There. Ive said it out loud so it’s official. I am now focussing on FMP. The culmination of 4 years at HCA and the best opportunity I will have in my life to showcase myself. No pressure then…
I always suspected my FMP would be a picture book but my journey over the last few years has led me to childrens workshops and rekindled my passion for education, which I abandoned first time round for many reasons – all relating back to confidence in myself.
My focus has shifted to activity books and more specifically creativity books. Having just submitted a dissertation looking at meaning making in childrens art and the reasons they loose their creative confidence when they get to 7-8, I already have a very specific target audience and having a 6 year old and a soon to be 8 year old at home as ‘guinea pigs’, I feel well equipped to tackle this project full on and immerse myself in it for the next 3 months and beyond.
Being mindful of achieving a balance between something aesthetically pleasing for grown ups and attention grabbing for children is a priority and I keep coming back to the idea of Collections. It was, by far my favourite module – so I have knowledge and experience to draw on and I am confident that collections will make the book both user friendly and visually interesting. I also feel that by incorporating ideas for projects and having examples as a ‘collection’ alongside I can draw on my dissertation research in giving children practical examples but leave the way clear for their own interpretations. There is also scope for younger children to use the book as an educational tool (How many Guatemalan Worry Dolls have red hats, Can you count the creatures on this page etc).
My initial practical research looks a little like this, looking for ideas in the things we do already…
Pattern making, plate portraits, drawing fruit, playing with rocks – all lend themselves to collections.
Day one of ‘playing’ with ideas went like this…
Colour, collections, circles feature strongly and I always feel the image has to do/be something else – something to cut out, a toy or a useful/practical object. Trying to steer myself towards collage rather than screenprint, purely because of being able to tackle it in my own studio rather than relying on college – which, as I recall was difficult last year with everyone wanting the workshops to complete their FMP’s. No one does collage like Mark Hearld so I studied his work in the best way I know how, by copying it.
Work in progress, with nothing stuck down. I looked at MH use of backgrounds, of textures, of the use of ink over papers to tie the image together. I stood back at the end of the day and realised if I wanted to work in this way (and the amount of papers I have collected over the course tells me that I do) I needed to rejig the studio. I had a huge board balanced precariously across the desk and ‘stuff’ everywhere – bomb site, fire hazard, absolute chaos. To continue my experimenting I needed to set up my space efficiently.
I couldn’t bear to take a ‘before’ image (such a tip!), so settled on an ‘after’ shot through the back window. Studio is small but functional and now has three workstations in a triangle rather than just the one on the desk, this now means I can create experimental collages, one ‘proper’ one and one ‘just for fun’ whilst still being able to transfer the pieces to another image for sticking if needs be. A technique I learnt about whilst on Portfolio, but one that has been with me since – it’s usually the one you have to ‘play’ with that yields results – amazing what can happen when the pressure is off. Next on the list was a trip to the Hive. This week’s reading material consists of the following…
Marion Deuchars, in particular is relevent to what I am trying to achieve – her book Draw, Paint and Print like the Great Artists had some exciting projects, which I could see drew parallels with what I was trying to achieve. As a mother of two as well as an artist she has astutely constructed projects for older children (Amazon states 8-12) with a sense of conversation, of journeying together and not patronising the audience. Many of the ideas are not new but they are presented in an interesting and contemporary way and collectively have impact. Having had a slight disagreement over the age range this book targetted, I went to the Amazon page to clarify and was interested to read the book reviews which were primarily positive, many stated that the adults wanted the book for themselves and were able to engage with it too.
Anorak, Okido, Aquilia and Whizz Bang Pop together with countless off the shelf magazines also contain many activities and opportunities for creativity and having collected them all since my children were young, in anticipation of such a project I felt it was finally time to go through the immense collection and draw out useful pages and disregarding the rest – this approach I felt would help springboard ideas and focus my direction – it would also be a useful way to welcome in a new era by clearing out a backlog of research material, refining it and noting my progression.
So, after many evenings spent sorting, the two massive boxes of childrens magazines and activity books were finally whittled down to just one folder – sorted into activities, articles and collage material. My next challenge was to work through the activities to see why I liked them, why I felt they were appropriate and how I could adapt them to suit my own project. Many of the activities are presented in my RVJ and I have also presented them on Instagram
Whilst looking through these activities, I was struck by my own sense of what would work and what wouldn’t and my conviction surprised me. As confidence in my own ideas has always been a struggle, I was relieved and encouraged by my optimism and realised that the time I have spent over the last couple of years working with children, running workshops, planning Art Club activities, leading classroom projects, ensuring my own children have access to interesting and unusal activities and generally immersing myself in all things relating to childrens creativity had served me well. I was able to speculate on what would and wouldn’t work – but more importantly I was able to justify why. Whilst this isnt always easy to communicate articulately under pressure, it is easy to demonstrate here, on my Instagram page and in my RVJ.
