Sometimes, lack of choice on account of a limited number of mediums can become a hindrance in the process of self-expression. It has already been stated that the choice of medium is a personal matter. It is not unlikely that a child might start feeling bored by using the same medium for a long time, and may lose interest in art activities. Children look for new experiences all the time. The life of a child is necessarily oriented to the longing for new discoveries. It is not always possible to communicate all the experiences through the same medium. That is one of the reasons for the school to make various art mediums available to children, so that they can choose the one appropriate to their need and temperament, for their self-expression at that particular time.
They should be able to work in mediums such as water colours, crayons, pen and ink, lino-cut, woodcut, clay, papier mache. It is not necessary that children make pictures only on paper. Clay work, modelling, etc. are equally inspiring if available at the right moment. I have had very positive experiences with children doing pottery either on the wheel or by coil or slab method. I was more and more convinced about the special role of the potter's wheel in the education of children of all ages.
The following techniques and mediums are highly recommended to encourage the child to grow as a healthy person.
One method could be telling the whole group an interesting story and suggesting that they put the story, or part of it, in pictures. Children themselves may tell stories of their own choice. Two or three children may tell their favourite stories, from which the group may choose one. This exercise can stimulate children's imagination. It can be specially useful to those who may be slow in getting new ideas for their paintings.
I should describe an exercise I often used and found quite effective. Ask the children to sit silently in a good posture with eyes shut for a few minutes. When the whole group seems ready, the teacher tells a short story or one of his experiences in a rather dramatic manner, as if the children are watching a film. The description of scenes can be enriched with similies and with feelings. This exercise, if well carried out, can actually create pictures in the minds of children, which they would probably like to put on paper or make models of.
Suggestions of Subjects
There can be countless suggestions of subjects children can make pictures about. Please see illus nos. 2,5,9, 13,36, 37,38,47 to 51 & cover illustration which may be helpful to teachers in this connection. Here are a few examples:
You are going for a walk with your parents.
Escorting your younger brother or sister to the school.
Your family is working in the garden, planting trees.
4. What part did you play in the village festival?
5. You went for a picnic to enjoy nature. What was your most interesting
experience? Draw a picture.
Children playing in the street.
Make a picture of what you liked most in the last Sunday market you went to.
Some group-work in the school.
You are decorating your house for a festival.
Draw a picture of the acrobat who visited your street the other day.
11. You are giving a lecture to a big crowd of people.
There can be an endless list of subjects and topics that can be occasionally suggested to the children collectively.
I would like to share here an experience I had with the children of the fourth grade—average age, eleven years. It so happened that for a while, whenever this group of children came to the art class, it rained heavily. Soon after entering the class they got into a light mood and started questioning each other: "Why does it always rain on the day of our art class!" An idea suddenly came to me. I said, "I hear the rain saying to you: I always see you coming to the art class to make beautiful pictures; but you have never made a picture of me. Unless you make my picture I shall go on drenching you every
time you come to this class. "The children responded with enthusiasm and announced that each one of them would make a picture on the theme "A Rainy Day", (illus. no. 13)
Here, considerable flexibility is required on the part of the teacher. Howsoever carefully and "democratically" a theme is chosen, there should not be any insistence that every child ought to make his picture on that particular theme. It is very likely that some of the children already had a subject in mind for that day's picture. After preparing the background for the day by helping the children in choosing that theme, it is advisable to leave them free to do what they wish. Any kind of insistence can mar the children's enthusiasm.
Sometimes, children might like to make pictures of different aspects of the same topic. If it is a long story, the children may like to illustrate the full story by making several pictures. Actually, it can be made into a full fledged project. I have already described my experiment about "writing and publishing" books by children in Chapter two. It is an interesting way to conduct group projects. Some of the children may like to make illustrations, some do calligraphy, some may like to write their own stories or essays. A few of them may be interested in binding the books thus produced. Such a project can link together many of the activities that go on in the school, under different subjects, and can be organized as school projects.
I have successfully conducted some experiments to build a feeling of collective creativity within the children's community. Once we prepared a large surface for painting by joining together several sheets of paper, six to seven feet long. The entire group took part in making the picture, without anybody having the faintest idea about what kind of picture was going to emerge in the end. Six or seven colours were made ready in separate bowls and several sizes of brushes kept ready with a large bowl of water. Each one of us (I was also an active part of the group) went in front of the large sheet of paper, chose a brush and put one stroke with the colour of our choice and kept the brush down. We could keep the brush touching the paper as long as necessary. But once the brush moved away from the surface of the paper, our turn was over until the next round.
