Archives for the month of: May, 2012

From top to bottom: my head, my 3-year olds head

Ingredients: Black board paint, chalk, a paintbrush and a spare wall

The Big Sell: It’s like an i-Pad, only without WiFi?!

Strategy: Choose any blank wall at home and paint with 2 – 3 layers of blackboard paint to create a space for any multi-tasking, multi-productive family to exhibit their head space communally. Provide chalk on tap…

The verdict: Recently my freelance youth arts work exploded! Now, I’m not complaining, but I started to panic slightly… how would I stay on top of six different projects at the same time as well as raising two little boys and running a home? So ‘The Blackboard Wall’ was born. The purpose of The Blackboard Wall was two-fold:

1) On the top half, everything that I (like every mother) held in my head to juggle shopping lists, important dates, phone calls birthday gifts, bright ideas etc.. could be shared in one public place for EVERYONE to chip in and help [ushering the new phrase… “Do you know when the … is?” “Have you looked on The Wall?”]

2) On the bottom half, a space could be made for the children to scribble to their hearts content, which brings me on to the bigger issue at hand.

I always wanted to raise my children to be creative people, not just literally in terms of knowing their way around a paintbrush or a colour wheel, but in the broader sense to view a problem as a brain-teaser rather than a barrier, to view a blank page as a launching pad rather than a test.

In keeping with this philosophy I wanted our home to be a stage set for an imaginative childhood rather than a holding bay or a pristine cage, so when heavily pregnant with my first born I painted a huge mural on the nursery wall of a travelling map of magical lands from which they could weave marvellous dreams. We put up scaffolding planks as wide shelves to hold a myriad of arts equipment within reach so they could blend media as and when they wished. But there was still something missing. For me the new Blackboard Wall is the cherry on the cake – a promise to view a room as an exhibition space in the making; immediate, evolving, with a toy that draws in adults and children to play alongside.

And on a deeper note, this is one of my attempts as an artist, mother and feminist to not internalise culpability for everything but to share the load and raise a family who work, play, plan and act together. I’m not saying we’re quite there yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Catchphrase: The writing’s on The Wall!

Left wanting more?

• I wish I could have found a tin of the magnetic blackboard paint, but if I do another coat might be added!

• When it comes to murals don’t be too formulaic – you don’t have to buy ready-made stickers or wallpapers – look at other ways to display your favourite images from birthday cards, magazines or textiles. For instance, in this blog a North London mum makes a beautiful nursery from hand-me-downs, thrifty collections and DIY projects.


Ingredients: Digital camera, tripod, lap-top with photo editing software, some (vaguely) enthusiastic teens, large paper and pens

The Big Sell: Do you want to make your own self-portrait?

Strategy: I was contacted by a local youth centre a few weeks ago to introduce some freelance youth arts work with their Senior group of young people (aged 13+), so I went down to visit. The young people were (understandably) a bit wary of me … who’s this odd woman and why’s she asking us whether we’re into art? They were resolutely against any arts activities … but I don’t take NO for an answer easily(!) and after much questioning (what about music? drama? film-making? etc…) we hit on PHOTOGRAPHY as an area of interest.

So I put together the following project for them, and over the coming weeks we’ll see whether they get the bug?

1) Set up your digital camera on a tripod in a side room (preferably with a plain screen behind) and ask young people, preferably friends, to come and work with you in pairs. (Make sure you have parent consent.)

2) Ask young people to take a head shot of each other. Try not to have an audience for this bit – it can be unnerving to be posing in front of others!

3) In composing the head shots, ask the young people to consider which feature of their face best represents their personality. E.g Ears = a good listener, someone who is always there for others. Mouth= a gossip, always laughing and part of the action. Eyes= always watching others, knows who is who. Chin = bit of a tough nut or at least likes to seem that way. Forehead = a deep thinker or worrier. Ask the young people to take a shot which accentuates this main feature.

4) At the same time, give each young person a large sheet of paper, write their name in the middle, and invite their mates to doodle POSITIVE comments all over it (this might need to be monitored by an adult to ensure it doesn’t descend into name-calling!). It should include the person’s best qualities, interests, hopes, dreams, skills etc…

5) Once the head shot and doodle page are finished, upload both to the lap top.

6) Invite the young people to sit with you and learn how to combine and manipulate their images. They can play with the colour balance and special effects to make their photo into Pop Art, layer text over the image, or cut the image out and paste the doodle sheet underneath.

End result – one Me, Myself and I portrait that can be published as a PDF and uploaded to Facebook or any other social media of choice, as well as printed out in A3 and mounted on foamboard to be displayed at the youth centre.

The verdict:

There is a fine balance in introducing skills-based activities with young people who seem uninterested. Youth work is all about voluntary participation – this is the young person’s leisure time and I’m not in the business of telling them how they should spend it. However, sometimes we all need a nudge to discover something new and anyone who tells me “I’m not creative” gets a very quick reply from me … “Everyone’s creative!”

I’m interested to see whether this project will take off with the young people and, if it does, what they get out of it. I’ll be reporting back with an update and hopefully some photos to show!

Catchphrase: Come on, give us your best pose!

Left wanting more?

  • This project could be used as an evaluation tool for work with young people. At the start of a project, ask the young person to take their own portrait and annotate with their current feelings about themselves. Repeat at the end of the project and the youth worker can put the two portraits together to explore with the young person what has changed. Why have they chosen a blue filter at the beginning and a red one at the end? Why have they moved from making their eyes the main feature to focusing on their mouth? What words are they using to describe their changing feelings? Recorded outcomes have the potential to be as creative as the work itself!
  • Put the portraits together for an exhibition and ask strangers to write comments on what the images say about the sitter – are they insightful or totally misrepresentative? This can lead into some useful youth work about self-image – how are our private and public selves different? Does it really matter how we look to the outside world? How might we change our appearance for different situations?