One of this year’s big projects was the week I spent up at Concordia Lutheran College in Toowoomba as artist and writer in residence.
It was a new experience for all of us, and as a result turned into an extremely intensive but very entertaining week. 11 workshops for students and a talk to parents and teachers was… a lot, but I learned so much by doing it, and had a great time.
The giddy exhaustion was compounded by the surreal quality of being back at my old boarding school, and how little had changed. The uniforms and computers were different, but the Year 12s were still discussing Green Day in the corridors, and the art hallway smelled as it always had — of soapstone powder.
Some general notes
- I ran the workshops at a fairly high level — trying to keep them accessible and useful, yes, but also giving students a crash course in what I do for a job.
The students were absolutely up for this — the year 10 and 11 fine art students bravely went through a compressed illustration process (with demanding art director), the year ten English students (while in some cases physically climbing onto each others shoulders) got deep into the guts of the gothic, and the year 4s broke down the phrase “rust-scumbled silos rapunzeled by vines” like nobody’s business.
- I did learn quite a bit about running school workshops vs more self-selected sessions, and also the approaches needed for over 30 participants (better suited to a talk than a workshop, because there isn’t time to interact the way I like to) and under 10 (which allows more tailoring around what the individual students want to learn). The students and teachers were universally engaged and involved (and the librarian marvellous!).
- It is SO NICE having mixed ages in workshops, whether combined year levels or having a teacher sit in as a participant — it shakes everyone’s self-consciousness out a little bit AND it means I have someone not a student I can call on for the first example, which gratifies the students. (Thank you to the teachers who walked into that trap.)
- The observation journal provided some incredibly useful activities and material for workshops, and the short stories I send out to some patrons were the perfect length for examples and demonstrations — another benefit of doing lots of small things regularly.
Monday and Tuesday
On Monday and Tuesday I was on the primary-school campuses. I gave two 2-hour workshops each day: year 5s in the morning and year 6s (with a couple of very dignified 4s mixed in) in the afternoon. The student drawings with this post are from the year 5s on the first day.
This workshop was on “Making the Mechanical Fascinating” and included:
- Terrible speed drawing
- What is machinery?
- What is the fantastical?
- Finding (and swapping) the best examples
- Recombining objects
- Why is a bulldozer like a dandelion?
- Creating poems
- Terrible and Wonderful inventions.
There were so many fabulous ideas and a LOT of energy, and a surprising willingness to break down a sentence or two I’d prepared earlier (Travelogues does a lot of what we did in this workshop, so I mined it for examples).
On Wednesday I did Narrative Recombination with Year 11 English for nearly 2 hours. This included:
- Choosing stories with personal “mythic resonance”
- Close-reading of some paragraphs and pictures from my work (where I do this)
- Breaking scenes down
- Building scenes and stories back up again (in groups)
- Identifying the mood-movement of a story (to hack beginning/middle/end)
I also took ALL the year 7s through Small Drawings, Big Ideas, a reworking of the workshop I did for Words Out West. It involved:
- What is a story (an extremely broad definition that included sports matches and building a house — necessary with a group of people who haven’t chosen to be at a creative workshop, but also useful for the rest of us)
- Your favourite things (vs other people’s)
- How to draw small and fast
- Coming up with new favourite things
- Creating stories you like
Then in the afternoon I gave the year 11 art students a Gothic Birds Accordion Book workshop. This was based on the “Book of Marvellous Birds” workshop I’ve given before, but targeted to people who should know how to draw, and also very genre-specific.
While many of the other workshops incorporated free ideas and mixed up art and writing, this workshop was an introduction to working as an illustrator of other people’s stories.
Topics covered included:
- Drawing fast and bad
- What is Gothic imagery, and how to tweak it
- Kathleen ad-libs a short Gothic story, and an art brief
- Identifying scenes to illustrate
- Rolling an image between genres
- Adding more story to an image
- A quick art show (such fun)
In the morning, I did an Australian Gothic Birds writing workshop with the year 10 English students. This had a lot of elements (‘sustaining cultural context’, the Gothic, Australian Gothic, birds, writing…), and it was the workshop I worried most about. Fortunately (given the principal sat in on the whole workshop!) the kids took it and ran, and it went very well. It featured:
- Identifying the Gothic (and your favourite bits of it)
- Involving Australian birds (there was a surprisingly strong anti-emu contingent)
- Combining elements (with examples)
- How to cheat at writing setting (i.e. close-readings of paintings)
- Rolling a scene between genres
- Story patterns
- How to quickly build up a story from your idea (there were some lovely ideas, but the most memorable one involved the Prime Minister turning out to be a murderous kookaburra sleeper agent)
The year 8s, a smaller group, got a slightly calmer reprise of the ideas workshop I did with the year 7s the day before.
Then, with the year 10 art students, I did a slightly more intense version of the Gothic Bird Book I’d done with the year 11s — the year 10s having already had a crash-course on the Gothic that morning.
Then on Thursday evening I gave a presentation and Q&A over wine and cheese to a group of teachers and parents, who were lovely, welcoming and very interested in the possibilities for children who want to get into the arts (me: it’s hard work, sure, but I can’t say it’s harder than law).
Finally on Friday I had a very small session with some self-selected year 9s. It was a lovely casual session, combining mechanical and fantastic elements.
Then I had a smidgen of time to sketch students over lunch in the quadrangle, before going back to my motel and falling deeply asleep.
In summary, it was a great week, with fantastic and supportive students and teachers and librarians. I was able to test and develop a number of ideas and workshop approaches, and it was lovely to go back to a place that had once been, for a few years, home.