A formula for speedy portrait painting
21 June 2010
I teach a weekly children’s art club at my local primary school. It’s a pretty fulfilling pastime and as a working artist, is an opportunity not only to nurture early talent and relish in the untainted enthusiasm for what you love to do, but also keeps you on your toes – learning yourself and rethinking what makes art work…
A classic example of this is a recent project I have worked on with Yr3 and Yr4 children, who range in age from 7 to 9. The fundamental challenge of a primary school art workshop is the very limited time you have, combined with the very real need for children of this age range to ‘achieve’ something visible and concrete within that space of time in order to feed their enthusiasm and desire to continue.
This term we have been working on self portraits, from very quick, fun, drawing exercises to get the children to understand proportion and placement of features, through to creating 3D models in clay of their own faces without using mirrors but by just feeling their own features (Messy but FUN)
The most successful class though, I have to say, so far has been working the children though a very formulaic approach to painting a portrait, where we all worked together, one step at a time, using simple painted shapes on identical squares of board. Initially, I wasn’t sure how successful this approach could be, but the aim was to create a series of Julian Opie styled portraits. The simplest pieces always seem to be the most effective and this was certainly the case here. By removing all areas of anxiety: no shading, no contours, no details whatsoever…. just simple shapes, flat colour and correctly placed but over-simplified features. The results were lovely, really lovely. Each child, however intimidated by art they may have been prior to the sessions, managed to not only create a recognizable self portrait but more importantly, every single child left the room that day with a big fat grin on their faces!
Turns out using a tried and tested formula to create art isn’t always such a bad thing afterall….