Tuesday, July 31, 2012

BP Portrait Award: Inspiring portraits by teenagers

Inspire a Generation is the official slogan of the Olympic Games.  However inspiring the next generation is not just limited to sport - it applies to art as well.

Participants in BP Portrait Award: Next Generation Taster Sessions, July 2012
Photograph Othello De’Souza-Hartley © National Portrait Gallery

BP is a premier partner of the London 2012 Olympics.  One of the Museum activities associated with the London 2012 Festival - part of the Cultural Olympiad - is the National Portrait Gallery's BP Portrait Award Next Generation programme which is about:
  • bringing together leading artists with young people 
    • widening the horizons of young people 
    • enabling them to participate in learning about making art
    • encouraging them to draw and paint portraits
  • inspiring a permanent artistic legacy.
See my previous post The Next Generation - Portraiture for Teenagers which reviewed the BP Portrait Award Next Generation activities for 14-19 years olds interested in art and portraiture.
The Next Generation is a project run by the National Portrait Gallery which is all about inspiring 14­-19-year-olds (aka "The Next Generation") about portraiture. It provides different opportunities for teenagers to meet with and gain insights from past BP Portrait Award artists and to share their own artwork.
A Next Generation Taster Session

I recently attended a BP Portrait Award: Next Generation Taster Session at the NPG and this post is a report on what happened.

The aims of the Taster Session are to
  • Achieve engagement and participation - nobody learns unless they're interested!
  • Try out a range of portrait techniques in the Gallery spaces and develop an understanding that there's more than one way to record a figure and make a portrait
  • Meet artists who have had work in the BP Portrait Exhibition
The Facebook Debate

For those who followed the debate on my Facebook page following the last blog post (prior to comments by a certain indiviudal being deleted by me), here are the answers to what actually happens.  As I very much suspected, it's very wrong to criticise the guidance offered by the NPG and/or to assume that it's always appropriate that young people follow a traditional atelier approach and are taught how to draw a face in conventional terms!

The reason for this is that these are young people who are interested in art - but they have very different experiences in relation to portraiture.  From what I could see a fair number of the young people had little prior instruction in drawing a head.   Any session therefore has to be geared to involving everybody - whatever their experience or skill level - and to generate engagement and participation within a three hour time slot which in turn is likely to promote future engagement.

In this post I'm including some of the comments from the young people on the feedback forms which they complete at the end of the session.  From these you can deduce the value of the Taster Session from their perspective.
‘I found it really useful and it helped me have an insight into the artworld. I hope to go to artschool and this has broadened my experience of art’
Participant in Next Generation Taster Session, 2012
The structure of the taster session

I'm going to describe the way in which the 3.5 hours were structured - but first a comment on how well the young people engaged with the sessions.

I was actually amazed.  The pace of the session was fast and furious.  They did six separate exercises and the level of engagement was absolutely stunning.  Whereas you or I might pause and reflect - or think in advance about the scope for how we might be embarrassed by our output - the young people simply listened to the instructions and then got on with it.  The rate at which they produced work was astonishing.  I was just about keeping up with them!

As the Young People's Manager pointed out to me, these are young people who are fairly committed in the first place as they've given up their Sunday to come into London and pursue a workshop.

BP Portrait Award 3rd PrizeRichie Culver by Alan Coulson
Oil on wooden board 850 x 950 mm
Alan Coulson (left) with Richie Culver (right)
The session divided between whole group activities and small group activities in the gallery.

Three artists who are past and current BP Portrait Exhibition prizewinners were also participating:
They worked alongside Sadie Lee, Grace Adam and Marc Woodhead - the gallery artists leading the sessions and small groups.

