Textile Designer Jeni Allison has been working with the Expecting Something group at WHALE Arts in 2017. Here she tells us about her experience so far and what she has learned about working with an early years audience.
Since January 2017 I have been an emerging artist with the Expecting Something group at WHALE Arts. It’s been an absolute delight. My previous experience has meant that I came to Expecting Something with two hats – one as a textile designer and the other as an arts educator. I see the two as being interchangeable and interconnected – it is through working with people (or designing with people) that I make my best work.
As part of another job in arts education I had actually worked with Starcatchers before – developing a series of Toddle Tours for the National Galleries of Scotland. Knowing their work, and the commitment they have to Early Years Education made me jump at the chance to work with them again.
As a textile designer I have an interest in colour, pattern and texture. When I applied to work on the programme I assumed that the toddlers would love working with bright colours, bold shapes and high contrast combinations. I was excited to try out pattern-making and coloured printmaking.
Over the first weeks at WHALE I realised that that I had been thinking too much as a designer – I had started from a visual point of view, but watching the children and their mums play, create and make music I realised that they were creating memories – not just objects or music or poems.
The experience of working with Katy and Claire and all the mums (and gran) and children at WHALE sparked a period of design-research for me. The toys of Lizette Greco – all based on children’s drawings resonated – there were ways of capturing memories too. Sandra Herzenart creates friendly (rather than menacing) Vikings – great tools for parents and children to use to create narratives.
This idea of narratives and stories was developed through a collaborative planning approach with Katy and Claire where we used stories and books as starting points for sessions – making a boat and setting sail for Where the Wild Things Are for example.
Another week we all got messy and printed our footprints through a constructed forest before reading the Gruffalo together (well nearly…the lure of lunch was too much for our littlest listeners).
I’m staying on with Expecting Something a little longer than expected and couldn’t be more excited. I feel like I’m learning so much about creativity, design, motherhood. I can see changes within my own work as well – with narrative and memory playing a far greater role than before. I’ve just designed a print incorporating both mine and my grandad’s drawings for my own mum. Being at Expecting Something has led me to re-evaluate my role as a designer, especially within my own family.