By Paula Briggs
The following project shares the journey and outcome of a weather-inspired exploration of watercolour and graphite, with Year 5 and 6 pupils (ages 9, 10 and 11) at Bourn Primary Academy, Cambridgeshire.
Working with the whole class, I wanted the pupils to have the opportunity to explore the materials in an open-ended, yet guided manner, resulting in a large amount of sketchbook-type work. The imagery created was then photographed and used to create a short animation which celebrates the children’s work.
Each child had access to:
- 8+ sheets of A3 paper
- Wax candle or white oil pastel
- A piece of cardboard slightly larger than the paper.
I ran all the sessions as guided sessions, i.e. children were taken through a series of steps, working alongside each other, until they reached a point where they were confident to explore their own ideas.
The theme for the sessions was an exploration of weather, and we watched videos of clouds, storms and rain as inspiration. I stressed that in the exploration we were not going to be too literal, but instead to let the nature of the materials suggest weather-like imagery.
In the first session, I introduced the children to some the basic techniques when using watercolour:
- Using plenty of water. Children were encouraged to really puddle water onto the watercolour blocks to ensure that the colour was nice and liquid. Children experimented with the difference between applying the watercolour to wet paper (wet on wet) or applying the watercolour to dry paper (wet on dry).
- Using gravity as a tool. Working with the paper against the cardboard, and the cardboard held at an angle, children explored how they could use gravity to create a wash – starting at the top of the page and letting the water/paint drip down. By working on a diagonal in this way children also explored how they could create a dynamic direction for their drawing.
- Mixing colours on the paper. Children were encouraged to limit themselves to two or three colours (browns, blues, and ochres), but to experiment with mixing these colours on the page, rather than in a palette.
We then moved on to exploring what happens when you use a waxy material with watercolour. Working on a dry sheet, children drew blind with white oil pastels or candle stubs, and then overlaid watercolour to create a resist effect.
Finally in the first session we explored using graphite. Children were asked to work in silence and make marks with the graphite according to my instruction. I asked the children to listen to the sounds of their mark making as they explored:
- Making the densest, darkest mark they could, through a repeated action
- Making curved, repeated, softer marks
- Making gentle dots, woking from the wrist
- Making harsher, noisier dots and dashes, working from the shoulder
- Using the eraser to go back into the work, using similar actions to the graphite
- Overlay once again with graphite.
Working on the same sheet, children were then invited to bring all three techniques together:
- Use oil pastel or candel stub to create a resist over the graphite mark making sheet
- Finally use watercolour (and gravity) to layer colour and energy over the graphite and resist.
During the second session children further explored the concept of “chiaroscuro” – the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. I introduced them to a “chiaroscuro face” – a squint which enables you to see dark darks, light lights and to get rid of mid tones. I asked them to try to use chiaroscuro in their work to help create a sense of drama. As a recap I asked them, in their experience, which materials best enabled them to explore light and dark. Graphite for instance can produce the darkest darks, and wax resist the lightest lights. Watercolour can be used for mid tones, though with effort and skill can be used for areas of dark and light too.
Before the children began work we also talked briefly about composition. With the final animation in mind, we looked at, and discussed, how we can make dynamic images of a wave (inspired by Hokusai), rolling clouds (inspired by a cloud hunters film), and driving diagonal rain.
The images in session two were built in a similar way to session one, though with more time for the children to follow their own exploration as their skills built:
- We began by a guided session using graphite, with the children making marks on a page in accordance to my instruction. They choose where to put the following marks to build an image of either a cloud or a wave:
- Small dense, repeated cross hatching
- Softer cross hatching
- Cross hatching which connects the other cross hatching
- Soft, curved, repeated lines
- Eraser marks
- Dots, dashes.
- The children were then invited to use wax resist followed by watercolour as before, and to repeat the process to make as many images as they felt able, with as much dynamism and drama as they could muster!
Finally children were invited to draw their name using all the techniques they had learnt, as a way of signing the final animation.
The children’s drawing were hole punched and tied to create a sketchbook. Each image was photographed and added to an iMovie project to create the “Painting the Weather” animation.
Many thanks to the staff and children of Bourn Primary Academy.