Monday 22 May 2017

Back In My Workshop (part two)

Back in my workshop.

Looking over what's been done, things are at an interesting stage as I am now looking for ways of making this all tie together. Make it look coherent.

Watchfield Primary School

There are still public workshops to come, contributing to the village map so I still need to be flexible around that one and I have not really worked on it to any great degree.

But the Primary School Map workshops are now finished and I have put more time into developing that. I am well over half way through perhaps approaching two thirds done. I will bring it to the workshops at the Village Hall even though it wont be finished and people can see the progress and development as well as how the overall look and feel builds up as things get added and included.

Below are two details. I hope people can get some sense of style and what the end piece of work will look like when the Village Map is complete.

Watchfield Primary School (part two)

Three workshops with the younger pupils at the school. This was more of a challenge compared with the older ones before, younger ones have less experience about the town to draw about and even though I tried to make the project accessible to them I felt many struggled with what to actually do, even though they understood it was a map. I showed them a very simple slide show  introducing repeated patterns into their imaginations to help make things less technical.

We worked on the map of the village and on the map of the school and we also worked individually on separate pieces of paper. I watched the children working together and saw that a handful had ideas and proceeded to draw them out. Some of these ideas were to copy what was already drawn on the map by others in earlier sessions. The others all seemed happy to just copy their friends idea and a lot of repeated drawings appeared and nothing new was being introduced. These same drawings appeared again and again on both maps, just done by different people. This is almost interesting in its own way, as it reminded me of something I read about in the history of religious Icon Painting! Monks copied earlier drawings of saints and scenes and did not create new compositions, so for a very long period of historical time the same core imagery was copied again and again and it is believed that is how the very stylised imagery associated with early religious painting and manuscripts developed. Kind of what I was getting here.

pupils enjoyed carrying the maps and handling them

Some of the most successful work was done with the classes that were able to walk around the school make some kind notes about what they saw and where, then came back and added the information. There was some repeated material with this technique as well but it worked very well for the pupils as they were doing their own surveys and transcribing from their notes.

copying what was already there was a popular technique!
The most successful work was done individually
Most surprising of all to me was the fact that the best and most successful work was made individually on separate pieces of paper. Pupils were perhaps phased by the free-form approach I used to make these maps and working in groups on the floor with materials all around was not a familiar setting. But sitting at a table working on their own, many more children were able to visually articulate their ideas and also able to modify and adapt their own ideas from slides I had shown earlier. I have come away with extensive visual lists of things used in school. And the concept of working with pattern and imagery together did compute for some, when earlier I thought I had missed the target.
The individual work on separate pieces of paper from these sessions has the biggest value. These are in the form of small drawings of things, sometimes from imagination, sometimes from reference books and others were able to draw simple but complete maps of the school or the village. This group (or age?) worked better on their own. I think the group dynamic confused, them well that's a bit sweeping, perhaps many of them.


Defence Academy Friends and Family (DAFFY's) part two

This group are so enthusiastic they sweep you along with energy, and it is very entertaining just listening to them exchange news, gossip and ideas. Well organised with snacks drinks prepared for a long working session phones already charged, ready to google things for references. These searches range from images of people falling off their bikes to Services Command Insignia.

So here's the thing with this group:
They are so well organised around planning, logistics rotation of personnel its runs so smoothly without a hitch.....yet their drawings on the map are totally chaotic.... no order or relationship to the near by elements, placement is confused and I could go on and on if I felt maps were only supposed to show where things are! I was a little taken aback at first at just how unorganised their reference to placement was. But then I remembered that higher up the management structure instructions were passed down not to identify any critical buildings or label things that compromise security, (those instructions have clearly been given without seeing other visuals about how communities view themselves). This is not ordinance survey detail/location type info were are dealing with here. But I did wonder if this group were really acting on instructions not to locate buildings or elements on the campus. 

Half the town on my map is taken up by the Defence Academy and it is a very significant proportion of what is depicted. I noticed that on the civilian half of the map they played by the rules of location and placement, by identifying key roads and placement became accurate. This strengthened my theory about not identifying places in the Academy, but watching them work unselfconsciously in groups spontaneously I thought this was the wrong conclusion.

mobile phones charged ready for googling images for references
working together spontaneously as a group, chatting getting news and gossip

This group are all families in the services and firmly knitted together by the use of Facebook as the fabric which keeps everyone informed with local news. 'Heads up' on communities issues are all posted on Facebook and their community seems structured around this social network set up. Day to day issues are solved using face book, lifts to nearby towns, borrowed garden equipment, unwanted items exchanged etc. Something I had not seen as evident in any other civilian communities. These families are operating in an unfamiliar environment to the one my children knew. One family moved twelve times in sixteen years. That's a different life style from most of us.

I was in the services and moved house a lot, but
 I have retired and live here now ..... I am a resident.

