Apr 7, 2020

“Not as boring as I thought it would be”!


That about sums up my efforts at home schooling. As the Sedgwick Museum’s Education Coordinator, it is my job to teach school groups in the museum. You might think I find teaching my 8 year-old a breeze but, like most of us that have been thrown into home schooling in these extraordinary times, I’ve been finding it a real challenge. I could tell her anything she wants to know about dinosaurs, but I didn’t sign up to teach primary maths and English.

Category: 2020
Posted by: Nicola

This week I decided to give maths worksheets a break and work with my strengths. In museum workshops I teach with objects. So I thought we’d try grinding our own pigments with whatever we could find in the garden. I pulled some pots out of the recycling, a brick and beach pebble became our pestle and mortar, and we set out to gather some pigments. We found: chalk, dried clay from a trip to the beach, a weathered brick, a piece of clay tile, burned wood from a fire, and scoop of dried soil from the vegetable patch.

As you can imagine, some were much easier to grind than others. The clay tile took some adult help with a hammer, but everything else we managed with our makeshift pestle and mortar. As we worked we talked about what equipment stone age and medieval artist might have used. We felt very stone-age with our makeshift tools. We decided we didn’t have the patience of medieval artists grinding minerals like malachite to make paint. My daughter said if she were to sell her pictures the ones with red in would cost the most because the red pigment (from the brick and tile) were the hardest to make.

I had planned to use old paint brushes but, after thinking about what stone-age people might have used, we decided to make our own brushes by bashing the ends of twigs with our trusty pebble. We thought about which twigs might work best: dried or fresh, and then set about testing our ideas.

Next we thought about how to bind our pigments to the card; what did artists use in the past? We decided to mix them with dilute PVA glue: not very stone age but, having run similar workshops at the museum, I knew it would work. Mixing was, of course, lots of fun, and we soon realised that our paint was going to have plenty of texture. Once mixed some pigments settled and separated really quickly; we wondered why that happened. We also thought about what kind of pictures we could paint with these lovely earthy colours.

What did we learn? The project got us thinking about different styles of art, tools and colours; we had ideas and tested them, and it took us several days to complete. More importantly it involved the whole family working together and, apparently, it wasn’t as boring as expected!