techniques and materials as I’d only ever felt comfortable drawing before. I loved using Photoshop and image transfer.”
Unlike the Sketchbook Circles I had been involved in with NSEAD where you rarely get to meet your partner, at Hinchley Wood it was very much a face to face experience. Those involved would sit and have conversations, be nosy and look at others works. Unfortunately, there was the occasional knock to confidence if one partner was of a higher ability than the other. There were inevitably comments like “I’m not as good as her!” but over the course of the year those who had begun less confident learned from others and broadened their skills base.
Of course there were teething problems. One of the main issues was the lack of boys which seems to highlight the national concerns of art being a female dominated subject. In addition to this, another problem was that not everyone would remember to turn up for our monthly meeting meaning that some of those involved missed out on the excitement of receiving their books back and any subsequent conversations. A number of students often said that they were disappointed with their final work because of rushing due to homework deadlines or revision.
A private show was the culmination of everyone’s efforts when staff, students and parents were invited to view the hard work produced over the year. This was ultimately the final full stop to a thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant experience. I am now launching Hinchley Wood Sketchbook Circle 2.0 ready for this September, hopefully linking with another local school and can’t wait to see new faces and all the excellent work.