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Home Educated GCSE Art: A Journey Through Still Life, Symbolism and the Welsh Landscape

Updated: Oct 27, 2023


Starting with a Clean Slate

I had the privilege of working with a home educated student (we'll call her 'Kay') from the start to the end of their GCSE Art course as their sole tutor. Given the amount of freedom that the specification allows, choosing subject matter was a little daunting at first. Kay and I worked together to decide on three projects that aligned with the student's interests, both thematically and materially. Over the course of the two years, we developed and tied these projects together, strategically incorporating technical workshops, museum visits, practical sketchbook work and book-based research.


Exploration Through Mind Maps

Each of Kay's projects began with a mind map. These are a fundamental part of any GCSE art project, comprising a web of ideas and references and providing stepping stones between them. It is through this process that students start to realise what is interesting and important to them, although at this stage the project is still very much wide open. Mind mapping should be an enjoyable activity that allows room for free exploration. In my view, these are one of the most exciting parts of a project; there's just so much energy and potential waiting to be discovered. Kay's mind maps set the standard for the rest of her work, being carefully considered, well-executed and having personal resonance.

Developing Initial Ideas

Kay decided to work within the broad theme of 'Everyday Objects' for one of her projects. It was then a case of developing this by thinking around the theme, gathering primary and secondary research material and doing lots of drawing. Kay produced an appealing double page artist research mind map on C20th art, comprising neat drawings, apt notes and printed images. A particular highlight of this was the idea of presenting Duchamp's urinal on one side, and Sherrie Levine's golden version on the other; from Dada to Post-Modernism in one simple gesture! As such, we were happy that Kay had begun to meet assessment objective AO1: "Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources".

A Foundation of Observational Drawing

All of Kay's work was underpinned by exceptional observational skills and draughtsmanship. Her ability to diligently focus meant that we enjoyed many calm and productive art sessions at her home. She also showed excellent work ethic and initiative outside of tuition time; you can see from the images of her work that she really applied herself to the visual investigation of these objects. The studies that Kay produced in ink were particularly successful: bold and fluid, they displayed a loosening of mark-making that was new territory for her.

Progressing Technical Skills

Kay deepened her investigation of the 'Everyday Objects' theme by looking at some personal items: pretty glassware from her room, mementoes from places travelled. Unsurprisingly, the objects which held emotional significance for her prompted the more compelling studies. Kay branched out from monochrome into pastel and watercolour. Initial artworks showed a natural sensitivity to colour and light, which were charming in their subtle poetry. We can see that throughout this process she was honing her ability to render subjects in three dimensions, something which I ensured was reinforced by studies in forms and perspective.


Artist Research to Inform and Contextualise

It was thrilling to see the artist research that Kay produced for these projects. The quality was outstanding from the outset and displayed real thoughtfulness and clarity. Kay's pages were meticulously executed, well-researched and presented in appealing and harmonious compositions within the sketchbooks. The below images show some perceptive studies of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, and Welsh artist Kyffin Williams, whose work she had seen in the National Museum in Cardiff.

Feeding Back into the Work

A really strong aspect of these pages was Kay's analysis, which was both thorough and well-presented. Colour swatches and test pieces showed an attention to detail and a fine appreciation for the artists' work. Relating artist research back to your own work is another crucial component of GCSE Art. As such, students must demonstrate that they have met the assessment objective AO1, "demonstrating critical understanding of sources." Kay's notes contained the intelligent responses and reflections needed to evidence this objective.

The samples from the 'Imaginative Landscapes' theme that Kay had chosen show a real commitment to visual analysis. She became interested in the French Symbolist Eugène Carrière and Expressionist powerhouse Käthe Kollwitz. Above, we can see an investigation of figures these artists' work, and below we have some striking studies of the work of Paul Gauguin. The depth of colour and range of works selected are real highlights here.


