Saturday, 14 June 2014

Salisbury and Cotswolds Holiday–Day 2: School Reunion–Post 2 - Art

Warning – Picture rich post!

As I mentioned in my first post, I took so many photos today that it was impossible to include them in a single post. I decided to dedicate a separate post to the quite astonishing art which is being created in my old school. The old science block has been converted to an art building with spacious, well-lit studios and a full staff.

On entering the building we were presented with a display of finished works by the girls. The ages of these girls ranged mostly between 15 and 18, and at the end of the day I was completely amazed at the extremely high standard of work, which in many cases was easily diploma-standard, from such young people. I learnt a lot today, about techniques and materials, and about attitudes to art, and about what it is possible to achieve with hard work and perseverance.

01 Felted Art Piece

02 Ceramic Piece

A small installation inspired by a field trip to St. Ives in Cornwall, the site of the famous art colony and the gallery, Tate St. Ives.

03 St Ives Installation

04 Textile Art

The next picture was of particular interest to me, having recently read Edmund de Waal’s book “The Hare with Amber Eyes.” This installation was inspired by the ceramicist and consisted of vessels made of ceramics and textile.

05 Installation Inspired by Edmund de Waal

One of the main aspects of the art education at the school is the inviting to the school of established artists, who share their work and experiences with the girls. They are then asked to set the girls assignments based on their work – not to copy or slavishly imitate, but as a springboard to their own creativity. The ceramics teacher who showed us the delights of the art block said that although they have a fairly extensive library of art books for reference, he does not encourage the girls to use these as a first port of call; he said that nothing beats meeting real artists and seeing their work first hand, in the flesh – he said it also gave them the opportunity to meet lots of lovely and interesting people! Edmund de Waal’s assistant recently visited the school and inspired that particular piece.

06 Ceramic Landscape Masks

07 Textile Art

A project wall in one of the studios.

08 Project Wall

09 Fashion Design

I had to photograph this working sink! I love all the paint spatters, and the stained palettes drying on the rack. One day my ARTHaven sink might look like this!

10 A Working Sink

11 Mixed Media

Today I came across a material entirely unfamiliar to me – a substance called Puff Binder. It gives a soft and flexible texture, somewhat bubbly in feel and appearance.

12 Puff Binder

16 Puff Binder

Experiments adding urea to ink.

13 Experiments with Urea and Ink

14 Cells

One example of the amazing results achieved using scrunched up cling film.

15 Working with Cling Film

Another project wall, this time in the textile studio.

17 Textile Art Project Wall

18 Transparent Circles

Amazing ceramics.

19 Ceramic Work

A small room off to one side (originally a science lab prep room) was dedicated to the teaching of the history of art. I was immediately drawn to this picture, a photograph of one of the famous mediaeval stone carvings in the French cathedral at Autun. (We always say that the figures in these carvings all look like the actor Anna Massey!!) This one is a particular favourite of mine, and I once did a line drawing of it to use as a Christmas card. It depicts the three kings after their visit to the infant Jesus, being warned in a dream by an angel, not to return to King Herod, who had evil designs on the baby. In this carving, the eyes of the king whom the angel is touching gently with his forefinger are open, while his colleagues sleep on. What particularly charms and amuses me is the fact that the kings have gone to bed with their crowns on! Of course, no self-respecting monarch should ever remove his or her crown.

20 History of Art Room - Autun Cathedral

Further pictures on the wall of the History of Art room.

21 History of Art Room

More amazing ceramics. Remember, the girls who created these were only in their mid-teens.

22 Ceramics

23 Textile Art

24 Working with Strips

The next picture was of an amazing piece of work. Unfortunately because it was hanging in the stair well I was unable to get a full picture of it, straight on. It consists of a number of fish of various sizes, laser-cut from paper. An original was designed and photocopied, and duplicated many times in different sizes before being cut, and then mounted in an open frame between criss-crossing threads.

25 Laser Cut Fish with Threads

The teacher showed us the working book and portfolio of one of his most accomplished students, who undertook an exercise in distorted images; faces drawn from unusual angles, distorted through glass, etc.

26 Distorted Image

Her final piece, a drawing of her grandfather, was the most arresting portrait I think I’ve ever seen, and was hanging in the stairwell.

27 Distorted Image Final Piece

There is no way in a million zillion years that I could achieve work of this standard, and especially not at age 15 or 16.

I was particularly drawn to the mixed media textured pieces inspired by visits to St. Ives and other seaside venues. Textures inspired by rock formations:

28 Texture from Rock Formations

29 Texture from Rock Formations Detail

31 Texture

30 Texture from Rock Forrmations

I was intrigued to see how much work was being done using corrugated cardboard – something I have recently been experimenting with myself.

32 Textue Using Corrugated Cardboard

One of the most promising students had conducted a study on animals and birds, and was working on textures and patterns inspired by the plumage of birds of prey. This piece was made from felt, inspired by the breast plumage of a kite, after a visit to a falconry centre where she took numerous photographs.

33 Felt Inspired by Bird of Prey

One of my favourite of her pieces was this amazing texture created from burnt corrugated cardboard, inspired by the wings of a vulture.

34 Burnt Cardboard Inspired by Vulture Feathers

We had a long chat with the teacher when we returned to the art building after our tour of the school, and he gave us many insights. I mentioned that these girls must have amazing natural talent, and he shook his head. He showed us the portfolio of one particular girl whom he described as having natural talent, but her arrogance (she knew she was talented) and possibly laziness held her back. Her portfolio was full of good work, but it was slim in comparison with those of her contemporaries, and she limited herself to a small number of projects which she photocopied and re-used, and her exploration into different media was very limited.

The teacher then said, “Compare that with this,” and opened a large portfolio. This girl had pages and pages of preparatory work, photographs, research, etc. before she even began work, and she explored the texture or colour of what she wanted to achieve, using as many different media as possible. The teacher said this was the result solely of extremely hard work and dedication, and a desire to do well. She had no previous experience of art, but achieved so much.

This got me thinking, and I wanted to share this with you as a follow-on from my post about Jennibellie’s recent video about the dangers of comparing ourselves with others. So many people fail even to start with art because they think they are no good, or “can’t draw.” Through the work of his outstanding students, this teacher proved that with the right attitude, perseverence, hard work and a desire to achieve one’s desired end, nothing is impossible.

Last year, he told us, of the total final group (not sure how many girls, but I think about 25?), one achieved a grade C, another a grade A, and the whole of the rest of the group the top grade of A*. Each one could take their pick of any art school in the country.

Having done “embryo” art during my years at school, encouraging my infant creativity which has then developed to where I am now, I am very grateful for the start I had. However, the standard of teaching, and availability of facilities, were a fraction of what the school is now providing. Both my hubby and I were left completely gobsmacked at the high standard and maturity of this work. I hope this glimpse of a small fraction of what I could have photographed had I had a week in the place, has convinced you of this, too, and encouraged any who think they can’t achieve such things, to have a go, work hard, build on ongoing experience, and just see what happens!


  1. wow, wow, wow and double wow!! Art has surely come a long way at school. I so enjoyed these photos Shoshi. I had a similar experience a few years ago looking at some 6th form needlework classes - they had made hats and they were amazing. Beats the rubbish I was asked to do at school. I was also amazed when we went along to the exhibition of students work when my daughter finished at London Retail Academy - more graphic design but the quality of eawesome. Young people are sooooo talented.

  2. Thanks for sharing this lovely display of artwork. I love to see students work. It always amazes me how talented some of these budding artists are at such a young age.

  3. Amazing art work and a dedicated teacher. Thank you for the tour!


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