* “One of the best DKS productions yet.”
* “This is the most fun I’ve ever been a part of. I will remember this all my life.”
– Trygve Apalset, Adviser, DKS in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway
The Cultural Rucksack (Den kulturelle skolesekken) (DKS) is a national programme for art and culture in Norwegian schools. The programme enables children and young people to enjoy artistic and cultural productions provided by professionals within a wide range of fields. In the towns and cities of Norway, children have the possibility of attending programmes at galleries and museums hosted by the DKS. In the country, artistic and cultural productions are usually brought to the schools by touring artists, actors, musicians, and writers, etc.
The Picturebook Exhibition/Presentation
The “Picturebook Exhibition” consists of all the original paintings belonging to one of my picturebooks. I paint on Belgian linen portrait canvas, which I then mount on boards with mats. I pack and transport the mounted paintings in a cardboard box and exhibit them in schools, – on chairs in a horseshoe-shape, – in a classroom, a school library, a music room, an arts and crafts room, or a mediatheque. The presentation, that includes several printed books, sketches, and photos, is held in front of the paintings with the children.
From 2000 to 2009, I toured with this production to all the primary schools in Hedmark, exhibiting and presenting for over 12,000 children from grades 1 – 7. The production was developed with the help of Inga Blix from “The Touring Organization for Hedmark, (Turnéorganisasjonen for Hedmark).
Many of the ideas in my presentation today, are inspired from questions and talks that I have had with children over the years. I tell about how each painting begins in the mind, and how the sketch is the next stage of that process. I demonstrate how pictures partake in the telling of the story through the use of composition, colour, content, and research. I present altogether four books including the one in the “picturebook exhibition”, touching upon themes such as the Renaissance, Buddhism, rich and poor, fantasy and reality, clothing and architecture in the “old days”, and colour theory.
Some of the many, many questions the children have asked over the years, and still ask today are: How did you make that black colour/transparent colour/skin colour? Are these real paintings? How did you paint the wrinkles on that face/the mist on the water/the fur? How do you make things look real? Do you sometimes have to start over? How do you know how to make the right colours? What do you do if you paint outside of a line? Do you use a ruler? If you make a mistake can you erase it? How old are you? What do you paint first, the background or the picture? Do you always manage to paint just like you planned? Have you been to art school?
The Rainbow Workshop
Such discussions with the children also inspired me to create a combined exhibition/presentation and painting workshop, – not just so that the children could experience the magic of mixing colours, but so that the production would also be about them.
In 2006 I developed this idea with the help of Marit Brendbekken and Kari Vik from the DKS Hordaland and toured with the production for the DKS in Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane, Oslo, Finmark, Oppland, and Hedmark.
Whereas the presentation demonstrates how colour partake in a picturebook story and in a pictorial composition, the workshop is about learning colour theory through experience.
The children create a rainbow on wet paper using pigment rich watercolours, and with the same pallet as I use in my own paintings. The main goal is each child’s experience, creating their own orange, green, and purple, while observing the harmony formed by the rainbow colours placed in a natural order.
Why I tour schools
I believe that understanding and experiencing pictures and colour is as important as understanding and experiencing math and music. Pictures have their own grammar, and colour has its own natural laws – as math and music have. Understanding colour is also about understanding the world around us, and understanding how the new visual media works as information or/and as art. Colour theory and painting are excellent ways to understand these laws.
Many of the schools I visit are quite isolated and not just by distance alone, but by fjords and mountains, ice and snow, landslides and narrow roads. Some schools are so far from any city with a gallery, that many of these children would not have been able to seek the experience of viewing original paintings on their own. Furthermore, many children have never experienced the magic of, or acquired knowledge from, the results of mixing clear, clean, highly pigmented colours.
One might ask, – is a traveling exhibition of original paintings to schools in the country, as important as exhibiting in a gallery in Oslo or New York? Is creating music, art, and literature for children as important as creating for adults?
I believe it is. I paint the pictures that I loved when I was a child. When touring schools, I meet my audience, like a musician on tour after releasing a CD, or a writer after publishing a book.
