Layer by layer

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Developing a close relationship with not only each child but also the class as a social organism, is something I have learnt to focus on. It has meant becoming very aware of the means to enable collaborative art practices for myself.

 The significance of storytelling, sharing experiences or observations built upon storytelling at an early age provide strong foundations and makes learning a tangible and interactive activity. This is one way for me to engage their entire beings through experience and imagination.

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 In the last week of my month-long stay in Goa I began to notice how every child was making connections with each other’s visual sensibilities and finding a rhythm of working collaboratively.

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 The studio was now ready for an intervention. Drawing lines and connecting the dots to all our explorations made over the previous weeks, I proposed that both batches of children aged 2.5 to 5 and 5 to 12 respectively, come together to work on a single large canvas.

 Layer by layer, wash-by-wash, they added textures, objects patterns, sometimes removed pigment, they built a simple rhythm and movement in collectively creating a piece of work together.

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Collaborations bring a sense of togetherness and joy to the learning experience. It especially thrills me to see children actively appreciating each other’s efforts, and to see that appreciation grow over the weeks of going through the process of working together and making discoveries along the way.   

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 I stepped back, watching this process and saw each one of the children play a role in making selective decisions for the canvas that they worked on together, over a period of one week.

 The morning batch would come in and work on it with some guidance following with the batch in the evening come in to see the progress made and took over seamlessly, to add the next layer of elements.

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This has been the most exciting process for me. This work was a coming together of all the collected memories from nature and stories shared over the month, along with the studied observation from our studio nature table.  The progression of not just the elements we brought in to the work, but the synergy in terms of collaboration, and the result – the finished canvas — was mesmerizing to watch and left me feeling so full of emotion.

Drawing Room – Goa from Niyati Upadhya on Vimeo.

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Play with Chance

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The discovery of a city through journeys to source material, has always and continues to be one of the best introductions to all the places visited and lived in.

Meeting the local artists, and visiting their work spaces is to me a special way of knowing what makes the city, town or village. It is even more special when the communities of artists make their own material within their studios. There is an entire journey of the process in front of you, from the raw material to the final product, with a present sense of time and age to the place and the work. Yet this is what makes an artist studio memorably unique.

I had a special ride through the villages in Goa to find and source the clay for our “happy accidents”. The 2nd week of my sessions focused on Technique building, Interaction with various surfaces and textures, associative thinking and the flux of chance and control.

Goa clay3Clay being a versatile medium allows for children to play and experiment with the various forms and textures. Through this manipulation of the medium the children were able to share and express their ideas as they moulded the clay into a form.

Goa|clay1Keeping to my overall theme of the workshop celebrating nature, bringing the outside, inside, the clay played an important role within the month long interactions, connecting to nature in its very immediate form. This process was a really big learning for me to observe children between the age of 3 to 11 relate and connect to a medium with the easy and uncomplicated manner.

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Changing seasons

Goa welcomed me with its light, warm air and the various shades of green that carpeted over walls, streets and rooftops, as it happens every year once the rain has fallen. Everything comes alive; the smell of wet earth and new leaves, insects and animal life all set off to this new beginning. During my time in Goa, the seasons were a blur. The post-monsoon heat swung back into what felt like a never-ending monsoon.

Within the studio itself, a nature table became an unlikely centerpiece almost as an extension of all the action that we were experiencing outside. I adopted the idea of having a nature table in the studio from the Waldorf System. I constantly reintegrated the need and made it a priority for kids to notice the beauty in all aspects  nature. The idea was to begin to be aware of things around us, notice patterns, find a rhythm and bring parts of it into our space.

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Children would pick things on their walk to class, I’d add a thing or two and pretty soon we had a motley collection of beautiful things in various stages of life and decay. This collection of treasures from the outdoors set the tone. This space became a lab for some of the children who wanted to watch how various objects in nature transformed over time. They were keen to notice changes in colour, form, texture, smell etc., over the weeks. For some it was an excuse to go on walks outside of the class.

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Being in the lush settings of Goa, so close to nature, and being able to experience change as it was happening, I felt that celebrating that uniqueness in, and the process of transformation would be a good focal point.

I decided this would be the basis for my interaction with the children, and a starting point of sorts, for the month-long workshop session in Goa. It’s important to honor all that is growing and dying around and within you, I felt. And in surprising ways within and without the workshop setting, my time in Goa has really driven that truth home.

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Going to Goa

Ever since I began formalising my teaching efforts through Drawing Room, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have connected with many like minded people. Whether it was people who opened up their homes and invited me to run workshops for their children, people who understood the essence of what I’m trying to do and worked out ways in which I could engage with children who could benefit from it, to those who were there for me with resources, advice and all kinds of help to see my plans take shape.

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I feel lucky that this also has led me to collaborate with enthusiastic people who have been so supportive and encouraging. My next project will see Drawing Room travelling to Goa next week, where I will spend the next three weeks creating a dedicated art space for children to feel free to visit and create, when they have an urge to.