I have a very distinct view of what makes a Creativity book rather than an Activity book – and this is fundamental to what I am trying to achieve. Generally activity books are designed to keep children ‘busy’ and reinforce their learning in school (ie. word searches, mazes, spot the difference, dot-to-dot), there is usually a definite right or wrong outcome and there isnt much room for lateral or creative thinking. Creativity books on the other hand offer scope for deeper thinking, for unique outcomes, for starting points to other things. They aren’t designed to keep a child’s mind ‘busy’, they are designed to open a childs mind and allow for creativity in their own unique way.
This leads me to reflect on my dissertation and the confidence a child looses when they are 7+, which is usually reinforced by adults who impose their own views of representation and undermine the work of the child. Many children never recover from this, leading to the familiar cry of older children (and countless adults) of ‘I can’t draw. So what skills do children need to gain creative confidence? What concepts do they need to understand to help them navigate this difficult time and help them overcome the negative (often well meaning) comments that stiffle them.
The ‘big ideas’ which would help children to understand can be condensed as follows:
- Empathy (putting yourself in someone else’s shoes)
- Serendipity (happy accidents)
- Collaboration (working with others)
- Culture (the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves)
- Creative Confidence (feeling good about your own ideas)
My own children have understood these words from a very young age (Harry was able to say and understand the meaning of serendipity when he was just 3) and whilst the explanations are simplified, the concepts are big. Whenever I go into a classroom I always start with explaining to the children what collaboration means (after first having a discussion with them to see if they have heard the word before). I explain how fortunate I am to be able to work with them. I don’t just say we are working together, I say that working together to produce something is called collaborating and then reinforce that by using the word throughout the project – the children respond to this, they enjoy knowing a ‘big word’ and more importantly they enjoy knowing what it means and how to use it and appreciate that they are being talked to in a more adult way and not patronised.
Up to now I have been looking at content. How am I going to communicate this content? I started off by looking at collage as my medium but am drawn back to screenprint due to its simplicity, its aesthetic and my familiarity with it. Having mixed a number of binders for my last module, I was mindful of the fabric binders translucency compared to the opacity of the binder used for paper. I decided to begin with some experimentation of my leftover pigments to see what textures could be achieved and whether the binders mixed/separated or muddied when combined.
The shapes were derived from Elise Gravel’s work, simple bold and easily identifiable for children. Interestingly the translucent binders enabled me to layer on top of them – obviously I knew this was possible, but it occured to me this has a much more practical application – I can offer a ‘collection’ of images but also offer starting points for the children to draw on to – a creative invitation to see what may happen by using the translucent binders as a rough ‘outline’ for the child to work on top of. The shapes themselves were also interesting in that there were alternatives, options, creative starting points – had I been preoccupied with specific shapes before I started, I would of missed this – I went into the Textile Room looking to see how binders reacted together and came away teeming with ideas for making the shapes work as starting points for creative activities (explored in RVJ).
Collections of shapes need room – going from left to right seems to imply ‘these are my ideas first – now do yours’. What if I could work from the top down, so the space in front of the child is ‘theirs’ and my work simply serves as a useful reference for them if needed peripherally. What if they could work in such a way that others couldn’t see to judge them? What if they could envelop themselves in the activities? How could they do this if it was a book?
My RVJ explores all sorts of paper engineering projects for children, looking for ideas – but what if the paper engineering was an activity that involved the whole book? No fiddly cutting out, or tabs to fold – a simple structure that could be a theatre space, a garage, a home…a safe space…a pod…what happens if I scale it up?
Ok, so its made out of flimsy paper rather than think card (or ply) at the moment but the dogs seem fascinated by it as do the children – they can sit in it, it can be reconfigured to various shapes and has secret panels for working on projects that children don’t want to share with the world just yet. In principle this is doable. An interactive book that opens up into a creative space. From a ‘pad’ (book) to a ‘pod’ (I like the digital reference – an anti-ipad!).
The only thing bothering me with a pitched roof was it turns more into a ‘playhouse’ rather than a ‘creativity pod’ and engineering issues means the whole structure is unstable as the apex makes the walls bow without a brace.
By giving it a flat roof, I gain stability and function – the children can still fit in it- and as the reconfiguration offers more choices with a flat roof, there is even room for them both. But what about light – its pretty dark in there!
I approached a couple of Tech Dems to talk though my idea and realised I could either integrate the construction into the design or make it as discrete as possible – by integrating it I would be making more of the structure and going down a more 3D route. Not wanting to overcomplicate the project and keeping it as illustrative as possible I decided to make the construction simple and discrete, allowing for durability, simplicity of use and maximum overall space for the artwork.
My preliminary studies with various maquettes has helped me enormously without having to part with lots of money to learn from my mistakes.
