We’ve been lucky enough to get to know Kate, the art teacher at Halley House School, since she ran last year’s Christmas Card Project with us. Since then, we’ve kept in touch with Kate asking for her input in our Design a Mug Project and to listen to her insights into being an art teacher. We know many of you are fellow art teachers, artists or teachers and parents with a passion for art and so we wanted to share with you the conversation Kate and ourselves have been having. Please feel free to reach out and share your art stories with us.
APFS: Let’s start by getting to know you, who is Kate?
Kate: I am a mother of two teenage boys and jeweller of 20 years. I trained to BA level in Three Dimensional Design and have been self-employed for many years. I set up a children’s art school for my own children’s education, when they were in primary school, and built up my teaching experience this way - so I could be with my children and not leave them to do a full time PGCE. I taught art in my children's school and other schools in Hackney. I now run a dedicated art room at Halley House School which has grown from when the school first opened 5 years ago. The school works very hard on its specialist’s provision of Art, Music and PE. So it’s a very special place. I am now at The Institute of Art and Therapy in Education studying a PGC in Art Therapy to support my work in the art room at Halley House School. One of the founding members of the college is Margot Sunderland, and she along with the rest of the teachers do amazing work with trauma in schools and teach how powerfully the arts can change lives.
I have also maintained my professional practice as a jeweller - pushing my own work to a higher level of commissions’ work, which fits around the teaching. It’s important when you teach to keep your own personal practice.
APFS: Have you always loved art? What was the first piece that you remember connecting with? Do you have a favourite artist?
Kate: As a child I loved Henri Rousseau’s painting of a Tiger in a Tropical Storm. My mother, who recently passed away, supported my creativity. She moved the family to London, partly because she wanted her children to access that city’s culture and galleries. She bought paints from the local art shop, which was next to the book shop - our family just loved that little row of shops. My mother ended up running a book shop for 20 years in Cornwall, always sending me books on art. I painted a mural on my bedroom wall of a jungle with the paints she bought me, full of plants and animals inspired by a Tiger in a Tropical Storm. The parenting I received allowed me to be creative, and taught me how to support others through the medium of art. My mother loved the stories of the art room and how I was working to benefit children’s education.
APFS: How would you describe your style?
Kate: Style is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Try and try again. My favourite quote is Vincent van Gough “if you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”. Your own style develops from this process over a life time.
APFS: With art education taking a hit over the last few years, what would you say to parents who would prefer their children not to take art as a subject? Kate: Art is a tool. In the hands of a good teacher art can do many things, especially with younger children as it can help them access deep levels of learning. Halley House School is keen on developing muscles in the hands we need for writing, and using different materials that stretch the child's physical chances to practice. Connecting this to the national curriculum is interesting, and opens up opportunities for different aspects of academic work, showing children that creativity and art is a connective processing tool. Each time you connect art to another subject like Science or Geography you get that creative accident in the materials and creative connection in the ideas behind the art piece. Your teaching the children the “creative process” that can be applied anywhere in their future lives. Art, therefore is a ‘connective processing tool’ a way of practicing process. Children can also express their own style and be free on the page, providing them with an opportunity to learn to watch for a ‘happy accidence’. If you can be creative when things go wrong in life - then that’s a great tool to give a child. APFS: What are the benefits of having an art education? Kate: The college I am at is well thought of within the educational and therapy communities. It connects the arts and sciences together academically, for the benefit of helping children. Art can help set out ways of processing the unconscious and the Affect emotions, supporting children’s brain processes and the brain’s chemical balance. Modern Neuroscience has demonstrated the effects our environment has on our brain chemistry. The creation of art is a calm and expressive process helping children to relax and deal with their emotions. If you want to know more about this, I recommend reading the works by Jaak Panksepp, who through his experiments was able to track chemicals in the brain associated with behavioural change. Art and the conversations surrounding it, can help children and adult’s talk about their feelings, emotions and help develop the frontal cortex and thinking self. Art Therapy can change the chemical balance. So, Art Therapy is actually brain medicine, and can be used as a tool for children's care, education and welfare. Childhood is short so let’s give them the best chance we can!
APFS: Could you tell us a bit about how you structure your art lessons? How do the children you teach react to your lessons?
Kate: I have worked hard over many years to give art solid curriculum links in primary schools. I have years of lesson plans and templates, and have designed a three term topic system: Autumn / Ourselves, Spring / Forest School, Summer / Exploration. Each class covers one of the seven art topics or seeing skills, which covers the art curriculum and references the national curriculum. So, each class works with a topic, exploring the meaning of the subject and teaching the children the skills of the artist.
I am now working on my first Arts Award, and the art books for external moderation. I am focused on adding a named artist to each class as well. Once you set up the system, it is simple to plan and allows for last minute accidents, links, discovering an artist or finding a material that pulls it all together at last minute. It’s fun seeing what comes out. I then display the children’s work and that’s great too because their work is connected but different.
APFS: You’ve recently been a part of our Design a Mug Project – can you tell us about your experience?
Kate: I knew the mug project was coming up but hadn't planned anything in detail. I was working on the artists for the Forest School Topic, and William Morris, and found a mug I had brought from a recent trip to the William Morris Gallery. It was one of those lucky planning moments! When you have a good structure, you can allow the creative spark to happen. Next, I worked out the materials and the process for the designs.
I had samples of William Morris’ designs on the table, and it was fascinating to see how carefully children look and copy. I teach the importance of negative space as a seeing skill, which makes a difference to this kind of design project. The children loved the fact I used really good felt tips and the metallic colour at the end of the drawing session. They all worked so hard!
When we do this again I would like to work more closely with children who need more time and attention to get all their expression down on paper; to get that magic “look” a good design has. They can all do it, you just have to juggle so they all get a turn at the sensation and feeling of what a successful drawing is.
APFS: Thank you Kate for your insightful answers. That’s the end of our conversation, is there any last message you would like to leave with?
Kate: I am passionate about creativity, and how much children have of the stuff. All the children I work with are like Greta Thunberg, they think deeply and creatively and they care that much about the planet that we live on. Society needs to change its attitude towards creativity and children - to new ways of thinking. We should look to the children for answers, take a brave step and give them more ways to express their feelings and opinions. I think we need to listen to what our children are saying. Education has the power to change, and arts education has the power to change and be used as a medicine to calm us all in turbulent times.