Lead Artist in Lochgelly – and Starcatchers Associate Artist – Hazel Darwin-Clements writes this week about the Lochgelly group’s adventures so far in creating their own artistic project.
Part One: Hatching a Plan
This is the story of our journey creating the picture book Ellie’s Egg (spoiler alert: the question of which came first- chicken or egg- will be answered).
By Summer 2017 the confidence of our Lochgelly group was growing every week and we reached a point where we had a supportive, exciting dynamic in the room. We were enjoying rich, creative, new experiences that interested both parent and baby each week while still making room to experiment and explore things that may or may not work. Sounds perfect? Why change things- best to keep it as it is, right? Ha!
We spotted an opportunity to engage with a deeper, longer artistic process. I remember having a conversation with the group about how the group felt marginalised. They felt that their tastes and interests weren’t reflected in arts so they wanted to make something for their peers. They hooked onto the idea of publishing a book. That seemed achievable but I was also sending myself into unknown territory – despite being a huge lover books I have never written one. We all loved the idea. Perfect.
We began by bringing in our favourite books. Interestingly (perhaps unsurprisingly for a group of parents- but there was no direction here) the books that we brought in were well-loved children’s books. They were keen on flaps and touchy feely bits, sparkles and bright colours, the ‘that’s not my’ books were popular. I liked books that were breaking the rules, challenging expectations like ‘the Book with no Pictures.’ (Note: our finished book will be nothing like either of these!)
We then started thinking about our story. We wrote a beautiful story about a young parent called Ellie. It is quite a raw, truthful story containing real vulnerabilities from the group. I love it. But it turns out it was a step in our journey rather than the end product.
We wanted to write something more poetic and universal. We took the end of the previous story (a line when Ellie’s mother says “I’m proud of you hen”) as our starting point. So the story was about a proud hen, also named Ellie. We rescued some threads we liked, e.g. Ellie’s friend Wilhelmina embodies the important supportive role played by grandmothers, friends and sisters in the previous story.
Our group is always filled with stories about our recent experiences of being pregnant and giving birth. It’s a safe place where we can share the highs, the joys and also the traumas and the worries of these intense, life-changing experiences. These wove their way into our story.
The wonderful poet Leyla Josephine visited our group and in a very playful session involving a ball pit filled with poetic words and rhyming games we began to craft the language. We explored rhythm with a huge gathering drum and looked at nursery rhymes.
We also began creating visuals. We explored parent and baby collaborations in crayon and watercolour using huge rolls of coloured paper on the floor. We invited the awesome illustrator Kate Charter to come on board and she drew amazing sketches, which, with much joy, we covered in paint (imagine babies covered head to toe in paint rolling on her pictures and toddlers wearing paint-covered wellies dancing to ‘funky chicken’ on top of a picture of a chicken!) These have gone to be scanned into the computer and Kate will apply her professional magic touch to them.
We realised we didn’t know enough about chickens. What does it mean when a chicken becomes broody? Do they hatch one egg at a time or several? How can you tell if an egg has been fertilised? So it was time for a trip to the farm. We set off for the Pillars of Hercules organic farm where Bruce gave us a tour and we set the toddlers among their flock of chickens. We saw the eggs newly laid and the place where the fox got in…
This week we are preparing for a visit from wonderful and well-established picture book author Debi Gliori. [You can read about that session here!] Then we have a couple of sessions to finish off the text and illustrations before we send it off to the printers and start planning our launch party! I’ll keep you up to date.
Expecting Something works with new, young and expectant parents under 25 and their babies in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh and Lochgelly, Fife, providing a weekly safe space to spend time with their babies and peers whilst engaging in artist-lead creative activities.