Although planning is a crucial element to ensure delivery of a successful workshop, the beauty of allowing artists to lead with their practice is that participants experiment and go off on tangents without having to neatly tick off an objectives box. As Ursula Le Guin wrote “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end”.
Artist and Associate Educators Louise Clarke is an expert in allowing students to have that valuable space to riff on a theme, posing and responding to their own creative enquiries, revelling in the journey without knowing the destination.
For one of her standout workshops with students from The CE Academy in 2016, Louise encouraged students to take a playful and experimental approach to mouldmaking, using plaster to create small objects and sculptural forms by discovering through making rather than pre-planning. The material itself being the only vehicle required.
Bags of plaster, bowls of water, gloves, aprons, cardboard, tape and various mouldmaking possibilities adorned the picnic tables in the garden at Sudborough Green Lodge. One student on the autistic spectrum was noticeably eager to begin proceedings. His sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable. He enjoyed the immediacy of diving into materials and discovering artistic possibilities, so necessary safety checks and a wait to create an organised workstation was a struggle for him. He also found physical interaction difficult, so working near to the artist and fellow students presented a clear set of challenges for him to navigate.
Louise eventually gave the green light and led students through a maze that contained a curious delight at every turn. Construction, deconstruction, pouring, stirring, filling and setting; each cast posing a question. How to make it larger? Smaller? Angular? Rounded? Textured? Smooth? By the end of the workshop rows of curious objects lined the table, conjuring up images of an alien orthopaedic unit or a 23rd Century V&A Cast Collection.
I observed the students’ facial expressions; immense satisfaction all round and in the case of the autistic student, his huge beaming smile indicated that he had thoroughly enjoyed his day. Bonding over a naughty joke and momentarily overcoming his discomfort of physical contact, a hug for Louise was his heartfelt demonstration of appreciation. Having followed specific instructions whilst revelling in mess was an utter joy to behold.