A couple of weeks ago, we sat down with Sharon, who has been running Orb’s ever-popular Wednesday art classes since 2010, and asked her to bring us up to date on what’s been happening.
The art group’s biggest current project is preparing for the annual exhibition of their work, which runs from June 3 to June 24 at Harrogate Library. “We do it every year, and this is our third”, she says. “We normally have it for two weeks, but because they were so impressed with us, they asked us to do it for three weeks, so we’re pleased about that.”
As well as the seventeen paintings and drawings that have already been chosen and framed, Sharon is particularly excited about the introduction of sculpture to the exhibition, as this is an area where the group have made particular progress over the past year. Some of the wire faces that usually adorn the Orb garden (“you can see them swinging in the wind and over the summer house”) will be given a temporary new home, along with some intriguing “pop art boxes”.
As Sharon explains, these boxes are a vehicle for students to express “their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions and a bit about themselves, but in a pop art way. We do add a little bit of art history into our classes, where we can. Sometimes we’ll look at a documentary, or I’ll do a slide show. Next year we’re going to look at David Hockney and Kandinsky. We just dip in slightly – it’s nothing heavy – but it’s a big inspiration to look at different artists’ work. It inspires you to improve your own skills.”
Our attention turns to some of the completed work at the far end of the art room. On the wall, there are some colourful cut-up collages, inspired by Matisse’s late work. “We’re going to run that project again next year”, says Sharon, “because it was so popular, and everyone really enjoyed it.” Resting below them are some stunning drawings of shells, freshly completed by that day’s class. A large, intricately constructed cardboard pine cone sits next to them, along with a geometrically precise cardboard lid.
The lid was put together by Luke, a long-standing regular at the weekly class. “It’s completely fantastic”, his teacher enthuses, “because he worked it all out mathematically. He cut it out and stuck it together without even having to trim it, which was just so clever.”
Luke has been attending the group for three years, during which time “he has massively improved with his drawing and confidence.” He took a leading role in last year’s big summer project, overseeing the creation of the amazing mural which now hangs on the garden entrance wall. Luke is now Sharon’s art technician, helping to get everything ready for the exhibition and managing all of the art equipment week by week. “He gets it all out ready for me, and he makes sure that everything goes back in the right spot. Although he still does the class, he has moved on from being a student to being a volunteer.”
One of the key aspects of the art group is its supportiveness. Experienced students such as Luke are encouraged to share their skills with novices, and students tend to work collaboratively on sculpture projects; the large cardboard pine cone, for example, was worked on by a group of three students. This communal spirit ensures that it isn’t just artistic skills that are being developed; students are also gaining confidence, and learning how to communicate and share within a group context.
Each lesson ends with a group evaluation of each piece of work. This could be daunting for the less experienced or the less confident, but Sharon has taken great care to foster a supportive and encouraging atmosphere for each student. “It’s about their own learning journey”, she says. “It’s a great way to finish the lesson. Everybody gets to see everyone else’s work, and share in what they did, and the techniques they used. So we’re all learning from each other.”