- The slits along the top work to throw light into the structure (but also conveniently double as a handle for when it is folded up in book format) but are extremely difficult to cut – especially in card. We are lucky enough to have access to a laser cutter at college, which I have used for various projects recently, including De Koffie Pot menus – potentially I could get the card cut using the laser cutter to ensure accurate and precise alignment of the ‘windows’.
- The card adheres extremely well to the bookbinding tape using PVA glue (the only colour available in the college library was brown), I have now committed to an order of white. I did consider other coloured options but as the tape is not double sided I felt I was prioritising one side of the book over the other – a neutral white is ideal for not making distinctions as to how the pod should be folded. By sandwiching the tape inbetween each side of the book, there is only a thin strip of it on show.
- There are some technical issues which, by using offcuts of thick plywood I was able to visually work out. The spacing required at each joint depended on how many pages folded at that specific point – to ensure it folds smoothly back into a concertina book after use as a pod this spacing needs to be very accurate to avoid being sloppy or hingebound.
- By having the top row of cards independant from each other I am able to configure the structure in many different ways, yet allow it to fold back on itself naturally.
- Mount card isnt thick enough for an A2 version, but by sandwiching the bookbinding tape between two layers, stability is good. For A4 version, mount card can be used one side and thick paper on the other (this gives potential for digital printing).
The next step is now await delivery of card and bookbinding tape ready to take to the laser cutter to cut a prototype. Whilst waiting delivery, the illustrations themselves need further consideration. But simple screenprinting taking inspiration from Helen Dardik, Marimekko and Louise Lockhart will be foremost in my mind as I develop the sketches for the activities.
I shall be working on an A2 version of this pod for use at the Graduation Show as well as an A4 tabletop version for people to look at. The individual activity pages will look like this – a collection of my designs at the top, gradually fading out to space for the child to experiment at the bottom. Using typography which is readable to a child but still aesthetically pleasing – the likes of Sara Fanelli and Oliver Jeffers spring immediately to mind – hand rendered and childlike.
The individual elements to be considered are:
- Front and back cover inside and out (should these actually resemble doors?)
- 4 x outside roof panels (these should be patterned rather than pictorial as they will be seen at different angles depending on configuration.
- 2 x mindfulness colouring panels (these will hide the secret panels) children rarely have difficulty sharing their colouring in, so this is an ideal ‘mask’ for their protected work.
- Creative confidence activity – warm up exercises to encourage mark making
- Empathy activity – involving thinking about facial expressions and body language
- Serendipity activity – using my shapes found in the world around us as a starting point for creatures, collection of my own followed by opportunity for children to create their own and also start looking in the world around them for more.
- Culture activity – listening sticks based on Guatemalan worry dolls. Culture can be seen as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves – these listening sticks are something to tell your stories to. They can be designed in the pod and made in the real world.
- Collaboration activity – Sonia Delauney circles – children and adults do not say they cant draw when dealing with pattern or abstract art – therefore this is a perfect activity for a child to do with a parent collaboratively. This activity is on the outside of the pod, to allow the adult to participate and to respect the internal space as the childs personal domain.
To integrate this project further, I have the opportunity to present and run the activities at Hay Festival in the Make and Take Tent in May as well as at a local school as part of their Art Club. I have been looking at all of the art activities in terms of a creativity book and their transferance to ‘real world’ activities which can be done in a workshop environment.
The mindfulness pages of the book will obviously be slightly different from the rest of the book as they will be outline, whereas the rest of the book will be block printed. My creatures lend themselves well to mindfulness colouring ( which is looked at in more detail in my RVJ).
Experimenting with this has led me to wonder about tailoring the characters to the upcoming events. These are my Digraph characters, selected at random from a stock I have been collecting since starting this course and used as a starting point for this element of the book. But what about doing a set of Hay characters – chosen from various places around the town – an Instagram tag could show people where they were found. HCA characters – a mindfulness colouring sheet of the creatures I have found at College Road and Folley Lane over the years would be a great way to mark the end of my time at the college. This could lead to National Trust character sheets (I have hundreds from their properties), as well as individual places of interest – Avoncroft Museum is a goldmine of character shapes as is Ironbridge. In this instance, the ‘coloured in’ version could be screenprinted on the outside of the pod – unifying the project.
I have also arranged to visit my local primary school on the 10th April to talk to children from Years 3, 4 and 5 as a small focus group to see what they think of the book, the activities, the illustrations and the concept as a whole – so the next two weeks will be spent preparing the prototype for their scrutiny and getting to grips with the visual narrative that will form the basis of the external structure of the book. I also have a visit to Hay planned to photograph characters for the mindfulness pages (with my husband taking photos of me taking photos so their location can be uploaded using a specific hashtag to encourage digital interaction once they have been coloured in – for example there might be a brick pattern on the front of Booths Bookshop which becomes a character – I can take the close up and then its specific location can be identified by a distance photograph – this adds an unusual interactive element to a simple mindfulness colouring activity and engages families rather than individual children).