Touring with the DKS
The planning for such a tour starts a year in advance: The DKS chooses a number of schools in proximity to each other. They book the hotel and the rent-a-car. I contact the schools to discuss the details of how my exhibition and workshop can fit tailor-made into the school rooms and time schedule, – and could I please have 3-4 clever children to help me prepare the workshop in the morning, and cleanup between sessions?
A day on such a tour might begin like this: in a car packed with brushes, paints, boards, paper and paintings etc., I arrive at the school 1.5 hours before starting time. Then with help from maybe a grown-up and 3 – 4 clever children, the classroom is transformed into an exhibition/painting workshop.
And how might such an exhibition/painting workshop look like? – 15 to 30 work spaces, with tables and chairs are arranged two and two with clean brushes, paints, and painting boards, as well as glasses of water for washing and paper-towel for drying. Sheets of watercolour paper lie soaking in a tub, – waiting to be shared out. My 14 paintings and books are arranged horseshoe shape on chairs.
As the rainbow workshop progresses, the rainbows get bigger and closer to the edges of the paper. Some rainbows may become more square to fit the page. Usually someone will claim: I don’t have enough room! I tell them that they have lots of room, – its just that the photographer who took the picture of the rainbow was a bit short, or maybe stood too much to one side, and that the rainbow is so big it continues outside the page. Eventually, children will ask: Can we take these rainbows home with us?
Some children cannot paint a bow. They get a sunrise instead. It doesn’t really matter. The rainbow is only a form for experiencing the colours and the harmony, and which is the goal.
When I began with my combined exhibition/presentation/rainbow workshop, it was hard to imagine how I could possibly organize, – let alone cleanup for 20 – 30 children. Though teachers and sometimes appointed helpers from the 9th or 10th grades would help, they often “had to go” to other things. I don’t remember when it started, but I began getting help from the 1st – 4th graders, the same children who had painted, or who will be painting rainbows. With their help, work literally became a game. I metaphorically call it “dishwashing” after messy “dinner guests” and when everything is sparkling clean, we “lay the tables” anew for the next guests.
And what a unique experience these helpers get, – seeing black, brown, orange or purple washing-water mix and dilute as it swirls down the drain, or seeing colourful modern-art-like-patterns on the used paper-towels, before throwing them away, or “drowning” sheets of watercolour-paper in a tub of cold water. And that “inviting feeling” clean paint-brushes and neat rows of brightly coloured jars of paints have. Some children never want to leave, even after a job is done. They stay to play on the mats in front of the paintings, look in the picturebooks, or count the jars of paints.
At one school, where I stayed a week, children appeared with false notes, – stating that he or she, – the child-with-the-note, was allowed to stay and help me cleanup, – even though other children had been elected.
As each set of rainbows dry I flatten them under a press I make of painting-boards and books, or painting-boards and an upside down table. My underlying motive: When the teachers see how beautiful the flat, dry rainbows look, they may be inspired to press the remaining rainbows and maybe even make a rainbow exhibition after I am gone?
Touring schools for DKS is a labyrinth of challenges such as; having to reroute because of a landslide that is blocking the mountain road, or wonderful experiences such as; spotting reindeer, a drive over snow covered mountains, a room by the sea, learning about the local history, tasting local food, meeting a fellow DKS tourer as our paths crisscross, being asked an interesting question from a child, the faces of the children when I arrive with frozen stiff brushes on a winters morning, turning a classroom into an “exhibition and workshop”, turning clean-up time into a game, and the joy of seeing the rainbows appear under the hands of children.
And all this driving and planning and negotiating comes together in that moment the kids are painting the rainbows, like a concert of colour that is happening only in that moment. Like one teacher said while the kids were painting, “det er magi,” (this is magic) and when it was over, another teacher exclaimed “dette var helt fantastisk! (This was completely fantastic!)
This is why I believe that this national programme for art and culture in Norwegian schools is important. This is why I exhibit, present, and paint with children in schools.
Se den norske versjonen her.