Working with Interns

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 I was approached last year by a lady I know through my art connections who was looking for someone who would offer her daughter a week’s internship. The daughter is 15 years old and about to start her GCSEs.

I happily agreed. I would have loved to have had such an opportunity when I was her age, but that sort of thing wasn’t on offer when I was at school. Who knows? I may have taken a very different path.

But what was involved for me in taking the lead in this? There was no guidance from the school, which may be a good thing, but I am not sure if I met their expectations and just hope that I met those of the intern and her family. They seemed to be happy.

Without a brief I was left to decide for myself what I felt I should cover for her. That list is pretty extensive, and I did cover most things on it but I doubt she will remember much of it, simply because I gave out a ton of information.

I decided that I should show her what my normal(ish) working week looks like. Every Monday, almost without fail, I write my blog. It needs to be written right at the beginning of the week so that my editor and I have time to discuss any issues he has and he can get the edited version back to me by close of play on Friday. I also go through all my emails, deal with anything important and delete as many as I can. I get between 150 – 300 emails most days, most of which I do delete, but Monday is always the worst day.

I showed her my pile of papers to be organised for doing my tax returns. I had planned to show her how I record this information but decided that a), it is in too much of a muddle and b) I don’t necessarily want other people knowing my tax affairs, so I shelved that idea.

Instead, I started talking to her about artists she had been introduced to through her school art education. I am not up to speed with the curriculum pre-GCSE stage but the only artist I mentioned who she had heard of was Rembrandt.

Maybe up to GCSE, art education is more focused on the making, rather than the history of, art and the influences of so many great artists who have been and gone. Still, I would have hoped that JMW Turner, Gainsborough, the Pre-Raphaelites and Tracey Emin have been discussed in class.

Front lining of leather journal
Back lining of leather journal

So I took some time to discuss these artists and added to that list Picasso, Da Vinci, Kandinsky, Monet, Van Gogh, Mondrian and Klimt. Just for good measure as the illustrative style of work she likes is something called Art Amino, I showed her some work by Arthur Rackham, the artist best known for his illustrations of classic fiction and children’s books.

It turns out that Art Amino, rather than a style, is a free online community covering drawings, paintings, digital art, craft, sculpture, photography, poetry and original writing. You must be over 13 to join and AI, Picrew, Gacha and Dollmaker content isn’t allowed. If that doesn’t mean anything to you (and unless you have a professional interest, or teenage children, it probably doesn’t) Picrew etc., are avatar/image maker/character creator platforms and sites, which originated in Japan. So, that’s something I learned.

Also, since there was no guidance from the school I felt it would be wise to have some evidence that we had covered as much as possible. So I gave her an A4 sketch book and had her write down the things we discussed. As I felt her exposure to the world of art was very limited, I took her to a local art exhibition where the artists very kindly allowed her to take photos of the work she liked.

When we returned to the studio, we printed out the photos, stuck them in her sketch book and discussed what she did and didn’t like about the pieces she had photographed.

Leather Traveller journal

We also met some lovely sculptors from Zimbabwe who explained that because of the troubles over there, people are not visiting and tourist sales are almost nonexistent. So two of them flew to the UK to see if they could sell their works here instead. They are planning classes here next summer so if you want more information please do contact me.

I happened to bump into one of these men after my week with the intern was over and I was surprised and delighted to learn that she was so impressed with their work she had returned at the weekend with her father. So I must have done something right. 😊

So that was Monday and Tuesday taken up and I had planned for her to make some journals and do some gel plate printing. This we tackled on Wednesday, by which time I realised that her working pace needed to speed up. I had hoped that gel plate printing would help that happen but sadly it didn’t. I felt bad telling her but hope she realised that it is for her own good going forward.

If she doesn’t speed up she will not be able to achieve all that I know is necessary to complete a GCSE in art. The workload is horrendous. A levels are even worse. Going to university is a breeze by comparison in the first year but not later on, however speed will be required as soon as she can possibly master it. We did produce some interesting prints, though, and it was then I realised I had a possible problem.

I make leather-bound journals which I line with my own artwork. The intern’s mother is a vegan and while her daughter isn’t, I felt I needed to respect the mother’s views. So we made a leather traveller journal with a lining of collage, which she produced. The second journal was a huge problem. How was I going to use the monoprints to make journals with non-animal product covers? Sadly, I damaged beyond repair some of her work which I tried to stick to some heavy duty, plastic tablecloth-type fabric but it didn’t stick to the plastic, so it was back to the drawing board. I did ask in the book group I belong to and everyone pitched in, including the owner, the wonderful Ali Manning, of the Handmade Book Club.

In the end I used a product called Kraft-Tex, which I had never used before. We painted on the cover, stuck some of her artwork on the inside and I was able to show her how to create another journal. As I like to use every little scrap I can to save it from landfill we also made some little note books and she thinks she may make some for her friends.

In amongst all this, I explained the value of copying the great masters’ works to understand how they were made and to be able to use those skills in making your own work. I introduced her to Chat GPT, simply because our government has told universities to introduce their students to it, so hopefully she will be ahead of the curve.

We touched on taking part in exhibitions, the costs involved and the likely outcome, given the current economic climate and preparing for them, which I had to do for the exhibition I was in at the weekend. We also touched on photographing your work, editing and printing it for use in research on her GCSE course next year as well as using it on social media.

We talked about finding your own voice artistically. Art Amino may be all the rage currently but that is not her voice and by looking at artists she likes and taking elements of all of them, she will discover something which is uniquely hers.

We didn’t talk about supplies, cost, best to use etc., how to order and store and keep good stock control records. I also didn’t have time to talk about creating a portfolio but I am sure the school will cover that over the next couple of years.

All in all it was an interesting experience for me. I have mentored a number of young people wanting to make art their future but never for a whole week.

I have learned a bit about Kraft-Tex but will experiment some more with it. I was also reminded that I don’t like teaching on a one-to-one basis. It is intense for both teacher and pupil, it doesn’t allow for a mix of ideas and creativity and I rarely hold classes in my studio for just one person.

Finished Kraft Tex journals.

If I am asked to do it again I will be happy to do so but would prefer to have two students for four days, rather than five days. I had to work late into the evenings and be up early to make sure my normal tasks were completed so by the end of the week I was, and still am, exhausted. But, yes I would do it again. It was fun and I really do wish her well for the future.

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