OK so this isn’t strictly speaking about my art practice, but what the hell. I’ve just crawled home after my third day of papermaking with the 21 kids in my daughter’s Year One primary school class, and I think that this evening I am allowed to have beer. Or gin. Wine’s good too… I’m not picky, just emotionally and physically exhausted!
I practiced on my daughter and 9 of her friends during the school holidays recently, fresh back from the papermaking course as I was, and we made over 50 sheets of paper. I pressed them onto the glass of our sliding windows to dry (and must remember to clean the windows before my parents-in-law arrive next week!), and it was a great success. Goodness only knows what they’ve all done with the paper since they made it, as my lovely daughter has simply filed it in her ‘making’ box and it will probably never be seen again.
The kids at school had a great time, though. I made all the pulp up the day before and experimented with dying one bucketful a lovely crimson with cold-water fabric dye suitable for cellulose (or that’s what it said on the packet). Consequently my hands are slightly pinker than usual. I split the class into two groups: 10 on Monday and the rest on Tuesday afternoon, and we made 4 sheets each: one white, one red, one red sheet decorated with pulled and drawn finger marks before the sheet was couched, and one pink sheet. They got to take everything except the plain red sheet home; we’re saving one red sheet per student for a different craft project later in the year. And today we moulded fresh sheets of paper around various objects, ranging from a lobster-shaped cracker used for cracking shellfish limbs to shells and a couple of turnips and lots of shapes in between.
What I hadn’t appreciated was the amount of before and after work I’d be doing. Never mind the frantic hour I had with the kids each afternoon actually making the day’s work… it was staying in the class for two hours afterwards, putting up sheets of paper onto the windows to dry and washing out couching cloths, cleaning up water, and today pulling 40 sheets of paper very quickly during the lunch recess so that the kids were each able to have a couple of goes at moulding! Plus the several hours of preparation last Sunday making the pulp. In the end it was a lot of effort, but a lovely result with no outlay except for the electricity used to blend up the pulp. And the children had so much fun. In the middle of the whirwind of activity I didn’t really see how excited they all were, but their teacher said to me this afternoon that they’ve talked of little else all week, which made me feel really good.
I do enjoy teaching. A tiny little part of me points out that if I could combine such crafty activities for children with my previous business experience I could perhaps make a little niche for myself running paid children’s workshops, particularly in the school holidays. But is that what I want to do? And wouldn’t it take away from my attempts to turn my fine art practice into something that generates a (small) living? Perhaps the truth is that I should have trained as a teacher in the first place and then I would get paid for doing such things, but back when I was in my twenties I’d not really encountered children before and didn’t realise how much my older self would enjoy them… so it wouldn’t have happened anyway, and it’s not on the cards now. No, what I really want to do is to earn enough money through making and selling my art that I can pay tax! And if I have a little bit of time in between I shall continue to be delighted to do crafty things with children.