Islands of Sanity

Thanks to a Sector Support Grant from The Mighty Creatives, Fermynwoods Contemporary Art delivered bespoke artist-led workshops with students from The CE Academy, online throughout lockdown.

We are delighted to announce that four Key Stage 3 students who submitted the resulting digital portfolios have all been awarded Bronze Arts Award qualifications, equivalent to a passing grade at GCSE and typically taken at Key Stage 4.

Portfolios included documentation and reflection of online workshops and activity which took place in person before lockdown; also featuring research about and interviews with student Arts Inspirations.

Students also reflected on visits to our exhibitions at The Arches, Fineshade Wood, as well as visiting Leicester Print Workshop and 2 Queens gallery and studios in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, earlier in the year.

The weekly artist-led online workshops were a regular opportunity for creative expression and islands of sanity during these difficult times.

Working via a secure online networking and film system with videographer Martin Steed, students created a short film about life during lockdown.


Working with Martin’s guidance, the group decided to show how life had been for them over the previous few weeks of social isolation. They interviewed each other over webcam, recording both ends of the conversation, and created monologues describing their ‘new normal’, constantly considering the limitations and possibilities of making a movie online with just a laptop and an iPad.

This finished film was later entered into Northampton Film Festival’s ‘Kind of a Big Deal In My Living Room’ lockdown film competition.

For the next Islands of Sanity workshop, students worked our Education Coordinator, artist Stuart Moore, using some digital tools created especially for the workshop, including an online mandala maker that students used to create symmetrical patterns through a combination of mouse movements, colour choices and varying line thicknesses.

Students also created hypnotic images by experimenting with an app Stuart developed to make kaleidoscopic images from their screen grabs and uploads. After passing their images through creative coder Michael Bromley’s Chromata tool, students were able to manipulate the colour data in their images into a series of wiggly lines to trace out key features of their original images.

By combining all of these processes with some fractal patterns, students created new digital artworks for forthcoming exhibitions.

Islands of Sanity workshops - Emma Davies

Our Education Curator, artist Emma Davies, led students through a process of manipulating photographs online to create ambiguous and emotive new images.

Based on Emma’s experiments during lockdown of combining figurative and landscape images, students selected past photographs of their time at Fermyn Woods earlier in the year. Using online editing tools students blended photographs by manipulating colours, transparencies and lighting effects to create new images that were unexpected and dreamlike, giving new meanings and interpretations to previously familiar scenes and memories.

Using a bespoke repository developed by Stuart Moore, students were able to upload their digital images in high resolution to their secure Fermynwoods online portfolios for Arts Award moderation.

Working with our Director, James Steventon, students subverted search engine image recognition algorithms by downloading, editing and uploading consecutive images in a game of consequences aiming to prevent Google from recognising the previous image.

An edited image of Fermyn Woods were interpreted as a colourful wall, before mutating into fluorescent wrist bands. A person with red hair soon became Kazakstan as Google struggled to keep up with the students’ creativity.

Before long students had created their own series of original abstract compositions. In a variation of Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, with their attention held on beating Google, students learnt to use more online image editing tools without realising it.

Students also worked with Abbie Canning, a multi-disciplinary artist and Q Club Programme Curator at QUAD, Derby, to design and build their own platform games, learning about animation cycles and game design using the Bloxels Edu app.

Students designed and animated the main protagonists – the goodies and the baddies, gave them unique characteristics, and programmed ‘collectables’ – objects to collect in their games that gave their characters super powers.

Once finished, the games were published online for others to play:

Islands of Sanity workshops - Louise Clarke

The last of our online workshops was led by artist and Fermynwoods Associate Educator Louise Clarke.

Students worked with Louise to create their own surrealist and comedic digital collages, using German Dada artist Hannah Hock as inspiration. Using the online tool Pizap, students selected a variety of photographs taken by Louise of objects and paraphernalia around her house, as well as a selection of backgrounds (walls, quilts and curtains), to digitally cut up, arrange, layer, shrink, expand and reverse.

“This was actually really fun” said one student, “I’m going to carry on doing this in the holidays!”

Congratulations to all the young people who worked so hard online and achieved these qualifications under incredibly challenging circumstances, including the seven young people who worked with us to receive Arts Award Discover introductory awards.

We look forward to continuing their arts inspired journeys and more Islands of Sanity in September.

A special thanks to Sam Gibson who worked closely with these students in the weeks and months prior to lockdown.