Now I have finally got my head round the concept, the design and the layout – it is now time to bring all this together in the illustrations. Wanting a bright but limited palette (filters do not do justice to the colours here)- I have settled on tones which have a deep richness, using complimentary colours, blue and orange, magenta and green with yellow as an accent. Purples were too dark and lilacs to insipid. I felt this palette would appeal to children but not be ‘babyish’. Louise Lockhart uses 3 colours, but overprints to create 5 – to great effect. I used 7 for my last project (including purple and red) but feel this smaller palette will work more effectively with my design. By printing on coloured backgrounds on the outside, I hope to draw attention to my designs, but on the inside I intend to use a white background to reflect more light and to offer a better surface for children to add their own designs to.
Following a snowglobe disaster, I am having to redo some work (it bounced off a shelf whilst I was hammering holes into cutouts). But it’s an opportunity to redo the work in a more refined way.
My desire to screenprint verses my desire to collage is still raging and I wonder whether collaging in a screenprint ‘style’ might be the answer I am looking for. I am reluctant to rely on screenprinting as I know it will be difficult to find the space to work quietly and unrushed in the run up to deadlines after Easter, especially as I have 16 reversable panels to deal with. There are also big cost implications going down this route and I’m not convinced it’s viable.
With the Hay Treasure Hunt approved and under construction, I felt this would serve as a super promotional material and could form the basis of the reverse of my CV to introduce myself to the Hay Team. Needing business cards too – I was concerned I wouldnt be able to get the images completed in time and would be leaving eveything to the last minute. I decided the best way forward would be some studio photographs of my work which could form the basis of promotional work for the workshops (as this would be the main way I could generate income in the short-term, I felt this was the most effective route to concentrate on – especially for the Grad Show which would have a lot of school involvement). I could always reassess after deadline and reorder for New Designers for a different audience using the completed artwork.
I felt the group shot would serve well as a postcard – highlighting the workshop element of my work and as collections are always aesthetically pleasing to me – it felt like a great ‘fit’.
The listening sticks themselves could work as promotional products, in various sizes for various audiences so it would be useful to also have some mini business cards which could also act as labels to simply explain the concept.
Alongside my mindfulness colouring sheets for my CV, business cards, mini cards, postcards, stickers and promo packs which could include actual sticks – I also looked as lots of alternative options. Screenprinting onto bags was one that caught my eye and could be useful as a workshop handout.
I also looked into the pop up business cards – which would be amazing with the listening sticks but it was going to be too tricky to coordinate with such pressure on the laser cutter at this time of year – but its definitely one to look at again in furture.
As for a covering letter – I felt this was the most difficult aspect as I dont want to promote myself too much at the moment as I still have another year of PGCE to content with before I threw myself into marketing, so it felt slight futile preparing a covering letter for an unknown entity and each letter would be completely different dependent on whom I was addressing. I felt it best to focus on the CV and tangible elements. But to comply with the grading criteria and submitting a covering letter – it would potentially read:
Dear (insert name of contact rather than Sir/Madam)
My name is Sarah Dean. I am an illustrator, specialising in education and engaging children in interactive illustration. I thrive on turning my work into workshop activities to build children’s own creative confidence. I would love to work with you.
(The rest is dependant on whether Im talking to a publisher, a school, a funding source, an events organiser, a sponsor, an art director or someone commissioning my services)
Yours sincerely, Sarah Dean
This short introduction could be included in the elipse on the mindfulness colouring page – so when it is folded into a zine it reads as the front cover.
Moving back to the degree show itself and having bounced back and forth with collage and screenprint, I eventually concluded that the only way to do my work justice was to screenprint – but instead of UV, I would simplify my designs and use stencils. This would keep the cost down, save resources (I wouldnt need as many screens) and allow me complete control over the process – having to wait for over a week for access to the print tables was a blow, but meant I was able to prepare well so that when I was in the workshop, I would be the most productive I could be.
The stencil process went well, by using newsprint I could create 4-5 identical templates at once which could be taped off as necessary for the different colour prints – whilst I could only get a limited run out of this process, I felt it was a reasonable compromise with the resources/facilities.
The translucent binders worked beautifully to create green and orange with overprinting in yellow/blue/red. Whilst there was a lot of time and thought involved in the preparations to ensure the stencils were accurate – I was able to maximise my time by bringing the screens home to prepare for the next days session – taping off the relevant areas whilst sat quietly at home, helped keep the stress levels to a minimum during this busy, busy time.
All the pages have now beeen photographed in the studio and the creativity pod submitted. A smaller book version is in print ready for the show and final images will be released in June ready for the Graduation Show Exhibition.