Creative Chat ‘n’ Blog – Belona Greenwood

Listen to Bel’s podcast episode here.

The Challenge

It was a shock. I lost all my arts in education work and income overnight.  At first, I pretty much panicked in that I applied for any work, anywhere with a sense of dread that I would end up having to leave behind a creative life I had spent so many years trying to put together. At the same time, suddenly there was a space which I couldn’t negotiate productively.  I would have loved to have used the time that opened up before me creatively, but I was too anxious about money.  And then I benefitted from an emergency grant from the Arts Council. I was so grateful and promised to use my time well, even as I disinfected everything in sight, even as I limited going out to an early morning gallop with the dog, even as I stressed about my keyworker daughter exposed to the public.

Developing Ideas

Gradually, my heartbeat slowed, and I began to think and write again – in that gloriously beautiful weather in the first year. I sealed off the world and zoomed.  It has made me think of hybrid theatre forms and I have discovered the potential for intimacy, as well as theatre’s wider online reach, but still, a year on the yearning for the energy of live performance is very strong.

I count myself lucky. I was commissioned to write a play with funding put in place before the pandemic. It was a stop start experience for the theatre company – even as auditions, and script read throughs were held and rehearsals began, they were postponed, the project settling into a waiting time as theatres closed and new variants emerged and made being together impossible. I think we learnt patience this year. 

There are limitations to not being in the same room.  Part of my working life is spent in a writers’ room with two other scriptwriters where we develop television and radio drama.  It is a crucible where we hammer out a series, it is so much harder to interrupt each other passionately, the creative energy is missing in action. We adapt but it is not evolution. 

Belona Greenwood’s book The Flying Shop of Imagination, is full of inspiring ideas to get children writing and inventing.

Final Thoughts

It is a year since I have spent time in a school with real, 3D children.  Delivering an arts project to six-year-olds for a day in maverick weather this week was brilliant. A real return. But I cannot forget. We all carry a sorrow for the suffering of then and now.  I cannot but believe that as artists we are in a fragile peace, we live in uncertainty and with that there is a challenge. Out of chaos comes creation.

Written by Belona Greenwood.

Listen to Bel’s podcast episode here.

Read about Bel’s Writing the Landscape project here.

Creative Chat ‘n’ Blog – Kaitlin Ferguson

Listen to Kaitlin’s podcast episode here.

I am an environmental artist based in Norwich, my artistic practice crosses between many disciplines, but my particular focus is on sculpture, drawing and printmaking. 

As an extension of this I also create participatory projects which involve working with people, connecting them with nature through artistic activities. Before lockdown, this involved traveling across the country, working with audiences of all ages.

At the start of lockdown, all of the projects I had been working on got cancelled or postponed, within the matter of a few days, this was a scary state to be in as a freelancer! 

Then, with more time on my hands, I had a chance to pause and reflect. I decided to use this time as a chance to teach myself some new skills; video recording and editing. I also taught myself how to use a series of digital design packages.

One of the first projects I was able to use these digital skills on was a commission from MarketPlace as part of their ‘Creative Conversations in Isolation’ programme. I created a four-part video series entitled ‘Art and the Fens’ exploring different environment aspects of the Fens and shared ideas for how to make different creative responses. 

Activities included making a recording card for documenting a walk, how to make a pocket sketchbook to draw in, a video on anthotype printing using food and spices, and finally a video about using textiles to explore Fenland geology.  

It was important to me that the videos felt relaxed and like a conversation between me and the viewer. I also decided I wanted to create a handy guide to each video for people or download or print, hopefully making the project even more accessible.

Working in lockdown has really made me miss connecting with the people, and even though I know the videos can’t replace the joy of being in the same room, they are an important way for people to connect with others in isolation and use creativity for its therapeutic and relaxing benefits.

Since the project, I have been incorporating my newfound video and digital design skills into all of the other projects I am working on. I’ve found that, even though it can take a little while to get the hang of, using videos can be a really helpful way to share your ideas and artwork with others.

Written by artist Kaitlin Ferguson.

Listen to Kaitlin’s podcast episode here.

Read about Kaitlin’s Art and the Fens project here.

Crossing the Bridge of One Hair

Making interactive stories online

Marion Leeper reflects on her experience as a storyteller during the period of lockdown, and how she adapted the interactive fun and learning of storytelling in a playgroup setting and transferring it to online, as part of MarketPlace’s commissions programme.

Read about Marion’s project The Molly Whuppie Troubles here.

The Challenge

The folktale heroine Molly Whuppie succeeds in her quest because she is small: she can hide in the giant’s castle without him noticing, and she can get away from him because she is light enough to cross the Bridge of One Hair. As I embarked on the lockdown journey of bringing stories to a virtual audience, I had to take a leaf out of Mollie Whuppie’s book, and make a virtue of a small screen.

