Monday 20 January 2014

Encouraging Creativity through Art Making

Here in the studio at Auckland Art Gallery, I constantly ask myself these questions – how can I encourage children to be creative, to explore and experiment freely, to use their imagination, to show their individuality and to take risks, all within a programme that lasts for only 60 minutes? How can I adapt the thematic art making programmes in the studio – run alongside our Gallery sessions – to allow children to create their own ideas and responses but still within a framework that develops skills, techniques and understandings?

I’ve come up with a few ideas that seem to be working well and will no doubt continue to be modified and developed. Here’s one idea.


Instead of starting with a story, create an artwork in which a story evolves (almost accidentally) as the artwork grows.

Create a setting

  • Apply a liberal amount of colour (dye) into 3 horizontal bands inspired by Golden Cloud (Gretchen Albrecht 1974). Carefully tip the paper in different directions so the colours run together. Allow to dry. 

  • Now look closely at the painting and describe the ‘setting’ created.
    • What time of day, time of year does it remind you of and why?
    • Does it remind you of a place you have been to before? A place you have read about or seen on TV/movies? Describe this place.
  • Look closely into your painting. What can you see in the painting? 
  • Can you make out some objects or shapes you recognize (e.g. trees, flowers, parts of the landscape, animals, people)? 

 The student who made this work could see something in his painting that reminded him of a bird like figure with large wings. From this idea he made the shape into a ‘phoenix rising from the fire’. He also noticed a bird shape with a beak shape which he turned into a Pukeko. He drew around these shapes with a black vivid, so other people could see what he could see. He could have added more shapes and objects if he wanted to but he decided not to. He didn’t want to over complicate it.

These ‘characters’ and this ‘setting’ formed the basis of his story.

This student could see a shape that reminded her of a monster. She added a face to this and drew around other shapes she could see, with paint. She also drew in some new shapes to add to her setting.

The children were encouraged to share what they could see with a partner. Can you see something different to your partner?

They walked around the room and looked at each other’s work, trying to identify the setting and guess the stories.

I noticed that none of the children felt threatened to make a work as it all happened ‘accidentally’ and didn’t reflect their ability (or perceived lack of ability) They enjoyed using their imagination without having too many restrictions. They took risks. They made their work their own. And they were proud of themselves!

These paintings made perfect beginnings for stories that the children could then tell or write back at school, displaying the painting alongside. It opened up opportunities for them to make comparisons, inferences, connections and draw on their prior knowledge. The activity catered well for children who might be reluctant to make up their own stories and use their imagination and gave them a great starting point for storytelling.

This idea has me inspired and I intend to develop it further, and try to think of other ways to explore and encourage creativity (in one hour!?) through art making.

I’ll keep you posted!