So I reflected that their lives are unstructured and may be a little chaotic sometimes, rethinking my conclusion about their drawings wondering if this was how they visually depicted their lives!
I don't think that is true either.
I think what might be happening is that they live on a campus where roads and traffic are minimal. The layout is not orientated to traffic flow or traffic needs, pedestrians and bikes are probably at the top of the pecking order with vehicles of little significance. Building layouts not orientated along roads and the whole space a lot more organic with clumps of trees everywhere, larger open spaces with nothing particular going on, football pitches here, large manor house over there, much less structure, a random spread of building development. The regimented road network on the civilian side making things much more formal and a precious use of limited space! ....maybe?   

Lastly I thought I would drive in and just take one or two photos of the buildings I could see of the Defence Academy near the perimeter fence. I thought it wise not to go up to the entrance kiosk and say 'can I just drive in and take a few photos'. I expected a cross examination and even when the authorities understood why I wanted to take photos the out come would probably still be no 15 minutes later. So I opted to take a photo or two while doing a 'U' turn in the car park outside the main entrance, just to get some kind of reference for building type, what material they might be made from, colour any kind of clue to what is there really?

The Defence Academy remains secret. the best of two photos, no use whatsoever (I'll draw trees there instead)

Root and Branch (part two)

A second visit to work with my friends at West Mill Farm. Wondering how they might react to school children subsequently having drawn over and modifying their drawings from last week?

Of course the things you worry about often never come to pass and I am greeted with several post cards of local land marks and pictures of quilted maps of other towns and more...!

People were really engaged and keen to see what had been done by the other groups after the session here. They wanted to know who - what - where about many of the additions drawn on particularly the White Horse Hill. Who did that ...look...the coloured doves....the farm here.....the phone box with books.. lots of checking and looking and discussion. People carried on working with the ridgeway in the boarder adding Waylands Smithy.

adding Waylands Smithy
    Some people were happy to revisit their original drawings and rework them to a higher standard adding colour and detail. Others went for new ideas and moved over the whole map adding animals they have seen in the village, including Munkjack deer, green wood peckers and more. I have been given a list of animals to include later on the golf course area. We also worked on laying out some of the vaguer parts of the map such as what over the golf course.

staff and users of the centre working together
people really focused and concentrated on the work
the general view at West Mill Farm

These workshops have been fun and the people here have enjoyed plotting out the things they know. So much so that other members of the group 'the gardners' want a find time to have a working session on the map. So I will arrange a third session with this group.


While working in Watchfield I have been staying in Faringdon, in a pub called the Bell. It was built in 1600 and something. There is not a level floor or square wall in the place and walking around does feel a little like a ferry crossing over to France. Not a criticism in any way, it adds to the character and memories of the project. 

At night time I can hear what must be a cat which sounds like it is trapped up a tree and wails all night. I am unable to work out where it coming from .... the room next door!

I have had a couple of evening walks up to the folly and enjoyed walking amongst the sculptures there.

One morning I did have to get a parking ticket at 8am after an overnight stay but parking has been fine. 

Watchfield Folly
the view from my attic room

discovered sculptures everywhere

a cannon from the civil war

Friday 12 May 2017

Back in my workshop.

Now back in my workshop I have been able to look closely at the work done this week. My first real opportunity to match conversations to drawings and see how people have visualised what they described to me. Sometimes episodes are described to me and I am familiar with what has been drawn, other times I get descriptions but don't really see the final outcomes. Then there are the times where I don't know what's been drawn at all and it is now I discover things previously hidden. 

These include additions where someone has modified/altered a drawing made by someone else in a previous workshop. The worry here is how will the maker of the original drawer react to having their work modified? Then there are things like someone will have located all the horses drawn on the map and decided to make each one having a pooh (might have to see if I can find any tippex in this case). 

Then there are the times when you discover something that totally resonates or strikes a cord. In this case made me immediately draw into it and it bring it up to the level of finish I want to achieve for the whole map. A really moving drawing was made by George Ford and it shows us that his beloved dog Alfie died in 2016 and is buried in the back garden of his house. This was sad and tugged my heart strings as my dog Cosmo died in 2015 and I really get the meaningfulness of this event. I don't know who George Ford is, he did not come up and explain his drawing to me. I discovered it and I feel his pain.

R.I.P. Alfie
It appears that Georges house is at the foot of White Horse Hill, but I suspect the hill was drawn by another pupil and the location is accidental, the whole scene could be created by George, but my guess it is the work of two. This appears in the boarder of the map.

the school badge proudly depicted on the school field underneath the Mugga
  I also decided to work on the school map, and worked in one corner to show the final effect that I want for the project. I hope this will make people take their time and work carefully.

