Back to School – New Murals at George Watson’s College

20 July, 2017

George Watson’s College Upper Primary School Murals 

 

In 2016 Junior School Headmaster George Salmond and I began discussing a potential project at George Watson’s College; he was really keen to have murals in the school that reflected the energy and enthusiasm of the current children. The plan was to work with Primary Four through Seven, ideally with all the children participating hands-on in the project. 

A mockup of the World War II evacuees illustration superimposed in the stairwell. 
A mockup of the Viking illustration superimposed above the existing tiles in the stairway.

Drawing directly from the school’s curriculum, each of the year groups were given their own historic theme; the Primary Fours learn about Vikings, the Primary Fives study the Battle of Bannockburn and the Wars of Independence, Primary Six learn about the Jacobite Rising and Primary Seven approach World War II as seen through the eyes of evacuees. 

A mockup of the Jacobites illustration superimposed in the stairwell.

 

A mockup of the Battle of Bannockburn illustration superimposed in the stairwell.

 I have previously done group projects with large amounts of children and I think it’s really important that all the children are involved and that they are empowered to express themselves as a small part of a bigger picture. 

I created four illustrations that would provide clarity and focus to the project, and came up with a plan so that the mural could be built remotely in bite sized chunks by the children and then fastened to the wall at a later date. Working in a school staircase which is also a chief fire escape route had unforeseen complications; understandably strict fire regulations meant that I had to ditch my usual plywood support and buy magnesium oxide fireproof sheet material, and once finished a fire-rated varnish had to be applied. Every day is a school day! 

Chris giving the first of two assemblies to the Upper Primary School, where he introduced the project to the students. At left are some of the boards from his Hogmanay mural.


The project was launched at two special assemblies where I introduced myself and my work, and I showed them my Hogmanay video. I emphasised the ambition and scale of the project but also underlined that the plan was to make all four murals in an incredibly short period of time. The aim was to have them built from scratch and installed in a three week period, dancing around the school timetable and the children were super excited. 

Chris prepping boards in Mr. Briggs’ classroom; at left you can see one of the time lapse cameras which were used throughout the project to capture the progression of the murals. 
Some of the ‘Evacuees’ mural in mid-production in Mr. Briggs’ classroom.

 In week one I was given the use of Mr. Briggs’ primary six classroom which was available while the whole year was away on a trip. Over the course of that week three of the murals had their backs broken. The children were shipped in class by class and though to the untrained eye the production process seemed slightly chaotic, in fact the children were incredibly productive. The focus of the drawings and my urgency for them to visually communicate as fast as possible helped drive the project forward. Throughout the project my studio manager Sheila Masson was on site helping to corral the kids and prep the paint and materials. She has an illustration degree amongst her many skills so is well versed in painting, though at times the energy and craziness of the factory we had set up proved a bit wearing on her. 

Chris explaining correct usage of paint brushes and palettes. This saved countless brushes from being destroyed, aided in more sensitive painting, and helped keep palettes from becoming nondescript vegetable soup. 
Chris demonstrating how to paint chainmail on soldiers in the Battle of Bannockburn mural.


The primary six students were due back from their trip at the end of the first week so we moved the production base out of Mr. Briggs’ classroom and into the art department with the help of a class full of strong-looking primary sevens. 

Teachers and students painting portraits in the Battle of Bannockburn mural.

 

Occasionally more paint went on the students than on the boards… 

During the second week we had the huge help of the art department staff. They had allocated two classrooms as a production base for the murals which was fantastic. It allowed us to have a space where one of the murals could be laid out in its entirety on the floor (so that we and the kids could literally see the big picture), and another that functioned as the main production base with individual boards laid on tables for painting. 

Sharing paint palettes and keeping the colours separate to prevent vegetable soup from forming.


By the end of the second week the children had nearly finished the murals, so much so that we had to start some smaller projects to keep them busy. With the help of the art department and a huge roll of white paper, we set up a large-scale drawing in the art department lobby plus four mural boards of self portraits by all the children sorted into their respective school houses. 

One of the two huge paper murals set up in the art department lobby as overflow/satellite projects.

 

By the time we reached the end of week three, all my anxiety was focussed around the difficulty of getting the mural hung. The stairwells are nearly eight metres tall so the initial plan was to source a boom lift to help with the hanging. In the end my assistant Charlie Savin and I managed to hang the pictures over three intense days from a scaffold tower – we were under something of a deadline as we had to complete the hang over the midterm break, while no kids were on the premises.

The children exploring the stairwells on the unveiling day after their half term break.


Sheila and I were there when the children came back to school on the Thursday morning and there was a huge amount of excitement. All the children felt the accomplishment and pride of being a part of a big community project. The project goals had been achieved and the children had left a legacy in the stairwell as testimony to their effort. As I had said throughout, not all projects grind at the speed of evolution. In this case change came like a creative tsunami. The stairwells are now resplendent in a new coat of vibrant age-appropriate artwork that will hopefully inspire generations to come. 

Chris in front of the Jacobite mural at the end of the project.


As with all of my projects, every step was filmed and time lapsed. Click HERE to see the final video of the murals’ creation.

And finally – the finished murals, pieced together:

The finished Viking mural.
The finished Jacobite mural.
The finished Battle of Bannockburn mural.
The finished evacuees mural, surrounding the original mosaic map.

Categories: Art, Murals

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