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School portrait workshops, 9th January

As part of my daughter's school topic 'Art on Your Doorstep', I was asked to go in and talk to the children about my work. While discussing this with her teacher, I blurted out that I was really interested what would happen in children were asked to make a portrait that was not so much a picture of what a person looks like, but what they ARE like, and before I knew it I'd agreed to run a whole day of workshops on the subject.

I was looking forward to it but also, I'd never done anything even remotely like it in my life so immediately had palpitations that the whole day would be boring/rubbish/a waste of everyone's time and that the kids would hate it/not get it/misbehave/throw tomatoes at me.

As it was, none of that happened. Possibly due to lack of access to tomatoes, but still.

I started out by showing some of my work and discussing their lack of facial features and all the other things I included to make the portraits a representation of a person that went beyond their physical appearance. The children were then asked to work in pairs, spending 10 minutes telling their partner all about themselves. They were then let loose on a pile of magazines, glue sticks and scissors and asked to make a portrait about that person without drawing a picture of them.

The results were fabulous, and very mixed. Some children were almost crippled by the idea that they could not make their picture look exactly as they wanted ("he says he loves teddies baby but I can't find a picture of a teddy so I can't do it"), whereas others needed absolutely no prompting in freeing themselves from their usual ways of making art ("he likes drinking orange juice so he has a glass for an arm and an orange for a head").

I saw it as an exercise about process, rather than making a beautiful collage to display on the wall, but some of the pieces were incredibly beautiful- lovely, free thinking pieces full of colour and fun. I was just glad it wasn't my job to hoover the floor afterwards...

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