Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creative Calligraphy To Help Children Develop A Love of Words

Last Sunday, I taught calligraphy in a session for the Ipswich District Teacher Librarian Network. Huge thanks, Jenny Stubbs, for your organisation! Hopefully I enabled attendees to appreciate that lettering can be fun and useful. Not all calligraphy has to be super neat writing on straight lines. A decorative capital with blended colour and mixed media additions can be used like an illuminated medieval letter to start a chapter or page. Many children find this inspires them to think extra hard about the words they write after it.

Another way that calligraphy can be used to stimulate creativity, and help children develop a love of words, literature and writing, is to develop a background and then hunt for an appropriate poem or text to write over the top - which necessitates reading a number of alternatives before a choice is made. Or they can write a poem or suitable prose themselves.

This artwork was produced by first writing and overlapping the word ‘Cloud’ many times, using a strip of balsa wood with a straight-cut end as a pen. To make the lighter tones, it was dipped in water before soaking up the ink. The writing was then smudged with a moistened sponge and some Burnt Sienna watercolour painted at the bottom of the wetted paper to suggest the red-brown soil of the Australian outback. Table salt was sprinkled over all the damp area and the paper left to dry - then the salt was removed. Salting creates light spots with unpredictable but interesting ragged edges. To reduce the dominance of the background, I then used a garden hose to wash off some of the ink and paint. Before the paper dried, ‘Rain’ was written on the left and right sides with a fountain-pen dipped in water to make the ink greyer. Letting the ink run and go 'hairy' seemed appropriate. More words were added when paper was completely dry, and their colour depth controlled by instantly blotting some with a paper tissue.

A few more ‘Rain’s then filled a blank space or two. The original is 30cm (1ft) wide.

I’m not sure that the colour or spacing of the letters in the added verse from the poem ‘This Land’, by Ian Mudie, is as effective as it should be. Do you think it’s too dominant? Should the colour have been more transparent, the letter strokes thinner and with more variety in colour and density. Should the letters have been more mixed in size or a different style, or all capitals as in the rest of the piece, or with closer and more consistent spacing or on less straight lines? I’m looking forward to trying again and I'll be pleased to incorporate any suggestions you’d like to offer.

For schools, the nature of the activity is more important that the quality of the script. Students could use pencils for the background and felt pens or ball-points for the words that need to stand out, and write them in their everyday handwriting.

Rather than finding a text to write over a background, facilitating a personal creative interpretation of a poem or text that a child discovers and likes can also encourage them to read and search for more, if they enjoy the activity. There are plenty of other ways of presenting words to refelct their meaning, sound and rhythms.

If you are a teacher, I'll be delighted to work with children in your school to create similar artworks, if you'd like to invite me to visit - please check out my website. If you try something similar yourself, please let me know how it goes and show me the result.

The verse from Ian Mudie's poem was chosen after first visualising the background – but it was coincidental that our location for the workshop was ‘Woodlands’ at Marburg, a beautiful old Queensland mansion with a tin roof - and as you can see, it was a glorious sunny and warm autumn day, and I didn't wish had been raining.

Peter Taylor


Diane Fordham said...

Hello Peter, I am a new follower and look forward to reading more on your blog. :-)

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Many thanks, Diane, and congratulations on all the stories you've had published in magazines and your new novel, 'Dream Keeper'. It sounds an absorbing read - best wshes for mega sales.

Please leave another comment and tell us more about it and how it can be purchased. Is it suitable for Young Adults/older children?

Joy Corcoran said...

I love this exercise and your calligraphy is perfect. I live in Portland, Oregon, and we just had our rainiest March since the 1950s. So this poem resonated with me and I think it's perfect just the way it is. I think calligraphy is a wonderful way to get children interested in words. I'm working with only two children right now but I think I will incorporate a similar exercise -- using pencil and pen as you suggested. Thanks!

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Thanks so much, Joy - I hope the children enjoy the process and everyone feels it has been worthwhile at the end. There's no right and wrong result or way to do this. I hope you'll let me see the results.

Yes, we've just had record rains, too. I hope they are not followed by a record dry spell.

All best wishes, and have fun,