The Bridge of One Hair that I’ve had to cross, with help from MarketPlace as part of their Creative Conversations in Isolation commissions, was the big move to telling stories online: how to develop appropriate work that young children can engage with through a screen: finding out what was possible for a technically limited storyteller to offer as an online experience.

A photo of Marion in a glittering tent telling a story to a group of children.

Live storytelling in the early years is a conversation. Young children respond to stories with their whole bodies: not just joining in with actions and rhymes, but pointing, laughing, moving the props around, deciding how the characters are feeling and what they had for breakfast.  

If I wanted to offer young children a valuable storytelling experience, I needed to design a story that gets children moving, away from the screen.  Perhaps they could be more independent, more active, than in a live session.

Developing An Idea

I planned a story in short episodes, with a challenge or adventure to explore between each session. For instance, Molly Whuppie runs away from the giant’s castle through trees, over rocks and across a bridge. I invited the children to make their own obstacle course through, under and across. The volunteer families who tried it out found that the game kept them busy outdoors all day.

I also wanted to offer children chances to play independently – to give locked-down children and adults a break from each other. I asked the children to find treasures and put them in a ‘treasure box’ for a guessing game: some of them carried on making their own collections for days.

Getting Started

I worked with the Oasis nursery in Wisbech to try out the show using a live video call. I was pleased that the children joined in with the story and enjoyed the guessing game with the ‘treasures’ they’d brought. One child who joined from home loved seeing her nursery friends.

A screenshot image of Marion Leeper in her adventure series "Molly Whuppie and the Bridge of One Hair."
A screenshot image of Marion Leeper in her adventure series “Molly Whuppie and the Bridge of One Hair.”

But it was harder work keeping the children engaged and looking at a screen than live storytelling has ever been. It was also hard for families to watch live from home at a fixed time, so I set about making another change – filming a video of the story. 

This was harder than it seemed. The production values that were fine for live sessions were not good enough for recorded film. Young children, used to incredibly talented film-making, from Sarah and Duck to Disney’s Frozen have such great visual literacy now, the language of close-up and long shot, soundtrack and image: they aren’t impressed by a talking head on a screen.

I struggled to learn so many skills – lighting, set-building, framing. Then my film-buddy and mentor, Inés Alvarez Villa, came on the scene. Working remotely, she patiently taught me how to focus a shot, how to film close-up sequences of props and many other skills

She edited the story, which we are launching into the world for families once more in lockdown. Perhaps it will offer them, like Molly Whuppie, a chance for a while to escape their Covid castle.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been developing my early years practice in storytelling for half a lifetime. Learning ways of telling stories online has been particularly hard for me because it felt like starting again from the beginning. But it has been a worthwhile journey. I know that online work is here to stay, I can do more things online, and they don’t take me so long, I know the limits of what I can and can’t do on my own. I’ve had to forge new ways of working with children and their parents too: what will be realistic for parents to do at home? What will make their time with their children easier and more fun, without making too much work for them?

Mollie Whuppie has gone out to many nurseries in the Fenland area, and children all over the place have been busy filling treasure boxes and building obstacle courses. One educator said: ‘The story was amazing, perfectly paced and the interactive parts just made it all the more special – so much learning available in each one!

I feel like I’ve got safely across the bridge with my box of treasure. Now, like Molly Whuppie, I need to put on my adventure shoes and set off on the next part of the story.

Written by storyteller, Marion Leeper.

Read about Marion’s project The Molly Whuppie Troubles here.

Evaluation Case Study: Tea and Tasters and Going Digital

This case study is part of our project evaluation for 2019/2020.

We’ve worked with Shelby, owner of the lovely Barleycorn Cafe in Mildenhall on creative projects over the last few years. Before the pandemic, we were running a series of taster sessions with local Meet Up Mondays group and creative practitioners from the region. The group enjoyed the activities and the company, feeling less isolated and more connected.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything and we had to stop the live programme. To keep something going, we worked with The Barleycorn and artist Marian Savill during the first lockdown to create a series of ‘make along’ videos about Art Journaling.

Find out the difference this project has made and the challenges of delivering online as we all adjusted to doing more things digitally.

Download the full Tea and Tasters and Going Digital case study here.

Read the full 2019/20 evaluation report here.

An excerpt from the case study:

The Barleycorn Cafe in Mildenhall is only three years old, but has become a hub in the community. They decided to start a Meet-up Monday group, hoping to tackle loneliness and isolation by offering a free cuppa and a place to chat and meet people. Working with owner Shelby and a group of regular Meet Up Monday members a taster arts programme was established to reach new audiences, create new art opportunities locally and increase well-being.

