What colour is your sky?

Some of the most powerful and creative work that to come from the kids at Drawing Room has happened when I planted a question in their minds and allowed them to go wild with coming up with the answers.

Sky Colour is a fabulous book by Peter H. Reynold, that explores the thought processes of a child named Marisol, as she and her friends are faced with a dilemma of painting the sky for a school mural. The story traverses their explorations and the creative process of breaking out of the notions of right and wrong, finding one’s own meaning and sense of what we see around us, and most of all it stresses on observation being a key element in making art.

Inspired by Sky Color, by Peter H Reynolds

One Saturday, we began our session with the question “What colour is your sky?” and read the story together. Marisol, as well as the children in her class, considers herself to be a true artist and are at first stuck to the idea of perfection and accuracy. But slowly they explore the possibilities of looking at different hues, tones, textures and find a range of different ways to depict the sky.

The story was a great way to introduce observation and critical thinking outside the boundaries of picture perfect art. I observed that even in my own class, they were inspired to work outside of their comfort zone and not stick to colouring within the lines. What I hoped was that this was a beginning into encouraging them to question why something is right and wrong, considering other possibilities and decide why something works for themselves.

A few pages from some of the sky journals we maintained.

The exercise didn’t end there. We each kept a sky journal, recording what we observed about the sky for a number of days to come. Looking back into the journal, it’s safe to say that the kids realized that the sky is not always only blue.

Colour Light Shadow Party

Looking back at my years in school, I was never much of a textbook learner. Reading and writing alone didn’t do much to help me retain information. The concepts that have stayed with me the most, and that I remember to date have been those that involved interactions and physically handling objects to understand how things work. Sometimes this was about understanding materials, and other times it the experience of being completely consumed in an activity, allowing my imagination to run amok.

In September 2016, I collaborated on with performance artist Mahana Delacour (Paris) in an interactive workshop. Mahana was visiting Mumbai as an artist in residence at WAA Residency, and some of the key elements of her work are interactivity and art therapy. Also being a teacher, she had a really unique way of telling imaginative stories bound by theory and concepts in art.

The play of light and shadow are key elements of all visual art forms, so I planned this session with the intention to teach the kids to observe light. It was a great way to have fun while also discovering how we see light, how shadows happen with respect to the earth, sun and moon, and how the human eye perceives light and shadow.

The session involved a lot of hands-on activity, as the children played with objects, colours and a light source. They observed the change in light as objects were moved farther and closer from the source, the play of colour using cellophane paper in primary colours as well as the changes in results when they were mixed.

Excitement was high as placing the sheets one over another to discover a whole different range of colours made each child feel like they were magicians on stage! Then a shadow play session followed where they built narratives with toy animals and sea creatures and the shadows they cast. They were thrilled to see how the shadows were exponentially larger than the objects themselves.

It was a great introduction to an interactive installation as well, because the entire room was turned into a kaleidoscopic interactive art experience, with the children discovering things with every little action they made. I have always valued the delight of discovering things for myself. And it was satisfying to be able to share that feeling.

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Drawing Room: this is where it began

When I began the Saturday Art Club (as it was called then) my approach was simple. I started with the very basic idea to engage with the visual form, and use it to study objects and ideas closest to us.

Over the last few years of my practice, and some involvement with interacting with children, I’ve observed that the practice of teaching art has become unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome – involving expensive tools, stationery etc.

It was interesting to see that the children came from backgrounds in formal art education either through a previous art class or at school. Most were already initiated into art and craft through formal/conventional structures, bound by rules and guidelines typical to a classroom set-up. What I didn’t anticipate was the couple of sessions and time and effort it took to undo and break through those existing structures and frameworks they already belonged to.

Thinking back to my own years in school, and my early interest in art, I remembered how intimidating and off-putting a structured classroom set-up made me feel. So, I realized if my goal was to help children begin to engage, react and respond to the visual form freely and fearlessly, it was essential to break away from the rules and the pressure to create “pretty” things.

This is where looking outside the field of art education alone, helped my learning, how to initiate and kindle a sense of free exploration in children. As a facilitator there were so many wonderful connections to be made between the formal art education (such as learning perspectives, colour theory, colouring inside the lines etc) and the simple learning through the perspective of each child’s imagination.

By allowing children to explore their own memories, ideas and other visuals they wanted to bring to life, I found a method that balanced the two. This was the beginning to a journey I later titled “Dear Imagination”.

In the 12 months that I interacted with this group of children, it became clear to me that creating an environment that celebrates each child’s uniqueness was the best way to educate myself about what art education really means to me, and where I want to go with this.

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