I always enjoy creating murals with school and community projects. There’s such a lot to get your teeth into.
Firstly there’s the challenge of working on a big scale; most children rarely work on anything bigger than A2, and to suddenly be told that they have to cover a whole playground wall is daunting and thrilling. And because it’s such a big task you have to make it clear from the start that this is a team effort and everybody has to focus on the end goal.
Next is the challenge of realising that a big project needs a lot of research into the subject matter, and that the final aim is to make one large coherent design not a scattering of unrelated images. There’s a lot to do, which means it’s a very good way of involving a large number of children in a given session, unlike mosaic where you can only have so many hands working at the same time. In effect a large mural is a series of projects within a project, and I often break up a class so that it feels like a little factory unit, with one team employed collecting subject matter, one team drawing, one team scaling up drawings, and a final team doing the painting, before they all rotate around.
Above all, and I always hope that this is one thing that I impress on children, a good mural depends on creating a design that will look strong and clear from a distance, and to achieve this you have to do lots of drawing and never accept the first idea you come up with.
Lots of paper, lots of drawing, and no fear of making mistakes!
Whickham Centenary Murals
These murals were created for the Centenary of Whickham Front Street School in 2009. The project involved a lot of research into local history and history in general, to pick out images that would be eye catching and memorable. The final compositions were greatly aided by the use of an equally historical overhead projector, which proves invaluable for assembling large imagery. I spent 2 weeks with the pupils who thoroughly enjoyed painting on such epic scales.
RVI Hospital Newcastle
These murals, sadly no longer existing since the redevelopment of the hospital, were commissioned by the nursing staff of the Children's Ward. The remit was to make the ward appear more child friendly. I personally wanted the whole ward to feel as if it was outdoors, offering the children the prospect of some fun activity as soon as they were healthy again.
Usworth Colliery School
The exterior murals at Usworth Colliery Primary School are in fact graphic panel cutouts. The imagery was targeted at creating a strong and positive ethos for the playground, tackling issues of teamwork and aspiration. Before designing the final images I spent a great deal of time working with all the year groups, discussing ways in which the school could continue to have a positive image and be a better place for everyone. We also created a Miners Banner to take part in the Washington Festival parade, which featured images of people and places in the current area, alongside the recent historical past; the principal iconography for the banner was a tree, showing how the present builds on the roots of the past. Many thanks go to head teacher Carole Colling, who had such energy and passion for the project, as well as some very supportive parents.
Highfield Primary School
Healthy Highfield was a mural with a predominantly twofold mission. Firstly to spotlight the superb outdoor location and healthy lifestyle play facilities at Highfield Primary School; secondly to cheer up an unsightly retaining wall where the parents would gather to drop off and collect children. My main artistic concern was to create a simple and unifying background rhythm that would hold together an abundance of activity over a length of 80 feet. Essentially this was like creating 10 billboards that would all link together and be easy on the eye. In the end I think the piece succeeds very well. For this I owe a great debt of thanks to Alan Mould who organised a large amount of the graphic material. Also to Chromazone who printed the graphic panels, and Davy Whisler who installed the finished piece with his characteristic droll wit and lack of fuss and bother, which always saves me a heart attack or two. ( just don't tell him I said so ).