RP during COVID-19: Art department continues to thrive
October 22, 2020

Mark Sherrington, Head of Art at Rydal Penrhos, lifts the lid on everything going on in the department during the first half term of the academic year.

During the first half of the Autumn term here at Rydal Penrhos, we have been trying to keep the curriculum and educational experience as strong and broad as possible up here in the Art Department. This has not always been easy as a practical subject often involves sharing equipment and materials but it has certainly tested our ingenuity and fitness levels!

Mrs Morris and I were both conscious that many of the pupils were desperate to get back into the Art department and make a mess again, experimenting with materials and working on a larger scale and with more freedom than is sometimes possible at home.

We were also very aware that for many, school is often a young person’s only experience of Art and we felt it was vital that we made sure that their education and experience was not diminished despite the pandemic.

We set about planning how we could deliver the same projects, as usual, often having to box up materials and keep them separate for different bubbles, arranging the room differently and learning how to teach without sitting next to a pupil and demonstrate more from the front.

We have both learnt that what you say in your introduction needs to be better or clearer and that an example on the board or demo seems more essential this term.

Year 7 pupils at Rydal Penrhos have been looking thoroughly at their own faces in the mirror, concentrating on how to draw the features of the face, learning new techniques, and trying out new materials.

One of the real bonuses of teaching the Year 7’s who come from our own Prep School is that when they come to the senior school they have no fear in terms of materials because they have already had such a great grounding in art with Mrs Morris at Rydal Penrhos Prep. We even looked at Picasso’s last self-portrait and had a go at doing our own huge versions, using all the skills we had learnt. One of the bonuses of having everyone at a separate desk is that we can do bigger work!

The results so far have been dramatic, and the pupils are already showing rigour in their approach.

Mrs Morris has been determined to work “large” too and has adapted her “natural forms” project in a similar manner. Unfortunately, we have not been able to build on this project to the active and busy lino printing stage because of the logistics involved with sharing rollers and ink. We hope to revisit that way of working later in the year.

The results never the less have been some of the best Mrs Morris has ever produced and the work could easily be mistaken for GCSE standard. She chose cream paper to work on so that the pupils could add white later and because it almost works as a mid-tone. As always with Mrs Morris, the range and ways of working were individual and brave.

Year 9 I always feel is an important year in school Art teaching because for many it is their last time doing any formal Art education.

As a result, I was determined that the pupils would be both challenged and busy, using “still life” as our theme. It is usually the time we start pupils really looking and evaluating the standard of their own work ready for success at GCSE. It is a time you can get ahead as an Art teacher by teaching them skills and techniques that mean in Year 10 they are already armed with the skills ready for a good grade at GCSE.

I set about teaching them basic measuring and drawing techniques as well as challenging them by suggesting they try drawing the “negative “ space or the air rather than the objects.

Then the pupils were asked to bring in objects from home and we set up each student with their own stage or still life set up so that social distancing could occur but that the same accuracy and rigour could be maintained from previous years. We put a grid into their box or stage so that the drawing could be more accurately plotted. It has been hard only being able to “correct” drawings after the pupils have left the studio but the results so far look as strong and as impressive as ever and although it is early days the drawing already look as good if not better than previous years.

Year 10 have made a remarkable start considering the potential setbacks and the work they did during the lockdown period has clearly set them on the right path. We have started a project based on reflection and so far they have managed a range of drawings and just completed some prints. The future looks very bright for this self-motivated and talented group.

The exam classes have been very busy with the GCSE students working hard on a variety of different projects, all self-generated and with a wide range of media.

Our group of photographers in the Year 12 have probably made the most progress and because it is a small group we have been able to use the darkroom as well as the local environment to fill a whole workbook in one term. They have now been given their own themes to work on over half term and we are excited to see what they will return with.

Lara in Textiles has been working on her massive installation and this is likely to be the talking point of the exhibition in the summer.

Niamh has been working hard on a series of etchings that she intends to use in a creative manner in the next half of term and Luiza has continued with the nine portraits of her peer group which she intends to hang in a long line. Harry has continued to knock out a canvas or final piece a week using landscape as his theme. He has recently produced a series of monoprints but may well return to painting for his final exhibition pieces.

All in all, a very busy and productive half of the term. I am delighted we have been able to maintain most of what we would normally do in the first half of the September term and even more pleased that the standard and amount of work has not dropped and in some cases has improved!

This half term period will be a time to regroup but perhaps redouble our efforts next half of term so that all our pupils, but especially our exam pupils, are in a secure and strong position for the new year, whatever that may bring.

For Mrs Morris and I it remains a delight to teach such enthusiastic and talented pupils and we always appreciate the very unique space we have in school and because of the high teacher to pupil ratio the time we have to be able to enable pupils to explore and expand on their artistic interests and talents as individuals.

Mark Sherrington

Head of Art – Rydal Penrhos


Rydal Penrhos is now able to offer private tours to prospective pupils and their families.

For more information email admissions@rydalpenrhos.com or book online at https://rydal.wpengine.com/open-days-visits.

Art during COVID-19