Interpreting Our Environment
Term: 2 Year: 2011
Each year the tall pine next to the Art Studio is home to a family of magpies. I have watched as they rear their
young, take their first flying lessons and scavenge through the remains of recess and lunch discarded by the boys.
The quiet of the schoolyard and abundance of crumbs provide a perfect environment for which the magpies to live and
raise their young.
On Tuesday afternoons I collect the prep class and walk through the outdoor chess area, under the shade of the
pine to the Art Studio. The boys had noticed the magpies on many occasions and we often chatted about them on the way
to class. This prompted me to create a unit of work based around the family of magpies in our school. I wanted
to integrate the visual and kinaesthetic processes of art with the boy’s verbal observations, by giving
children a chance to create not only with words, but also with painting and sculpture. I aimed to celebrate the value
of visual and kinaesthetic learning alongside the verbal and written.
This year’s prep boys were very fond of Pamela Allen storybooks and our Teacher Librarian had found for me
her book Waddle Giggle Gargle! This is a delightful story about boisterous magpies. This gave me a great
starting point to introduce the magpies in our art. We spent a productive lesson sitting outside in the late November
sunshine and drew the family of magpies as they rummaged through the garden near the art studio. The class had to
work very quietly and stay still. This Plein Air experience gave us much to discuss back in the studio as the boys
added to their sketches of the birds.
The following week we used clay to make simple bird shapes with spread wings. These basic slab and sausage
constructed birds gave the preps their first experience of using slip to join, and toothbrushes to score. Each bird
was individual, some with wing tips and others with long beaks. As they were flat the sculptures dried quickly and
were fired within the week. The next week we looked closely at some photos I had taken of the magpies and discussed
the patterns and features in their plumage. Black underglaze made the distinctive markings with a simple dot of red
underglaze painted in for the eye to give the magpie its distinctive stare.
Throughout these weeks the boys took great interest in the magpies, reporting to me their activities and
whereabouts. This project had connected the boys to the school environment and made them aware that others also share
the playground and world with them each day. We painted the sky on simple MDF boards using sponges and blue and white
paint to mimic the soft clouds in the sky. Glazed magpies were attached to the soft-clouded skies. We finished the
project by writing a couplet rhyme, which encapsulated the boy’s ideas about the life of the school magpies.
The boys described their observations of the magpies so vividly that creating a couplet came easy.
"The magpies fly in the sky
Fly in circles, way up high"
Words were written in permanent maker along the rim of the clouds finishing an artwork that brings together
literature, art and the realm of personal experience.
Head of Junior School Art