Getting Messy

There are few things more pleasurable or mindful than an afternoon spent in an art studio getting messy with clay, plaster and paint!

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My cast filled with plaster…

In these hectic days, I like nothing more than the sound of the end of term bell. No. I’m not a teacher – I’m a working parent spending between five and eight weeks at a time skipping to the relentless drum beat of the British education system.

Every term brings with it a timetable, a daily and weekly structure (both essential) and a relentless busyness of extracurriculars, instruments, sports kits, prep and reading diaries and school events and recitals to fox even the most organised parent from time to time. And that’s just The10yo’s schedule – I have to manage my own simultaneously.

School holidays are quite frankly, a welcome relief for us both!

This Easter, I have some time off to spend more than my usual two days at home with The10yo. I always try to plan for a balance of down-time for us both to recover and fun activities to share together or with friends and family. I consciously invest in building happy childhood memories with him. Holiday camp for the few days I’m working usually provide sufficient activity for my energetic boy.

Getting the balance right can be crucial, as too much of one or the other and The10yo gets either bored and obstreperous or overtired and whiny, neither of which I relish. To be honest I’m pretty sure the same happens to me too! We both need time to restock our energy reserves ready to fling ourselves headlong into next term!

The10yo loves to be creative but I like to limit the mess and the junk modelling we have to live with, so The Royal Academy in Piccadilly offering a family workshop for parents to enjoy with their kids sounded like the perfect way to handle that hang up!

£30 bought us two blissful hours of art, creativity and that buzzword of the moment “mindfulness”. A chance to indulge in some of the wonderful culture available to us in London, learn something new and to indulge our creative juices. All materials were included in the price.

A group of around half a dozen parents and their kids, ranging in age from about 7-12 met our professional artist in The Clore Learning Centre at the Burlington Gardens entrance to the museum.  We were shown to our spacious worktables kitted out with the equipment we’d need and plenty of art overalls. There was a cupboard to store coats and bags away from messy clay, plaster and paints.

A quick demonstration from our “teacher” ensured we all knew what we were doing and without further ado, we took our lump of clay and fashioned a mould each. A team of assistants helped us fill them with plaster of Paris mixture and we washed up ready for our inspiration – a tour of the Phyllida Barlow RA exhibition “cul-de-sac”.

We were shown the installations and the kids were asked to say what they looked like (her work is mostly untitled, allowing viewers to form unbiased interpretations of their own), if they looked heavy or light, rough or smooth, rigid or fluid. Opinions were intriguingly varied.

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One of Phyllida Barlow’s installations at the RA

As we admired the size of Barlow’s sculptures – they were designed to fill the space in the gallery – some of the kids asked how someone the age of their grandmothers could get what looked like a lump of concrete to balance on half a dozen 20ft wooden sticks? At which point, the artist herself entered the room with her own grandchildren! The lovely lady even took time to answer some of the questions our own kids had about her work. What a coincidental bonus!

We returned to the workshop to find our plaster had set, so we could remove our moulds and paint/embellish them.

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The10yo’s cast before painting – very Indiana Jones!

I wish I had taken photos of them all – there was so much creativity from parents and kids with every piece unique. Some were simple and geometric, some more random or complex, some had height, others not, some were multicoloured, others a single shade, some used wood or metal, others fabric scraps. Some were carefully planned, others (like mine) evolved as we learned and played with new tools and techniques!

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My abstract creation…

The RA even provided a cardboard box and a carrier bag for us to carry home our maquette.

After the workshop ended, I indulged The10yo in a hot chocolate and a florentine in the Poster Bar, a tiny niche emblazoned with a collection of previous RA exhibition posters from floor to ceiling, before we headed home.

We both felt truly inspired by our creative endeavours. The10yo had a chance to get messy without me fretting. I had two hours to focus on creating something new – no chores or errands to distract me from what I was doing. Just being in the moment with my lovely boy, sharing something fun and relaxing.

For more information about the Families programme of events run by The Royal Academy, click here.

NB: All opinions are my own and I received no payment or sponsorship to write this.

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