Deeper into Idea Development

Having completed the initial stages of a project, students must then evidence the ability to "Refine work by exploring ideas, selecting and experimenting with appropriate media, materials, techniques and processes" (assessment objective AO2). This needs to be coupled with a certain mastery of execution. I guided Kay in showing a clear sense of direction and reasoning for each decision made throughout her sketchbooks. This is one of the more challenging aspects of art coursework development and can be a stumbling block if not navigated effectively. For this project, you can see that Kay used the idea of 'looking through' to play around with viewpoints and make interesting compositions from the home interior.


Practical Workshop Session: Sculpture

Some might think that it's not possible to deliver sculpture tuition effectively through an online classroom. But at that time, we had no choice, so that is what we did. The most important thing was preparation: ensuring all materials and working area were set up in advance of the session, so that we could use the time to focus on the sculpture task. Given that Kay and I had built up a good working relationship, and she was diligent and motivated, the online format posed no problems (other than keeping computers safe from plaster dust and drips). The below gallery shows the excellent results that Kay got from using garden wire and plaster bandage to build up natural forms; she also worked with air-drying clay to make pinch pots, and painted them in her favoured palette of subtle pastel hues.


Practical Workshop Session: Printmaking

The technical workshops brought a new richness and texture into Kay's projects. We did several kitchen table lino printing sessions. As well as being novel and fun, there were important lessons to be learned here about process:

  • Planning and Organisation: Making sure we had all inks, tools and paper prepared in advance of the session

  • Good Workshop Practice: Defining work area into clean / messy areas; avoiding cross-contamination of art materials and consumables

  • Health and Safety: A rubber mat and hand guard were essential for cutting into lino with sharp tools

  • Timing: To include clean-up, safe storage of tools and wet prints

  • Reviewing: To understand how different factors, such as lino type, paper quality, ink saturation affect results

Aside from the pragmatic considerations, the focus here was on experimentation, responding to technical challenges, and weaving it all back into the matrix of the overall project. Kay also enjoyed experimenting with monoprint, which is impossible to resist when you already have a tray of ink left over from lino printing!


Process Analysis

These pages evidence Kay's understanding of the process she learned. Sometimes the best way to consolidate your understanding of something is to communicate it to others. Kay showed a real flair for this, producing work that explained the lino printing process in a coherent way, both visually and in writing.


These pages appeal to the viewer and show a sense of curiosity about the technique, understanding of its potential applications and an enthusiasm to share that with others. They also show Kay's careful and thorough approach to the important points about workshop practice outlined above.


Recording Observations

We needed to make sure that Kay had evidence of achieving assessment objective AO3: "Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions as work progresses". This can also be known as 'development work', and must show the logical progression of a project from mind map to outcome.


A particular highlight here is the magnifying glass showing the different blades for the lino cutting tool. Kay clearly enjoyed testing these out on a piece of scrap lino to see what effects they would create.


Media Mixing and Experimentation

Students can sometimes draw a blank when it comes to narrowing down their ideas from the heady experimental stage into something more specific. It's not an easy thing to navigate but it definitely yields the most progress. I encouraged Kay to delve deeper into her chosen subject matter, making studies in different media, mixing media together and taking the apprehension out of making 'messy' experiments!

Resolutions and Outcomes

Creating a 'final piece' can also be one of the most difficult aspects of art, not only for young students but also professional artists. Towards the end of a project, the pressure is on "Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and demonstrates understanding of visual language" (assessment objective AO4). This can lead to losing some of the spontaneity and exploratory nature of sketchbook work, especially drawing. I therefore guided Kay accordingly in this process, ensuring that she was bold in the execution of her final pieces, and that she applied robust critical reviewing to her work at every stage.


Kay was awarded with an A grade for her GCSE Art and went on to study Art at A Level. She is already a wonderful artist and I have every confidence that she will be successful in some kind of creative career. As she completed her course, Kay gave me these thoughtful items - a book on my favourite art writer, John Berger, and a hand-knitted scarf, as a parting gift.


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