The space will be equipped with drawing materials and tools for every child to explore what he or she wants to. Starting on the 13th of September, I will begin my three-week teaching stint in the art space. Over the course of three weeks I hope unfold various stories, explorations, revisiting memories and a lot more, while learning techniques and skills, and ending with looking at our earth and its existing natural forms to learn about abstract and natural life forms.

The last two months have been especially exciting as I’ve felt waves of inspiration while planning and structuring this project. If you’re in Goa (whether you live there, or are visiting any time in the duration of my project) please drop by and join me in making some art! Do share the details in the poster below, with friends and family in and around Goa. I’d be happy to meet some of your littles and share some of the magic!

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Travelling with Drawing Room

It’s been a busy few months and the new beginning I made with Drawing Room is slowly unfolding into some exciting projects lined up.

Right from the start, my dream has been to be able to create Drawing Room as a travelling entity that can go to anywhere that children may be seeking an opportunity to make art. Free from the boundaries of classes, or schedules and timetables. I wanted to be fluid with the destination, and open to going to children, rather than having them come to me at all times.

I’ve been working at expanding the reach of my interactions through workshops and private sessions across cities, to make this as true as possible. So far we’ve had workshops and private sessions in Bangalore and Mumbai (see here and here) with incredible regularity and it has been all kinds of exciting!

Later this week, I’m off to Mumbai once again for private sessions, after which I’m taking Drawing Room to Goa in September. Stay tuned for more information about that!

Thank you all for the support and encouragement all along. I would like to share a peek into Drawing Room with you all, to see how we unpack ideas and allow them to take form into stories told through drawings and painting.

 

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Drawing with Scissors: An Introduction to Henri Matisse (Part 2)

On day one, we explored body trace drawings and painted with contrasting colours. For this, we referenced Matisse’s figure painting work from his early years, abstract collage and painting as he broke away from realistic forms to discovering a body of work in the abstract.

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Drawing with Scissors was derived as an activity to make compositions using abstract cutouts with organic and geometric shapes. This was our activity for day two and really got the kids fired up. We concluded the 2-day workshop with a beautiful video that translates the organic to natural shapes in the way that Matisse would.

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I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was interesting to note that unlike my previous experience with this bunch of kids, where we’d meet once a week, across an entire year, the dynamic of a 2-day workshop with a start and stop, as well as a clearly defined purpose. The energy and tempo was entirely different and I hope that it was helpful in helping the kids understand and absorb many concepts like “abstract”, “collage” and “pattern” and understand some of the nuances of the works of Henri Matisse.

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Video – The oasis of Matisse

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Drawing with Scissors: An Introduction to Henri Matisse (Part 1)

I’ve just returned from Mumbai where I had been for a weekend workshop titled Drawing With Scissors, which I structured as an introduction and exploration of the works of Henri Matisse to children aged 5-7.

Many of the participants were children who used to come to the weekend art club I conducted all through 2016, and I was excited to be able to teach them once again. A week prior to my arrival in Mumbai, I had started receiving voice notes and messages from the kids about how eager they were to meet again. Some of them even pushed parents to cancel holidays that were planned in order to come to the workshop!

On the morning of day one, as I was setting up the studio, I heard the kids chatter as they walked up the stairs to the WAA residency, which was the venue for our two-day workshop. Immediately I felt that familiar energy I’ve shared with this bunch.

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Nyra’s depiction of the Drawing Room family back in class again after five months.

I was seeing them after five months away and in just that short span of time they’ve all grown and changed! So we all needed some time to warm up to the fact that we were all back in the same room. Pretty soon though, we were all sharing stories as usual, updating each other on all that we have learnt in the months gone by. It set a super-charged tone to the workshop.

I began with a quick round of a drawing game followed by showing of a little film introducing the life, the ways, studio and inspirations of artist Henri Matisse. It helped the kids distinguish the different styles he practiced, when we looked at a range of images of some of his work.

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In all the prep I did to develop this workshop, as well as while setting up, I was able to understand so many more interesting and exciting details to Henri Matisse and his work, which I’d completely glossed over when studying art history in college.

I was particularly fascinated with some of the quirky details like his fetish for animals, birds and other creatures. His journey from working realistic to abstract over many years shows a beautiful transformation in form. This was a fantastic insight into relooking at art history for myself and specifically Fauvism.

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I’ve always retained information when it was told to me like a story not just mere facts. While designing this module I kept in mind all the little details that made Henri Matisse an interesting person and told his story with images of his work and life, including all those little details that I personally found interesting. I’m pretty sure that it’s the little details like Henri’s pet cat, the birds and animals he kept to observe and be inspired by, and the extra long paintbrush he used to paint from his bed (when he was too sick to leave it) are what made Henri the artist and Henri the person an indelible memory in their minds.

