Pupils have been enjoying a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) project in the Art Room, run by Artist and Creative Director of Countershade C.I.C. Stephen Whitehead and supported by Heritage Lottery Funding.
In this centenary year of the First World War the workshop looks back in time to ‘Dazzle’ techniques which were first introduced by British Marine Artist Norman Wilkinson in 1917. Norman would have been heavily influenced by cubism which used patterns to break up an object.
Dazzle was a new form of visual deception which camouflaged direction and form, a variation on camouflage as we commonly understand it, meaning concealment, which the French invented one year earlier. It challenges our perception of perspective, depth of field and direction with its busy patterns which confuse the eye.
The Dazzle design was used to protect Merchant ships and ‘Q’ boats from submarine attack by painting the ships with large patches of strong colour in a carefully thought out pattern and colour scheme so as to distort the form of the vessel. The French termed it ‘Zebrage’ and the Americans ‘Razzle Dazzle’.
Through experimental archaeology Stephen has been teaching the principles behind Dazzle. The children have been applying their own Dazzle design to miniatures of merchant ships. They then placed their designs next to ‘control’ model ships in viewing theatres recreating three lighting conditions representing daylight, overcast conditions and dusk.
When the children viewed their models through periscopes against the ‘control’ ship, they could understand how it would have been confusing to the enemy when faced with a vessel painted in Dazzle. Therefore it would have been difficult to aim successfully at a vessel when you were uncertain regarding its size and direction of travel. For the purposes of the art workshop the children drew rough conclusions but Mrs Simmons later introduced the Maths element of working out the precise bearings to test the theory that Dazzle could be visually deceiving.
This Artist-in-Residence workshop gave pupils the opportunity to work with a professional artist, inspiring them to consider where their talents could take them. The additional threads of science, technology, engineering and mathematics highlighting how these subjects weave together, under the creative umbrella of problem-solving.
Stephen also ran additional workshops for parents and staff and, as part of our outreach programme, we were able to host Selly Oak Trust School. Everyone loved the opportunity to be creative and challenge established ideas of pattern and design.
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