Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sharing our knowledge and skills.

This week I completed my first year of teaching in the adult education sector.  Previously I had taught workshops for the Wildlife Trust, also for adults, but never formally in an education setting such as Peter Symonds College in Winchester.

Teaching in a setting such as this can be different in various ways - more paperwork and admin, working as part of a team, the opportunity to seek advice from your peers, regular teaching hours and the major difference for me, was teaching a course.

Even though I have familiar faces that re-visit my all day workshops, sometimes there are long gaps between seeing the students, and it can be harder to grasp the progress that they have made.

The Botanical Art Course at Peter Symonds started last September and each term lasts 10 weeks, with each session lasting just 2 hours.  The main concern that I had was that once the course had started, I wanted to make sure that any new students that joined us as the year progressed, were not made to feel that they were catching up or left behind because others had started before them.  This was something that I experienced many years ago when I used to attend painting classes at a local college.

The solution to this was to treat each term as an individual course, covering the same subjects for the first few weeks each term.  This started with working in graphite pencil and practising forms of shading and representing tone, leading to drawing leaves and then gradually moving on to colour-mixing/colour theory.  Additional subjects such as, drawing flower forms; fruit, nuts and seeds; twigs; painting yellow and white flowers; illustrating fungi; expanding our colour palette, can be taught throughout the year and some of these can be used on a seasonal basis.

Existing students tend not to become bored repeating the same subjects at the beginning of each term, as they are glad of the re-cap and very often the actual subject matter is changed each term.  So the subject matter for tonal shading using graphite pencils may be using leaves one term, and pears the next term.  I think those students that have completed the whole year will agree that in each term there are different challenges to overcome.

It also has to be appreciated that for some students this is the only time that they have to draw and paint.  It may give them the chance to escape from their everyday routine and meet other like-minded people.

The one thing that I hadn't appreciated enough, until this last year, was that everybody has their own learning style - meaning individuals learn differently. Therefore it is important to vary the approaches to teaching the subject.  My students all agree that they value the demonstration that I do at the beginning of each session on that week's subject, and of course the one-to-one time as well, but this is not the end of it and these approaches do not suit everybody.

Some years ago when I was in early years education, I came across this saying:

If a child cannot learn the way we teach,
maybe we should teach the way they learn
This saying, although now applied to teaching adults, has taken on new dimensions to me.  I try hard to vary the teaching approaches throughout each term.  These can include quizzes, step-by-step pictorial handouts, step-by-step You tube videos,  giving students the opportunity to demonstrate or describe something they are knowledgeable of, providing a resource table and also opportunities for question and answer sessions.
Enough of what I think, here are some examples from the artwork completed by the students on the Botanical Art Course this last year.  Some of them are completely new to drawing and painting, whilst others are now returning to it after a long break.
At the end of the session this last week, we were all looking at the artwork and giving feedback to each other.  One of my students said I sounded like a proud mother ! 
That is what I am - PROUD - that they have all worked so hard and perservered to produce such wonderful results !
For me it has been an immensely rewarding year - thank you to everyone !



Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Coming across some 'Bruiseroot' !

After a busy few months, things are starting to quieten down.  The end of term is approaching so my courses with Peter Symonds AHED and the workshops with the Hants & IOW Wildlife Trust will be having a break over the summer, as will I.  From teaching at least, but there are lots of painting plans afoot !

The weather in our area of the south of England has been relatively good.  The garden is looking very green, with varying colours appearing within the vegetation.  The odd day of rain, really seems to help the garden get through the dry hot times.  Some of you may be surprised about how I am going on about the hot weather ............. well we are in the lucky position, that even though our garden is small, it is surrounded by a brick wall, so it has somewhat its own little micro-climate.

Despite this positivity we decided to escape last Sunday to Lepe Beach.  This is located the other side of Southampton Water and is within the New Forest National Park.  This area of coastline and the adjoining marine habitats, have a variety of important conservation designations.  It is within the Solent and Southampton RAMSAR (a wetland habitat global designation),  Solent and Southampton Special Protection Area (SPA), Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and also smaller areas include Lepe Point National Nature Reserve (NNR) and the North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

One of the reasons for going was to see if we could find some Restharrow in bloom, for the Irish Botanical Alphabet that I am involved with.  No luck there !  Never the less we found one of my favourite plants - the Yellow-horned Poppy Glaucium flavum.

Last year I found some plants at our local beach, but never the numbers that we found here at Lepe.     

This plant is found on shingle banks and beaches and is generally in bloom between June and September, with each flower only lasting a day.  The flowers are a beautiful sunshine yellow, and its leaves are a glaucous greeny-blue with a waxy, hairy surface.

The most distinctive feature of this plant are the thin curving, sometimes twisting seedpods, which can reach to 30cms long.

If the plant is broken, it can exude a yellow sap which is poisonous, so care must be taken.

It was once thought to be good for applying to bruises, hence it was known as 'bruiseroot'.

Back to Lepe beach - as you walk eastwards along the shore, you approach an area where the Mulberry harbours were assembled prior to the D-Day landings.  Many vessels also left this area for the same purpose.  It was along this  stretch that we came across the numerous plants, some bordering the fence of the NNR, others scattered across the upper beach.

We settled down and found a suitable spot for sketching the plants.  Hubby went off to look at the remnants of the Mulberry harbour construction area and I set to portraying what I could of these fascinating plants. 


I hadn't realised how windy the spot would be.  It was difficult keeping any part of the plant still, especially the petals.  I carried on and got as much information down on paper as I could.  What I wanted to be detailed painted observations, ended up being more of a sketch, filled in with a somewhat 'looser' painting style.  I was happy with the results though.

With a small part of a plant in my collection box, a couple of more detailed studies were completed back at home.  The leaf, a petal and the early formation of the seedpod with some of the stamens still attached.

As always, I like to find out more about the plant that I am thinking of doing a painting of.  One series of books that is always my first 'port of call' is the 'Drawings of British Plants' by Stella Ross-Craig.  Each of the books consists of line drawings showing all parts of the plant and at various stages of growth.

Yellow-horned Poppy © G.Bell and Sons 1948
I then remembered that I had a painting by my good friend and fellow artist, Connie Harrison.  Connie is wonderful artist with a really good sense of design.  This painting I bought as a folio last year at one of the SFP exhibitions.
© Connie Harrison 2012

I hope you enjoyed this post.  I'll try not to leave so long next time !  In a couple of weeks we are off to Monmouthshire and will be exploring some of the Wye Valley.  I'll have my new Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook in tow !  In the meantime, here are a couple more pictures of the Yellow-horned poppy.