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HENRI MATISSE A NICE

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It’s fun to remind ourselves not to always be right

I explored a composition session with my recent students — Niko and Mia — who were visiting Bangalore on their summer break. The session drew from a popular game we all played as kids – the memory card game. Using a set of illustrated cards, a selection I for the purpose of this activity, we played the game together. Then, based on the cards each one of them was left with, we created a composition that allowed for each element, picture, character in the card to be accommodated within it.

The restrictions imposed in creating a scene that allowed for each card to be placed in it, but not necessarily in a conventional or “correct” way actually allowed for a free-flowing creativity. And the challenge of placing animals and palaces in spaces that they wouldn’t other wise think of them to be made for two very fun compositions.

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I hope it was a small step in entering into a world where things aren’t always what they seem. Where it’s perfect for a hippo to live underwater, in a submerged palace.

niko4Or a world where geckos, elephants, tigers, hippos and owls come out of hiding to live together.

Niko3It’s the world of fantasy, and going in there from time to time is a necessary ingredient in enjoying any kind of artistic activity.

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Happy Accidents

Collaborating with artists from various backgrounds of the visual arts is one of the best ways to begin to see things in new and different ways. This has personally always added important insights into my own journey. This was something I wanted to introduce to the children too.

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In November last year, I had the chance to meet and work with Sarah Pupo artist in residence at the WAA residency. It was during the time I discovered Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops! that Sarah and I got talking about working with accidents within the artistic practice. This definitely wasn’t a coincidence and I took this as an opportunity to introduce her work to the children in an interactive session.5251

This was a fantastic opportunity for the kids to visit Sarah’s studio at the WAA residency in Bandra, Mumbai, where she shared with them her work process. Sarah’s work integrates painting and drawing, installation and self-taught, provisional animation techniques. Her approach to making things prioritizes intuition, associative thinking and the flux of chance and control.

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This workshop was an introduction to materials like watercolour and ink and the process of painting wet into wet. So we got the kids to make a splash and build a story or a picture from there on.  We used drops of water on paper and added ink, salt to it and tried various methods of random mark making. From there, they imagined what their splashes and blobs might be. It was immensely enjoyable for the kids, Sarah and I, to then collaborate and create a series of drawings that told the story of each of the child’s characters. The outcome could have been compiled to make a rudimentary flip-book of sorts, just a few steps short of animation.

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She then presented to them a few of her animation videos, which was followed by a walk through her studio setup which gave them an insight into how she turns her ink and watercolour drawings into animated moving forms.

 

Understanding how visual forms can transcend formats and mediums, often moving from one to the next — paper and paint, to drawings, to animation — seems to come very easily and simply, to children. And it made me wonder about their intuitive sense of viewing visuals outside the boundaries of the formats in which they may be originally created — a skill many of us have to re-learn as adults in the practice of art.

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Beautiful Oops!

When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.

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Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg.

There have been times when as a facilitator, I have had to explore ways of unlearning concepts and some of the strong conditioning that I come with, both as teacher and as a child. This challenge has many a times brought me to discover wonderful ways of unlearning and re-learning.

I’ve grown up hearing adults and teachers at school say, “making a mistake is part of learning” or “making a mistake is part of life”, yet I never wanted to believe either of these statements. When you use the word “mistake” to describe an artwork for instance, you immediately imply that it’s far from perfect, or that it can be better. Whenever I heard the word, it was hard to not compare my work to something that was right and perfect. Because as we all know we celebrate our correctness over our mistakes a lot more.

I took this up as a challenge in my role as an art facilitator (and also for myself in life, in general) to learn to try and accept, and to celebrate my mistakes as much as I celebrate the times I am correct. Initiating that change meant creating an accepting and trustful environment for the kids to work in. Which in turn meant keeping in mind a nonjudgmental language when critiquing their work.

Looking back at my student life, I have come to realize certain phrases lock in judgmental ideas about the artistic processes. These phrases, the very language of feedback, right, wrong, mistake, easy, etc, cues a focus on performance, competition, comparison and risk of failure. Even though it requires constant attention to break these habits, it is well worth the effort.

In Mumbai, I taught a group of children aged 4-9, and one of the sessions was structured around this extraordinary book, Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg. It’s a simple book that shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. Creatively made, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope” to demonstrate the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.

Introducing this discovery to the class brought about an immensely positive change in the way the kids explored and expressed themselves. It seemed to have set off a cycle of change where each of them discovered their strengths, while encouraging each other to work with a sense of spontaneity, acknowledging their mistakes and learn to work towards what they wanted their work to look like, regardless of the blips along the way.

Here are a few images from the sessions after having introduced Beautiful Oops!

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By Om Ahuja. Age 5.
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By Ahilya Lulla. Age 5.
2Akira
By Akira Kini. Age 5.
3Antalya
By Antalya Gupta. Age 5.
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By Azad Rao Khan. Age 5.

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