By Sara Dudman
Accessible approaches for collaborative drawing with visually impaired students
Working together with feeling, sensing, sticking, video and light projection… this post describes some ideas from an amazing workshop day at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Devon.
Artists worked alongside teachers and children from WESC Foundation Specialist Centre for Visual Impairment to explore and develop accessible practical approaches to responding to Flock Together, an exhibition of 2D paintings, drawings and video by Sara Dudman and Debbie Locke.
The traditional starting point of engaging first-hand with the exhibition centred on students experiencing the artists’ video installation which included a range of sights and sounds gathered by sheep and a farmer wearing webcams to record and capture a standard day on a working sheep farm. Students listened and really felt as if they were on the farm, recognising sounds and using them to build imaginary visual pictures and related ideas of the experience.
The artists had collected video footage and mapping data using webcams and GPS which they had then used as starting points for their collaborative painted and drawn artworks in the exhibition.
So, what did the artists do to help the students engage with some of the themes and processes in the exhibition?
Practical activities experimented with definitions of drawing, including exploring ways to make tactile and other drawings. OHP projectors were used to create large-scale collaborative wall drawings. The theme of collaboration was a strongly recurring theme throughout the day.
Students and teachers worked from a short series of OHP projections of simple line drawings on transparent acetate sheets which had been traced directly from ‘still’ images from the video footage of sheep recorded on the farm.
The key ingredients here were the simplification of the more complex video source material into very bold and simple black marker pen line drawings.
When projected, not only was the line drawing enlarged, but also the strong contrast in light helped students perceive the lines and imagery. Projecting directly onto the wall at student height allowed participants to get as close as necessary and draw directly onto the large paper attached to the wall.
The use of strongly visible, bold and clear projected images, enabled participants to create a fantastic collaborative drawing using black marker pens. The strength of the projected image enabled them to work up the drawing in layers, with each group of students taking turns to work from a new acetate with a slightly different image of the activity from the video.
The artists capitalised on the darkness of the gallery video projection space, creating the workshop drawings in the same space using the OHP while listening to the sound track of sheep and farmer sounds from the video – lots of farm atmosphere!
One of the benefits of working on a drawing on this scale was the opportunity for students to work with enlarged imagery, enabling conversations about perspective, centring on the different sizes of the sheep and spatial perspective with links across to the visually impaired students’ own experience of the world around them. Parallels were drawn between visual perspective and audible distance – i.e.: sounds are quieter the further away you are which corresponds with images appearing the become smaller.
The students’ collaborative drawing was very spontaneous, containing so much movement and expression.
Everyone worked brilliantly to also create tactile drawings using specialist materials including ‘German Film’ and embossing tools.
‘German Film’ is great stuff – as the artist draws it immediately creates a raised ‘blistered’ line, creating an instant tactile drawing. Once again, the participants used simplified traced images derived from the webcam video footage, following the lines to create their individual tactile drawings.
The tactile experience of perceiving the image was used as a catalyst for conversations about the image and exhibition content. The tactile surfaces worked effectively to communicate and express the flocks of sheep.
The students followed their initial collaborative marker pen drawing with a collaborative tape wall drawing. Tape is an excellent drawing medium for creating bold and bright tactile drawings quickly and spontaneously.
Students were able to simultaneously create visual drawings with strongly tactile qualities, combining their learning and approaches from the previous two activities.
Wicky Sticks were included as a drawing medium alongside the coloured tapes. Wicky Sticks are a type of coloured sticky string which adheres to pretty much any surface and are brilliantly re-positionable but tacky enough to stay in place on a vertical surface.
The combination of the visually strong and clear lines created with the brightly coloured tape, together with the tactile qualities created with tape and Wicky Sticks enabled all students to interact with and contribute to the drawing.
Physical contact with profoundly visually impaired students to support, guide and model processes and techniques is essential. The teachers and support staff briefed the artists about appropriate contact and support levels.
During the creation of the collaborative OHP wall drawing students enjoyed knowing that they ‘had sheep on their backs’ even if they couldn’t see them. To assist understanding, the artists ‘drew’ around the shape of the projected sheep using their fingers as a drawing tool, touching the students’ backs and verbally describing the shape as they went so students could imagine the shapes of the sheep.
This idea was then developed using tape directly onto the students’ back to capture the projection of the sheep. The students responded wonderfully to this experience, enjoying feeling the drawing of the shape of the sheep through their sweatshirts as its shape was traced out on their backs.
This workshop offered all involved a great opportunity to experiment and develop accessible ideas and approaches in response to the students’ needs.
With thanks to: