On Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th I went back to Junior School! Scary stuff! I had those dreadful flashbacks to those horrible school years each time I heard that school bell ring!
But apart from that....
I was there to help 60 school children convert their designs into batiked silk banners.
The Avon Gorge and Downs WIldlife Project had spent some days previously with the children taking them up on The Downs to find all manner of butterflies, bugs, spiders and other insects; teaching them about the wildlife that can be found in this wonderful area of Bristol and instilling/encouraging an appreciation and care for that wildlife.
From their expeditions of insect hunting, the children had several activities to do to tie that experience together.. They were divided into 10 groups and each one concentrated on a specific family of insects such as.. Butterflies and moths, Beetles, Centipedes, Flies etc. They then had to draw an insect, within their group, that can be found on The Downs or in the Avon Gorge and that was then to be incorporated into a design to go on a banner. These banners would then be hung around the zoo tent at the Bristol Festival of Nature in the middle of June.
I was booked to do the workshop with the children, turning their designs into banners. We had 10 pieces of silk measuring 2 metres by 90cms and onto this we got the children to batik their designs using brushes and melted wax.
We were working in the classroom with 30 children each day, so it was a bit noisy as the majority of the class worked on their other activity (making top trump cards of their chosen insect), we had relays of children in groups of 5 or 6 come to the tables we had set up in one corner.
I did a quick run through at the beginning of the day to all the children in the class on safety issues of being around hot melted wax and a few basics on using the brushes to draw their designs using the wax and adding colour. I had at least one helper, throughout and once we got our 'plan of attack' sorted.. it became a bit of a production line.
It was quite full on as there were 5 groups of children, and their banners, to fit in each day between 9.30am and 3.15pm (minus morning tea break and lunch) which left us with 4 hours 40 mins to set up each design template and silk, do a quick recap with each group on what to do and what not to do, find out what their design was about and what colours they wanted, get them to wax the design, colour the design, then remove the silk and design template, take the silk to an office to hang, clean the table, sort the colours, equipment ready for the next lot... five times! So about 40-45 mins for each group to actually wax and paint... not very long at all!!
Each full design had been drawn to size, onto the back of a sheet of wallpaper matching the measurements of the silk. This was taped down onto the table tops (which had been covered in several layers of dust sheet plastic) and over the top of this we taped the slightly longer lengths of silk. The designs had been drawn in pencil and could be seen through the silk so the children could follow their designs lines easily. They then painted with wax the outlines of their bugs and the different elements of their backgrounds like tree trunks, leaves, clouds , the sun etc (my helpers and me did a lot to help them on the background, just to speed up the process). Then we got them to colour it with silk paints... I had batches of basics like blues, yellows, green red and black.. and had to mix to order extras like oranges, greys, purples etc. Once the colour was on we encouraged the children away from the table and waxpots (not always easy!) and removed the silk to an office where it could be hung to dry, then removed the design template wiped the table clean of excess colour before taping the next design down, placing a fresh piece of silk over the top and starting again.
The kids were mostly brilliant and seemed to really enjoy the painting with wax and silk paints. It was too rushed to get them to take their time and do it really well, so there were a few leakages of colour and splodges of wax in the wrong place, but well... it all adds character, doesn't it.
At the end of the school day I took the banners home to iron off the wax, which also 'fixes' the colour through the heat. These will then go back to Mandy of the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project to take to the Bristol Festival of Nature to hang on display. The Top Trump cards the children made will be used as part of an activity where other children can match the insect on the card to the one on the banner and learn more interesting facts about that species.
They did some great designs and the finished work looks great, I hope, if you intend visiting the Bristol Festival of Nature, you get a chance to pop into the Bristol Zoo Tent where I think they are to be displayed.
My thanks for such a great day go to Mandy for organising it and to Joss, Randy and Hetty for their unstinting help batiking. Joss stuck with me for all of both days, his help was invaluable.
Here's a photo of the children working on one of their banners... this one is beetles, doesn't it look great.