Keeping Creative at Home: How to research & make your own art project

Photographer & facilitator Jessica McDermott explores how research can be used to create an original art project and challenge perceptions of what art can be

27 April 2020

Imaged designed by Freepik

Whether you're a teacher, a parent, or both, we hope our Keeping Creative at Home blog series will help you and your children through this tricky period of adjustment.

We're aware there's currently a lot of pressure on parents in particular around home education. So, first and foremost, all of the activities in this series are designed to be fun, creative experiences for your children – and hopefully for you, too! – but there is also potential for learning in all of them.

Most activities will be suitable for children and adults of any age and can be scaled up or down accordingly. Many will also suit, or can be adapted to, children with special educational needs.

When we say ‘art’, we mean any form of artistic expression, whether that’s drawing, painting, making, or creative writing; theatre, dance, or game-making.

All artists begin with inspiration and conduct research of various kinds, whether through objects, places, events, ideas, or even other works of art. Try letting your creative instincts lead you in a direction that is interesting and exciting for you… because that’s how artists work!

1. Become a creative researcher

Most art projects start with a topic you are interested in or a question you want to answer. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Write a list of things that you like or that you are interested in and choose one to research. Some possible subjects could be: a sport, an animal, a famous visual artist, or a famous writer
  • Ask yourself questions about your chosen inspiration and then research the answers using the internet or books at home. For example:

    When was tennis invented?

    How long do koalas sleep for?

    What kind of work is artist
    Yayoi Kusama known for?

If you can’t think of anything that you want to research, go for a hunt around your home. Take time to stop and look at objects for longer than usual and ask yourself questions about what you can see. What are the flowers in the garden called? How does the kettle work?

When you find yourself asking lots of questions about a particular object, you’ve found your starting point!

Want further inspiration on how to find a topic?

2. Make a fact file

Once you have done some research on your chosen inspiration, go a bit deeper and begin to build a more detailed picture.

  • What words or ideas do you associate with your artistic topic? Dig through magazines and newspapers for words and images that might relate to your artistic topic. Use or even make an envelope to hold these for future artistic inspiration
  • If your artistic subject is an object – say, your toy koala bear – do a photo shoot with it. Explore different angles by taking close-ups, shots from above or below and use unusual crops, perhaps highlighting a koala paw

    Move your object into different spaces and experiment with light sources – use the sun from a window, or from a desk light or torch. You can also look for interesting fabric or curtains to change your backdrop. What new ideas or perspectives does this create? Consider printing your favourite photos for your fact file.
  • For some topics (e.g. tennis), consider drawing a picture, doing a painting or using images and words to create a collage. How does this change how you ‘see’ your topic?

Want further inspiration on how to present your fact file?

3. Present your research

Now you know all about your chosen topic, it’s time to teach some other people about it. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Use your photos and fact file information to give a presentation to the people you live with. Give yourself a time limit to work with, which will help you think about what you want to say and show
  • Have a video call with your friends and tell them about the topic, perhaps including some internet links for them to learn more. Encourage them to ask questions about your topic, which might lead you down new research pathways or give you more ideas about how to use your topic as artistic inspiration
  • Use what you’ve learned to do a short ‘pub quiz’ on your chosen topic. And don't forget, pub quizzes have prizes – what could your prizes be?

Want further inspiration for presenting ideas?

Now’s the time to turn your research into an art project, which could take any form. Here are some possible starting points.

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Image credit: Imgur

4. Try some creative writing

  • Use your research to write a story from a new perspective. If you researched koala bears, what story might they like to tell? How would they speak? What would they see around them? What things might distract them? Could you add illustrations, looking at the world through their eyes?
  • Write an imaginary recipe. What would the recipe to ‘make’ a koala look like? E.g. two fluffy grey ears, two sleepy eyes, 250 grams of climbing expertise, etc.
  • Create a diary from the koala’s perspective. What might a day in their life be like? You could think about where they live, what they eat, what other animals and plants are important to them.

Want further inspiration for creative writing?

5. Perform a play

To take your creative writing to another level, consider taking it off the page. For example, to turn your koala diary into a play, you need to think about the following:

  • Characters: How many people will be in your play? Can you play lots of different characters? Is there a part for other members of your household, even your pet?
  • Costumes: Look through your clothes and see what might suit your characters.
  • Set: Use paper and material to create your background. Perhaps your play is inspired by the artist Yayoi Kusama - could you make a series of polka dot pictures?
  • Props: look for the objects you need from around your house, or make your own objects by drawing and cutting them out of card.

Work on your own, or via video links with friends or other family members elsewhere to prepare and rehearse your play and set a date for your final performance. Depending on the number of devices in your home, you could video call in some of the performers, as well as having distant family members there to make up the audience.

Want further inspiration?

6. Design your own game

Use your research to create a new game or adapt one that already exists.

  • Consider a game that tests your family’s knowledge about your chosen research topic. Players may have to answer questions correctly to win points or pieces of a pie (like in Trivial Pursuit)
  • Use your drawings or photographs from your fact file to create a jigsaw by cutting up your picture, muddling up the pieces and challenging family and friends to put it back together again. Tip: if you scan and print your picture, you can make lots of different puzzles with it
  • Create your own picture board, counters and rules! Perhaps you could take inspiration from Snakes and Ladders, except using your topic. For example, a game where koalas travel up trees (ladders) and slide down leaves (snakes)

Want further inspiration?

7. And finallykeep being inspired by your research!

  • If you researched an artist, you could try making artwork in their style or a dance inspired by something they created.
  • If you researched a sport, think about a rule you could introduce to make the sport more interesting (or just different). Give this newly edited sport a try.
  • And when you think you’ve done everything you possibly can with your research, challenge yourself to think of one more thing you could write, make or perform!

Want further inspiration?

Jessica McDermott is a photographer and art facilitator. She worked as a photographer on the Steve McQueen Year 3 Project with Tate Britain (2018-2020).

Instagram: @jessmcfilm

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