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Stratford Girls' Grammar School Stratford-Upon-Avon
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Head of Art, Jacks Hillier

The vibrant and stimulating environment of our art rooms - wall to wall with students’ work of every media - has been temporarily replaced by my dining room. Although the switch from a ‘real’ to virtual school was met with some trepidation… okay, mild panic, what I love most about my role is encouraging students to take creative risks, push boundaries and challenge concepts. And that’s exactly what I found myself doing, in order to take the art room into a virtual plane.

So how has that affected how I teach?

Well, I can still draw on inspiration from artists, as we do in the classroom, in fact, if anything, the Arts have become even more prominent during lockdown. Artists and galleries around the world are transforming how they operate and are opening their doors to a virtual audience; there is an abundance of online tutorials; and materials such as the latest ‘Art Pack’ written by leading UK artists such as Anthony Gormley, Jeremy Deller and Gillian Wearing provide creative ideas to see us through the lockdown period. It’s obviously working as the Internet is teaming with posts showing individuals from around the world engaging in art and craft activities, from mindful colouring to repurposing domestic objects into sculpture. What I love is that so many more people are engaging with and feeling the benefits of what art can offer, including our students.

Our PowerPoints and instructions still offer visual stimulus, ideas and breakdown tasks and although I miss being there to deliver them in person, our students are responding well to our conversations via email and on Teams. My passion for the subject in person has been momentarily replaced by a series of exclamation marks to mark my enthusiasm for a task and dancing emojis.

What has the experience taught us?

We’ve learnt to slow down a bit. Our lockdown projects have been designed so that students can work on them at their own pace, spending the same amount of time as they would during a lesson, but deadlines have been relaxed. It’s the journey that counts, not how quickly you get there. Perhaps slowing down will allow us all to reflect more on the work at hand, consolidate what we have learnt, rather than rush on to the next big thing?

However, what I and our students don’t have is access to is our art room, stocked with a veritable array of tools and materials. Here my own creative thinking is being put to the test as I put myself into so many of your shoes and imagine what materials you have in the house verses the result you want to achieve. Paints can be replaced by mixing certain foods or spices with small amounts of water. Turmeric is good for this, as is beetroot. Many an artist has used strong tea or coffee in their work. Both are great for achieving a sepia effect. Alternatively, colour achieved through wet media can be replaced altogether - for collage - a wonderful and underused technique in my opinion. Take inspiration from the Dada artist Hannah Höch and try cutting out images from magazines, newspapers or marketing materials and gluing them down to make a composition. Don’t have scissors or glue? Rip, tear and arrange the pieces on a table. Take a photograph of it, rearrange this to create as many compositions as you want. This is what I love. Stretching the possibilities.

What else has changed?

 I now sit at my laptop to teach, rather than walk around the room interacting with students and engaging with their work as it evolves. And although the content of lessons is largely the same, as is the skills that we want the students to practice and build… there is one big hole, and that is the students. So whilst I can still teach, offer guidance and feedback to students, I realise that it’s the buzz of the art room I miss; the mountain of tangible work at the end of the day; the excitement of working with so many great minds; and being there to see the look of a face with that ‘I’ve got it’ moment.

As a lifelong learner myself, there will be things I will take forward for the better from this experience but between you and me, I can’t wait to get back into the classroom. The real classroom.

Published on 14th May 20