Connections- Collaborations

@iacartroom: Karen Wicks (nee Shaw)

Karen Wicks is an Art teacher who has worked for the last sixteen years across mainstream secondary schools in the Midlands and North Devon. For ten of these years she has also held a middle management role leading Art and Design departments and raising achievement. She is a textile design graduate who prior to teaching worked for Belford Prints and Georgina von Etzdorf as a print sampling manager. Her interest in surface qualities and process is evident in her own work as an artist; she developed a fusion of screen printed drawing and fused glass in work exhibited in North Devon. Her most recent work has been greatly influenced by collaboration with other art educators and by her role as a key facilitator in the ‘Thinking Expression Action’ project initiated by NSEAD, NADFAS and The Campaign for Drawing. This role has allowed Karen to foster ongoing links nationally with other educators in developing personal practice as self directed CPD.

Connections – Collaborations – Circles

Over the last two years my own work as an artist has evolved. This has mainly been due to my involvement with other art educators in the ‘Thinking Expression Action’ CPD project which was initiated in July 2012 by NSEAD, NADFAS and the Campaign for Drawing. There is more information about the project aims here.

As an Art teacher, reflective practice has always been central to my way of working, so being able to actively document classroom work and analyse the effect of making changes to my approach as a teacher was an inviting prospect. At the start of this project my own work as an artist was very much ‘separate’ from the practical work and projects that I was developing in the classroom. What I found through participating in the ‘Thinking Expression Action’ project was that it re-engaged me with my own drawing practice, through the first simple introductory brief of ‘drawing on an envelope’ I created illustrations both individually which explored both the context and the function of the substrate of the envelope, and collectively in ‘mail art’ projects that I initiated with others in the group (more here).

Drawing on an Envelope: Illustrations


Envelope Sketchbook:

Through beginning to practice again on a daily basis I began to become more aware of issues that learners face when tasked with drawing; this threw up interesting questions about ownership of drawing and the skills we teach as educators. Through my case studies for TEA I looked at how to explore a more open-ended approach to developing drawing skills with pupils. The resulting case studies are part of a much larger resource here. Most importantly for me as an educator it made me question my own preconceptions and approach to planning projects, whereby the control is in the hands of the teacher in ‘problem solving’ or building the steps to often identical outcomes for classes. It was initially unfamiliar territory to allow more ‘freedom’ into the creative process and at some times it failed as much as it succeeded.

Sketchbook Circle 13:

The other fundamental change to my viewpoint and practice as an Art educator has come through involvement in another collaborative venture called the ‘Sketchbook Circle’. The premise is described more fully here but essentially it is a year long partnership with two other practising artists, in which you exchange a shared sketchbook on a monthly basis. This project really pushed me to develop in different directions to those that I may of pre-planned in my head.

Book 1 with Elinor Brass:

The starting point for me in my first response to this project was an interest in the idea of ‘place’; I was fortunate enough to be able to access the disused Pavillion in Lynmouth to photograph it’s demolition and rebuild. What stayed with me was the sense of history or trace memory that seemed to leave a residue in the building. My first drawings in response to this were about recording the surfaces of the building using mixed media and paint.

The drawings developed through collaboration with Elinor into an exploration of ‘space’ as well as a continued preoccupation with architectural surfaces; the ‘book’ became a three-dimensional piece of sculpture which led to video work exploring this as a ‘space’. Drawings then became portable and were taken to various locations to be ‘found’. The final response to this project became a piece of tattooed work. These are just a few of the developments below:

More of Elinor’s own work can be seen here.

Book #2 with Jill Piddock:

My second collaborative partner for 2013 was Jill Piddock whose first response was a series of pattern drawings based upon natural forms. We soon developed a joint interest in cells as a source of visual inspiration and our shared work pushed me to develop an entirely different response to combining unfamiliar media with Jill’s original drawings. The outcome of working with Jill for 2013 was the obsession with the circle as a motif was born!

Our sketchbook inspired practical work for me in a number of educational settings; a sculpture workshop with primary school pupils, a drawing workshop with Art teachers and two mixed media projects with KS3 pupils.

Access Art 

The sketchbook work done with Jill Piddock plus a visit with a former student and fantastic illustrator Dave Newey led to a classroom collaboration involving cell imagery. Dave’s work ‘Causality’ looks at different types of microscopic cell images that relate to his ancestry and are drawn by building up layers (image copyright D Newey)

David Newey (Copyright)

Causality- D Newey

Pupils looked at Dave’s drawings as well as images of cells and worked in groups to build up a set of images. There is more information about how this worked in the Access Art resource which is currently being produced (link to follow).

Digital Swap 14

There was also a link into a digital project which I ran with thirty other art educators using a collaborative weekly exchange as a way to develop skills in using apps and image manipulation software. We used the idea of a visual ‘virus’ every week to move the image forward and there is more information about this project here. Here are some of the final pieces which are due to be exhibited at TEAm15 exhibition in petri dishes.

 Where next? #circleobsessed

The motif of the circle has now become a fascination for me and despite attempts to move away from it in current sketchbook work, things always seem to return to it. Present work with Jill Piddock has moved towards looking at Spode the former Potteries site in Stoke, which is an amazing space in itself. It is interesting to feel the atmosphere in different parts of the building and to hear about experiences people have had in there with spirit. Circles which were cells have now become orbs……and so we move on. And then there are circle of people- those who have worked with me in different ways over the last fourteen years as a teacher, friends who are artists themselves. How exciting would it be to connect these people in a collaborative venture! And so #circleobsessed was born, a year long collaboration on the shape of a circle.

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