Tea and Tasters

A series of taster workshops were delivered with different artists for the group to choose one they would like to work with the longer term. 

These workshops included: 

  • creative journalling 
  • singing 
  • printmaking 
  • ceramics 
  • expressive drawing 

Pictured: Three photos from the taster workshops. Left: For this workshop, the group were trying singing with singing teacher, Sally Rose. Sally is grinning while sat on a chair with a little guitar. Middle: The group were trying pottery. In this photo, Clare the artist is showing a member of the group how to throw a pot on a potters wheel. Right: The group were trying screenprinting. In the photo the group are sitting and standing around a large long table, with rollers, paint and printing stamps scattered on the table.

Graphic showing participation and audience numbers. Participants: 14, Engagements: 50, Artists: 5.

Graphic showing participation and audience numbers. Participants: 14, Engagements: 50, Artists: 5.

The group decided to pursue additional singing sessions alongside holding a longer creative journaling project using a democratic vote.

The plans for additional journaling workshops were curtailed by the pandemic. This resulted in a commission for mixed media artist Marian Savill to produce four online tutorials to journal from home, using resources you would find around the house.

Extending the commission in this way was a means of continuing to maintain the group’s connectivity. As well as to manage further isolation for this vulnerable group and transition activity into digital outputs in a meaningful way.

Pictured: Two photos from the taster workshops. Left: The group were trying pastels. In this photo, a large piece of paper has been covered in drawings in pastel, including images of coffee cups, flowers and words like “sun” and “hope”. Right: The group were trying art journaling. In this photo, a table is covered in magazines and collages.

Art Journaling with Marian Savill

Screenshot from Marian Savill's Art Journalling video workshops. Pictured is the opening image for Marian's workshop. It reads "Art Journaling with Marian Savill" in collaged letters.

Pictured: The opening image for Marian’s workshop. It reads “Art Journaling with Marian Savill” in collaged letters.

Initially the commission was developed as an experience for the Meet Up Mondays group to continue their journlling activity with Marian, during the first national lockdown through April – May 2020.

Marian was commissioned to make a series of four workshop tutorials and an introductory promo video. The tutorials cover how to make a book, creating backgrounds, adding text and embellishing your journal.

To mirror in-person experiences, the videos were launched weekly, on a Monday at 10am, within a Facebook event on the CPP MarketPlace account and the Barleycorn Facebook page.

Graphic showing participation and audience numbers. Event Attendees: 11, Views: 319, Videos: 5.

Pictured: Graphic showing participation and audience numbers. Event Attendees: 11, Views: 319, Videos: 5.

Pictured: Two screenshots from Marian Savill’s Art Journalling workshops. In the images Marian experiments on her desk with paint, wax crayons and collaging in colourful handmade books.

Download the full Tea and Tasters and Going Digital case study here.

Read more about one of the online taster sessions Art Journaling with Marian Savill and the Barleycorn cafe here.

Evaluation Case Study: Art in the Fens

This case study is part of our project evaluation for 2019/2020.

Art in the Fens with artist Kaitlin Ferguson was one of the first Creative Conversations in Isolation commissions. With Kaitlin, we trialled new ways to use digital creative activity to encourage connection with the green spaces on our doorsteps.

We’ve worked with Kaitlin before on the Brandon Tales and Trails event so this was an opportunity to respond to the changes we all faced in the pandemic through different creative activity. People were finding connections or reconnecting with nature on their daily walks during lockdown and Kaitlin’s project showed simple art projects and interesting techniques to make a creative response to the Fenland landscape.

Download the full Art in the Fens case study here.

Read the full 2019/20 evaluation report here.

An excerpt from the case study:

Kaitlin was commissioned to deliver four online ‘make along’ tutorials to be shared through IGTV on Instagram and promoted through new environmental partner networks that align with current strategic activity in Fenland.

Graphic showing participation and audience numbers. Facebook: 1016, Youtube: 158, Twitter: 2502, Instagram: 231.
Graphic showing participation and audience numbers.
Facebook: 1016, Youtube: 158, Twitter: 2502, Instagram: 231.

The videos were shared through our social media channels over four weeks. The launch of the project coincided with ‘Celebrate the Fens Day on 20th June 2020, which was hosted by @FascinatingFens.

Pictured above: Two screenshots of Kaitlin’s video workshops – On the left, drawing plant materials from observation, and on the right using felt to create a textural representation of the soft strata of the Fenland landscape.

Download the full Art in the Fens case study here.

Read more about the Art in the Fens project and watch the short series of workshops by Kaitlin Ferguson here.