March can be a busy month for children’s authors, and this year amongst all the World Book Day week school visits I became involved in a longer project to create a children’s mural at Petts Wood Library in Bromley. I was introduced to Jenny Hawke, the Librarian who initiated the idea, through my work with CWISL, and the project was developed in partnership with year 5 students from Crofton Junior School, and with funding by North Kent Decorative and Fine Arts Society.
It was the first time I’d planned and lead the creation of a mural like this, so it was a bit of an experiment. After talking extensively to Jenny, it was clear our main objective was to involve the children as much as possible in the process of creating the final artwork. As I wanted to use the children’s ideas directly, I came up with a cunning plan to use a combination of painting, printing and découpage to fix the final image onto a series of wooden boards that would be mounted on to the library wall.
The adventure began with a visit to the school, working with the children to create their own characters to appear in the mural. The children were part of a group who met regularly to read, and we approached the task as if creating characters that could star in a story. We talked about how to use facial expressions and body language, costume and props to make our characters unique. The photo above shows me demonstrating drawing expressions from a live model who volunteered her drama skills. The children were wonderfully enthusiastic and carried on drawing their characters the following week.
I then took the drawings home with me to scan, enlarge and enhance digitally, adding in a few digital textures and illustrating some bits and bobs, before getting the images professionally printed by Atom Gallery in North London. The prints looked amazingly rich and colourful, and the children were super excited to see their artwork blown up ready to be cut out and découpaged onto the mural.
I wanted to integrate the children’s artwork with my own as much as possible so here I’d drawn a flying saucer and added in one of the children’s robot characters as the pilot.
This bus was populated with the children’s self-portraits drawn on tissue paper so they could be cut out and pasted onto the windows. A coat of decoupage glue over the top ensured the tissue paper became transparent, and sealed the portraits in place.
This building was created by taking a scan of a pencil sketch from the background of one of the children’s pictures, enlarging it massively, and then adding in textures in Photoshop. It was reproduced as a fine art giclee print ready to be cut out and stuck onto the mural.
The final task was to carry the boards outside to be sprayed with acrylic sealant (tricky on a windy day!), and then leave them to dry before they could be mounted on the wall.
I think the result was well worth the hours put in, and the best thing was seeing the children and their proud parents at the grand unveiling, where the mural was officially presented to the community by the Mayor of Bromley. It was a lovely way to help forge closer links within the local community, and to remind people to love their local library!
The project got some great local press coverage, and there will be a permanent display in the library showing photos of the project in progress. Like many authors, school visits have become a big part of what I do and I really enjoy these kinds of projects. It’s been great fun working with the children, their teachers, and the librarians at Petts Wood.
Photos © Laura Russen, Andrew Rogers, Loretta Schauer
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