Participants in BP Portrait Award: Next Generation Taster Sessions, July 2012
© National Portrait Gallery
  1. (15 minutes) An icebreaker involved the whole group - including BP Portrait prizewinners - drawing different aspects of the body at different scales on a very large sheet of paper in the floor
  2. Three small groups - each with a workshop leader - working in the BP Portrait Exhibition - with 30 minutes for each group including transfers between locations
    • Drawing and cutting out a portrait and then adding in words
    • Creating a new image from elements in two paintings
    • Creating a tonal drawing using graphite and an eraser as a drawing implement
  3. (10 minutes) Talk by the winner of the third prize in the BP Portrait Competition - Alan Coulson
  4. (10 minutes) Discussion about Sketchbooks with Simon David and Hynec Martinec
  5. (10 minutes) Review of work done in the session
‘I am more confident. We were told to draw in the gallery, before I was too scared to do this.
Participant in Next Generation Taster Session, 2012
I joined one group for the three exercises in the gallery to see just how difficult it was to tackle the exercises in the limited time available. You can see my efforts below - together with a longer description of the exercise.
‘It has made me feel I may be able to develop as an artist’
Participant in Next Generation Taster Session, 2012
This is a video of participants which explains two of the projects.  It's by Youth Forum members  who interviewed and flipcam filmed the participants as part of our BP Portrait Award: Next Generation peer filming project.  This film .  One of the Youth Forum members became to be involved in the Youth Forum via BP Next Generation.

Out of the 30 minutes allowed for each group I want to emphasise that there was maybe 20-25 minutes to draw in each group after an explanation and the time required to transfer to the next group

Task 1: Cut out faces and cut out words

Derived from Tessa and the Clay Heads
by Ruth Murray
The first group's task was stimulated by The Skateboarder by Erik Olson

We had to draw any one of the faces of portraits in a small section of the exhibition using a marker pen on a sheet of coloured paper.  They then had to cut out the drawing and glue it on to a second colour of paper and then add in words cut from a newspaper to describe the feelings behind the portrait.

I opted for drawing my head in pen and ink in my sketchbook and then using coloured pencils to indicate the colours which I thought were appropriate for the face I chose (from Ruth Murray's Tess and the Clay Heads)

I was amazed at the speed with which people got their drawings down, their cutting out done and their words chosen - given they had to look for words in a newspaper!  I took the short cut and just wrote words onto my drawing.

I was amazed at how much more you looked at the drawing once words were included.

I was amused to hear that this session had been carried out in one of the earlier taster sessions with Eric Olsen the artist watching - unbeknown to the group leader!  He was apparently very complimentary about their work!

Task 2: Merge two paintings into one picture

I was probably most pleased with this exercise! The task was to take one element of one portrait and add to it an element from another portrait to create a new image.  I picked two portraits were they were both using sticks as vertical elements - and only realised as I started to shade that I'd picked two works with lighting patterns which would not merge!

Two portraits merged into one drawing
Task 3: Draw a frozen head in tonal values

This task focused on Mark Quinn's "Self' which is a sculpture of a head frozen in the artist's own blood.  This was about developing tonal values using large graphite sticks to shade and an eraser to produce highlights.  Again I was working with a mechanical pencil in my sketchbook.  Most of the young people had never worked in this way before.
‘I started thinking differently, trying out new techniques. I found that the artists’ work was really interesting in their talk, they shared new perspectives. ‘Participant in Next Generation Taster Session, 2012
Alan Coulson's talk was excellent.  The whole gallery stopped and listened!  He spoke about how he became a portrait artist because somebody had taken him to see the BP Portrait Award when he was young and how it sparked an interest in portraiture.

Simon Davis had brought some small studies with him to talk about he approached the creation of a portrait and it was fascinating to handle them and to be able to see his brushwork up close.
‘The artists we met were inspiring.’
Participant in Next Generation Taster Session, 2012
More about The Next Generation

If you visit the BP Portrait Award 2012 Exhibition you will see a display of outside the BP Portrait Award 2012 exhibition to showcase the story so far of BP PortraitAward: Next Generation, including works produced during the Summer Schools.

On the website, www.npg.org.uk/bpnextgeneration, young people aged 14-19 can display and share their portraits via Flickr and watch behind the scenes interviews with past winners of the BP Portrait Award, filmed by young people.  Note that are individuals who have not necessarily participated in any of the sessions or workshops at the Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) 

Recorded information: 020 7312 2463
General information: 020 7306 0055 
Website: www.npg.org.uk 
Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross

1 comment:

  1. I find it really interesting that BP will take such and interest in encouraging the creative drive of young up and coming artist because it is the age in which it it should be done


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