I had a challenge in doing a return teaching gig with COOTS. What with 'thinking outside the square' being the essence of this group and the fact that they are all such accomplished artists I had to come up with a programme that would cater to their different media interests and satisify them conceptually. As a professional artist I can find it stressful at times to produce work that fits in with a commercial criteria or responds to a specific commission. While I have pride in finishing an artwork I go from one project to another so rapidly that I sometime loose passion for what I am doing. Rather than rant about all the other side effects of this such as
turning down work, pulling out of shows, procrastinating. I thought that maybe the COOTS group too would like a break from the pressure of completing work and designed a programme that was based on the idea that participants were 'Closed For Restoration'.
Our accommodation in Bannockurn is located just above this spot, you can see we could have spent the whole 4 days soaking in the atmosphere. But this was a working retreat! My planning was influenced by some key texts: Alice Fox, Natural Processes in Textile Art; Jason Logan Make Ink: A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking; Helen Parrott, Mark Making Through the Seasons and an old favourite Roger von Oech, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. These texts inspired me to ask participants to talk a walk or two in the months before the workshop. The walk/s were to be undertaken with intent, such as to focus on looking for one colour or to collect some 'treasures'. Then came the icebreaker. Due to a lovely donation of old glasses from Daphne Morshuis I asked participants to take a pair of glasses and use them to represent some of their walking. After initial surprise the results could not have been more fun and insightful. Embellishments were added, lenses scratched, the shape of glasses used as a way to write a story visually. Objects took on metaphorical meanings and discarded rubbish drew beautiful squiggly lines.
When I went to art school my husband (a lecturer there at the time) said that students who were open to trying different mediums succeeded the most. He might regret saying that now as my leap frog brain finds it difficult to focus on one medium! So I made working with found materials, paper and inks our main materials, rather than textiles. While there was tension in that participants wanted to work on fabric and kept asking me 'could you wash that?' (a real world constraint that I had to stamp out) eventually the idea that they could do the same or similar techniques on fabric after the course all was good.
In von Oech style we progressed through the course applying mainly 'soft thinking' for the first three days. This meant lots of experimentation and not judging the results. Our eyes nearly popped out with fascination when Robyn and Wendy created a small universes of crystals from copper oxide ink.