For some time, no one was able to guess what was emerging on the surface. The more alert members of the group made every effort to make sense out of the brush strokes which had already been made by others; they used their turn to give a particular meaning to the images. At the end, "sensible" forms started emerging and all the artists started linking them together in a meaningful way. When the exercise was complete everyone felt elated as an integrated part of the great team of artists.
One of the positive factors about the above exercise was that each member of the group made an effort to reach a common goal, even though every one at the start of the exercise kept imagining his own pattern of the possible final result. The fact that the final picture was a collective creation was a matter or pride for all of us.
The child may, and often does, feel a pressure when criticism or evaluation is made by the teacher. But when it comes from within the group, it works as guidance. Even harsh comments from the peer group do not create an inferiority complex in children. If all the children display their work on the walls during the last ten or fifteen minutes of the class, and all the children express their opinions on every picture, the effect of the criticism will prove useful to the artist in understanding his work.
School Time table and the Art Class
Art activities will yield maximum benefit if they are conducted in the following two ways. Firstly, there has to be a specific time allotted for art activities for all the school children in the time table. Secondly, there should be a provision for children to go to the art studio and do the creative work they may have in mind. A child will go to the art room at a time other than the specified art periods only if he or she has a concrete plan in mind. Moreover, on such an occasion, he should also have the medium in which he or she would like to work at the time. This implies that the school art workshop is properly equipped and the kind of assistance children need to express their feeling, and experiences is available.
When children come to my class, most of them choose their task without any pressure. If, on one of the days, a child makes a large picture, he may go directly to the pottery in the next class. In this manner, children have a wide choice of mediums and techniques for self-expression. The school can make a wide choice available without going into undue expenditure or a big establishment. Painting with two or three kinds of colours, lino and wood-cut printing, stencil and paper-cutting, pottery and clay modelling, ornamental work like alpana (decoration for special occasions) applique work, etc. can be organized with very little resources.
Size of Paper
Children love novelty and look for it wherever and whenever they find the opportunity. Although it is a matter of common knowledge, I want to emphasize that teachers ought to make it a point to use this inclination of children to enhance their interests and good taste. Just to illustrate the point, I shall take up the question of the size of paper available to children for painting pictures. Generally, teachers have them only of one size, which does not give children the opportunity of planning their pictures on papers of different sizes and proportions. Size and proportion of the paper—square or oblong—does to a considerable extent, influence the style of work of the artist. Therefore, it is important, specially for child-artists, that they have a Choice of the medium.
A careful teacher will keep note of the size of paper that children choose for their pictures. If a child always chooses a small sheet, he ought to be encouraged to try to paint on larger sizes. The reason behind encouraging children to make large pictures is to make their hand and body movements bold and free and to help them to get rid of their hesitation. It also helps the child in understanding the nature of distance and the third dimension.
One big problem in using large sheets of paper is the cost involved. In a country like India, most schools would be unable to afford the cost of large sheets of paper. However, it is not essential that children should use expensive paper. I have found that even old newspaper is quite suitable for this purpose. We chose those sheets which did not have photographs or big advertisements. Pictures with large brushes and tempera colours do not look too bad on them. Another variation of this suggestion is that a white opaque colour be painted on the paper before making the picture. Alternatively, new newsprint can also be used. It is not too expensive.
The idea of encouraging children to draw large pictures is a recent one. Children in the West had no way to draw boldly on large surfaces. But in India there has been the age old folk tradition of doing floral decoration and painting on walls, e.g. rangoli and alpana. Making alpana and rangoli on the floor provides ample opportunity for people to use their fingers, hands, in fact the whole body, boldly. It does not imply that we do not need to emphasize the use of large sheets of paper. The most important factor in this context is that drawing on large areas helps children in developing the sense of space.
Once I was able to obtain a lot of long strips of paper cut off from large sheets from the Sevagram printing press. They were made available to children in the art class. When one of them looked at these sheets, he got an idea of painting a train. He took a strip and drew an engine and two bogies on it. Others too got similar ideas; one of them was seen joining six or seven strips together, on which he painted a nearly ten-foot long train. It only shows that making a variety of materials available also results in children getting fresh ideas for art work. Teachers should take advantage of this phenomenon.