Artist in Residence: Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre


I have been Artist in Residence, Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre for the last 14 years. In the nursery my work includes modelling participant-led creative practice, outdoor learning, making learning visible, and promoting cultural exchange. I run Companion Planting allotment project and Branching Out as part of the family support services. Both groups privilege socially vulnerable families and aim to help participants build their confidence and sense of belonging.

Drawing and painting to develop speech and language
In the Nursery School I sometimes bring in my studio work to use as a focal point to help the children develop language, conversation and narrative skills.

‘I want to see your painting. I want to sit down and see your painting.’

I worked on this painting at Speedwell Nursery School using it as a focus for conversations, and the children there contributed to how it evolved.

Starletta and other Outlaws

Baby in the Foxcart
Gouache on found map, sewn with thread

Some children like to watch before they actively participate and this activity allows them to do that, sitting quietly and taking in what is happening, gradually finding their own way at their own pace. Children work at different speeds: some are very chatty and confident and others are more cautious. This approach allows all types of children to participate.

‘Is it a kind fox?’

Working creatively supports the children in:
Asking questions
Making connections
Imagining what might be
Exploring options
Reflecting critically
Taking risks

We talk about all sorts of things, for example being scared of the dark, and having the work there allows these issues to be approached gently and more obliquely. They are able to see their conversations with me appear in the painting. For example one child told me about her baby brother who had died and ‘turned into a star’. I asked if she would like the star to be in the painting and she chose the position for him, high in the sky.

The children are able touch the picture, and we have noticed that for many children this assists them in engaging with the work, expressing their thoughts about it, and using it as a starting point for making their own stories.

We also explore ideas about colour, for example we will talk about different qualities of the colour blue: the night sky, the sea, the sky in the daytime, or the green of leaves when they are new, of someone’s eyes and the grass outside.

By the time the painting is finished, the children have a strong sense of ownership of it, as they have been so instrumental in its creation.

Another time I had started a drawing using water soluble pencils on thick paper. The children had been enjoying nursery rhymes and I drew characters to echo this. As I drew, I was joined by one of the children who often chose to work with me. We talked about what was in the drawing and he pointed out the parts he was particularly interested in.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

I felt that he understood the drawing in a very similar way to me, and asked if he’d like to work on it with me, which he did.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

He often draws trees and enjoys it when others draw them as well. I had drawn a line of trees, and he added another one onto the end of the row.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

He drew lines and shapes, looking carefully at the drawing to make considered and precise additions.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

He was very interested in the arrows I’d drawn which showed the different directions the characters might take, and added to them to emphasis the directions that they described.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

Other children watched us drawing and some of them joined in as well. We drew over a period of several days and in between the contact sessions I worked on the drawing on my own with the aim of emphasising marks the children had made. For example, one child drew circles around the figures in the drawings ‘to keep them safe’ and I erased some of the marks that felt they had been made with less intention, and emphasised others to allow his circles to be clearly visible.
Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

This way of working, drawing alongside each other on the same image, was a new development for me in my work. I am very excited by it and am continuing to explore it with children at the nursery.

Luci Gorell Barnes participatory drawing practice

Art in the learning environment
I worked alongside staff and children at Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre to make drawings, illustrating key elements from a range of traditional stories. These drawings contributed towards the development of our outdoor learning environment as well as feeding into storytelling and supporting the children’s narrative skills. I used a pryrograph pen which burnt my images into the wood.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

This is the magic mirror from the Middle Eastern story The Magic Lemon
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

and these are the 3 brothers off to the rescue on their flying carpet.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

Here is the woman from The Gingerbread Man giving chase when he ran away
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

and here is the fox who manages to catch him and eat him up.Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

This is the house from Goldilocks and the 3 Bears
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

Baby Bear’s bowl of porridge that Goldilocks tasted…
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

…and this is Baby Bear.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

Here is Anansi the Spider Man
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

and the snake that he managed to trick.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

Here is Rapunzel’s plait hanging down from the tower window
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

and the scissors that the witch used to cut it off.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

This is Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

the witch who tempts them into her house
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

and the cage she imprisons Hansel in.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes

Finally, this is Jack’s beanstalk growing up a very tall pole.
Pyrography Luci Gorell Barnes