This June, as part of the Ark Access Programme for Schools, illustrator Duffy Mooney-Sheppard delivered original online visual art workshops for groups of school children while they were at home due to the Covid-19 restrictions in June. Here, Duffy recounts the imagination and joy shared during these sessions.
In the moments before each school workshop went live, The Ark team and I met with the class teacher and/or Home School Liaisons. Teaching online was new to us all and I felt an immediate camaraderie as we all shared our nervous, excited energy about the coming moment of greeting all of their students online. From the get go, contrary to what might be expected on a Zoom call, these meetings felt so natural and fulfilling. Once the children arrived it was really magic! For many, it was the first time in weeks that they saw their teacher and each others’ faces.
As in real-life school workshops, each class had its own distinct personality, some are quiet, others bubbling with energy and chat. However, every workshop had one overwhelming thing in common. Once the drawing started - all went quiet. It is a wonderful thing to experience the relaxed yet focused energy of a group of children making art together. Faces disappeared, heads went down and the scratching of materials busily moving across paper could be heard alongside the chillout playlist playing in the background.
Artwork by Oisin from Harold's Cross National School
As I'm sure so many have been experiencing with increased screen time since March, lags and connection issues, along with the unnatural set-up of everyone staring at each other while they also stare at themselves, can make online meetings feel stilted, awkward and, well, exhausting! I was amazed to find, time and time again, that in the act of each participant making their individual response from a shared starting point - these online meetings feel like a genuine shared and community moment. There's a phrase I've seen circulating and this is how it felt - We were making art alone together.
At the end of each session, participants were invited to share their work - including the school and The Ark Staff. Personally, I made more artwork that week than I usually would. It was inspiring and invigorating to share my art studio with all of these great young artists. It is difficult to put these encounters down in words but I will say - although I am back, working alone again in my studio, it is still buzzing with their energy, ideas and fun. Thank you to all of the excellent Ark team and the students and school staff that joined in on the fun and braved this new online world with me!
Video Workshop: Story Islands & Wilhelma The Tortoise
The online workshops Duffy facilitated for school groups in June were inspired by Wilhelma The Tortoise, a lovable mahogany sculpture by Imogen Stuart from The Ark's collection of Beautiful Beasts. Now, Duffy has created a video version of this workshop so that all children aged 5-12 can have a go at making their own story maps at home inspired by Wilhelma's adventures. Take a look below...
Duffy is a visual artist, arts program curator and workshop facilitator. A recent graduate of the MA Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Arts, she is drawn to the process of story-making as a way to explore ideas and share her curiosity about the natural world. With many years of experience working creatively with young people at The Ark and many other cultural institutions and schools, she has developed her facilitation methods which are based in playful observation, imagination and telling tall tales. This year, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, she founded Little Islands Art Club, an online art groups for children and adults. Find out more at: www.duffydraws.com