Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Kids Get Arty - Exploring William Morris

If you haven't heard, Maggy over at Red Ted Art has started up the most fantastically inspiring project called 'Kids Get Arty'.

I just knew we'd have to join in. Ruby loves anything creative and will spend a considerable length of time at a craft table, so it seemed the ideal time to start a slightly more structured approach, and introduce her to some of our well known artists.

I say 'structured', but I don't mean a rigid lesson. There are some great hints and tips over at Red Ted which, coming from a non-teaching background, I found really helpful.

As I happened to have a really beautiful big book of William Morris prints that I'd picked up in a charity shop (surprise, surprise!), I thought we'd start there. Not at all because he's one of my favourite authors/artists/historical figures, and I was imposing my will...

We began by flicking through the book, stopping to look in more detail at the designs that caught Ruby's eye.  We used Maggy's idea of a simple view-finder cut from card to hone in on parts of the design, and concentrate on the fine details.

We spoke about pattern, repetition and symmetry and I showed Ruby how to use a small hand mirror to highlight the strong symmetry in the designs.

I explained that William Morris had been a famous designer, and most of his patterns were used originally in textiles for curtains and for wallpaper.  In fact, I even have a roll of paper upstairs that we had up in a previous house.

I asked her to choose her favourite design, and without hesitation, she picked this one.

The Strawberry Thief.  The girl's got my taste!  It's my favourite too.

We talked about Morris' inspiration for the print - he'd watched Thrushes stealing fruit from his strawberry patch at his home, Kelmscott Manor, and that's what he based the design on.  We talked about our strawberries in the garden and how we'd have to watch out for sneaky birds.

Ruby wanted to see a picture of his house, so we found one online. She said it looked very old, so I explained that William Morris lived a long time ago - the Strawberry Thief pattern is 130 years old now.  It really sparked a conversation, with her wanting to know if he had a wife (yes, Jane) any children (yes, 2 daughters Jenny and May) did anyone else live there (well, there was that rapscallion Rossetti but let's not go there..) did he have a cat, or a dog (errr, not sure...)

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire - photo credit

William Morris (24 March 1834 - 3 October 1896) Photo credit

We discovered that the house is hosting a family arts and craft day next month, and she's already asking if we can go.

So after looking at pictures of Morris and his family, we got back to the Strawberry Thief.  I asked if she could try and draw a bird for me.  She totally blew me away though, with this...

Her drawing has come on SO well, even in just the past few weeks.  From bringing home artwork from nursery that even I, her mum, can't figure out, she's drawing things that I'd defy anyone to be confused by. LOOK!!

We decided that we should print her design, like Morris did.  However, I didn't have the time/skill/patience for the authentic indigo-discharge method of printing onto fabric, so we opted for the much underrated poster-paint-on-a-pizza-polystyrene-base method.

Ruby carried on drawing strawberries, while I transferred and reversed her image on the polystyrene, then we loaded it up with paint (she was most insistent at using green), and printed it onto brown wrapping paper.

I think it's come out quite well, and we are going to use the paper for gift wrapping.  But best of all it's sparked an interest with Ruby, and made me realise that with a little bit of preparation we can very easily and happily spend a good hour or more talking and learning about a subject.

I'm so glad we've done this.  Why don't you join in too - all the details are here.


  1. Oh my!!! How wonderful!! I love your choice of Artist (so you!!!) and I ADORE your artwork. Isn't that bird simply the cutest and love love love the print making.

    You are a star! Thank you for joining in Kids Get Arty!


  2. Thanks Maggy. We had SO much fun doing it, I was thrilled at how animated and interested she was. It's really sparked her imagination and she's hungry for more art.


  3. Wow - I love the drawing, and your whole Morris workshop! Really beautiful stuff!

    1. Ahh thanks Gemma. Not bad for a 4 year old - and frankly probably better than I could draw! x

  4. That's so wonderful! Just goes to show that you are never too young to appreciate art. I'm inspired. Thank you.

  5. Thank you Cara. We can't wait to explore another artist. Got any suggestions? x

  6. What a wonderful drawing, truly amazing. Great idea to transfer it onto polystyrene, I'm going to have to try that.

    1. Thanks Ali. And a good excuse to eat pizza too ;0)

  7. Awesome! I love her bird so much. She must be at that magical age where kids draw things that make your eyes pop and you want to keep their drawings forever. I bet she'd love a t-shirt printed with the drawing and its reverse.

    1. Ahh yes, that's exactly where we're at!!

      I've got fabric paint, so we're going to do a TShirt. Thanks for your lovely comment x

  8. I truly LOVE how you explored the art and detail bit by bit. What a great way to slow down and really appreciate a piece with children. Thanks for participating in Kids Get Arty!

  9. This is absolutely fantastic - I love it! Have been thinking of how to do printing type art without spending money on lino printing stuff and using the pizza base is such a great idea. Also love the use of the view finder and mirror to look at the pattern - will definitely be giving this a go.

  10. Welcome to a new Linky Party for Kid-Focused Bloggers. Monday Kid Corner is a place to share your kid-friendly activities and crafts. Please join us at www.mondaykidcorner.blogspot.com. See you there!

  11. I loved this post and learned a lot from it about W. Morris.

  12. You have done a great job on this article. It’s very readable and highly intelligent. You have even managed to make it understandable and easy to read. You have some real writing talent. Thank you.
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