Watchfield Primary School

I thought it best to structure things a little bit differently with the school. In conversations before I suggested making two maps of Watchfield, as today there might be between 70-80 children working on the same drawing. I felt I needed to dilute that intensity as it would quickly become over worked. The school suggested making a map of the school itself and I thought that was a good call.
So three maps in class made things more manageable.

I started with a short slide introduction showing different kinds of maps to give pupils new perspectives on what maps might be about! Then we started work adding places, events and people to the village, and it is at this point in some schools I have run project workshops where sometimes the class teacher sees it as an opportunity to mark books at the back of the class, and views this as time gained while someone else runs the lesson. 

I must stress that that was so far from the truth at Watchfield School all the teachers engaged so fully and worked with their pupils on their hands and knees with them as friends working along side and amongst them. This really added validity to what I was trying to achieve.

all the teachers really engaged and worked alongside their pupils

some instinctively work in small groups other want to work on their own
 One class we exchanged stories about Watchfield with pupils happy to share local history they knew, while others shared embarrassing episodes and where they happened. It was good to hear what people felt was important about the area they live.

creating a map of the school
So moving onto the map of the school itself; this seemed to develop very quickly compared to the village map. I guess things are much smaller and more familiar easier to locate and indicate what happens where. My final class in the afternoon had a long unbroken work session and we decided to walk around the school making notes and collecting data for our map. My particular group wandered out onto school field which backs onto a the allotments. We saw a scare crow and had a conversation with allotment owners about what they grew and the tools they were carrying. We also found a tennis ball under the hedge.

working on the map of the school

Having felt a little apprehensive before my visit to the school when we started working all my fears left me and I really enjoyed working together. The strategy a having a second village map was a wise one and with the youngest classes next time I will have some control over the quality of the final piece. Next week we will have a classroom assistant who has lived in the village for many years and we need her valuable local knowledge.

many pupils have indicated their routes to school

Thursday 11 May 2017

Defence Academy Friends and Family (DAFFY's)

The second workshop based in the Jubilee Centre I didn't really know what to expect, it seemed to be all staff at first. This was a long session it turned out to be about 5 hours but on a very relaxed drop in basis. When mothers had picked their children up from school people started coming in. Mothers with school children, toddlers and babies as well.

This was different set up. The map was layed out on the floor and people were very happy to lay down on their stomachs and draw their hearts out in quick fire short sharp pockets of time between demanding baby needs. Drawings came out in bursts.

working with Mum
The room provided was large and it was big enough for me to play football with some of the children who's concentration was wandering. We did hit a baby or two with the football, all was well very light ball. Having been a dad once I figured I could occupy a baby with a bean bag for a short spell....nope....I was a MONSTER and I want my Mum now. Had to give baby back to mum after less than a minute!

baby eats pencil rubber

babies back at home with Dad now - back for part two

Someone labelling their drawing, sort of commentating about their own work out loud, stated 'can you move this annoying lorry'. Everyone in the room burst out laughing and it was explained to me lorry drivers sleep in their vehicles on a particular stretch of road making it hard for residents to manoeuvre their cars in and out of the turning to their houses. This started a wave of observations about village life which was very entertaining and on the map for all to see.

can you move that annoying lorry?
what colour was the ice cream van?

I really enjoyed working with this group they got into a place where they worked, laughed,
told stories and commentated on the village life in a way that I had not predicted.

Initial Workshops

The programme of workshops with various community groups has started this week. I have now returned home after several days in Watchfield after a few full on few days.

The first group I worked with are called Root and Branch who provide activities that promote recovery for people who experience mental health difficulties. I introduced myself and what the project aimed to do and there was a group of four or five of us talking and chatting about the Faringdon Folly and the coloured doves famous in the town! Pink, yellow all colours made from vegetable dye so as not to harm the birds.

People were very happy drawing, I was relieved as the blank canvas thing can be intimidating.

Horse drawn from memory with no reference material 

Amazing drawing of the horse owned by my new friend and they then went onto plot a ride around the town they had recently been on. Drawing from memory and imagination.
I made a second new friend who re-visited her old childhood adventures around the Becket House Grounds, amongst grave stones of family matriarchs beloved dogs, burned to death in a terrible fire! (must get to the bottom of that story? ). So we have Becket House and the China House a bridge a lake all remembered from playing there as a child. Including a den in the woods.

drawing from childhood memories
I drew a few doves and blackbirds as another half remembered story about 24 blackbirds the ones in the song 'baked in a pie' came up again related to Faringdon? (follow that up as well next week). So all in all a fine start and I'm looking forward to continuing with this group next time. I will work on their contributions and see if they continue or whether they start a new stories.

The place here is interesting - woodwork shop - forge and metal working facilities as well as some kind of funeral stone cutting and preparations. I will have to have a closer look next week. Next door is a natural burial ground its an interesting place to work with cows in very close proximity over the back fence!

the cows wanted to check me out for certain