Ross Wallis + Digital Media + Art

teacher and enthusiast

My name is Ross Wallis, and I am Head of the Arts Faculty at Sidcot School, an independent Quaker boarding school in Somerset, with a whole wide range of ages, abilities, nationalities, and beliefs.

My artistic background has been somewhere between photo-mechanical and conceptual art. Years ago I did a fine art degree and further study in printmaking, and more recently I have completed a Masters in digital art. I am fascinated by the creative possibilities of digital technology, and in a place between the hand-drawn, hand-created, and the photographic image.

It is many years ago now that I persuaded the Headmaster to buy a Commodore Amiga for the art room. he was not keen, the art room was such a messy painty place, he did not like the idea of a clean machine in amongst the chaos. But I have always believed this is exactly where the machines should be, rather than (or I concede, perhaps as well as) number/character crunching in an office. I was impressed from the start by the ability of the screen to suck students in, particularly those who might not otherwise be able to find the enthusiasm for drawing, but who would happily spend hours creating stop frame animations.

Even longer ago, when I first started teaching, when we still had a bander machine in the staffroom, a company lent us a trial photocopy machine for a couple of weeks. I set about photocopying every part of me to turn into artwork. I continue to look for creative ways to use new media, and to enthuse the students that come to my studio with the same passion that I have.

I anticipated both the iPhone and the iPad long before they became manifest, willing Apple to create these devices for me - a personal planner that was also a camera, a digital pad on which I could draw with my fingers - yay!

Over the past couple of years or so I have been playing with both, in and out of the classroom. I am totally hooked.

The iPhone revolutionised mobile phone technology yes, but much more besides, it has sparked a revolution in photography - there is even a word for it - iPhoneography. To have a small but powerful camera attached to a small but powerful computer, running a mind boggling selection of apps, all cleverly designed to enhance and distort the captured image - this power is awesome. and the iPad is fast revolutionising education. As with the Amiga all those years ago, these devices have a magnetic power - students want to use them, and they will learn as they play.

For me, the iPad blurs the boundary between art and photography. I can paint with photographic pixels, montage as freely as I please, without scissors, paste, and curly edges. And I can add a fourth dimension to my creations - the dimension of time, and not only in terms of animation or film, the fact that smartphones can combine information gathered from both still and video capture, creating a still image from pixels captured over time, or a moving image within a still image, this is mind boggling and new.

At Bett this year I shall be showcasing the creative digital art work that I do with students, from video conferencing, image pingpong, stop frame animation, and film to ipad drawings done from life in the life class, and the wonders of blipfoto and instagram on the iPhone.

Over the past few years I have been an avid collector of arty apps, and experience is not beginning to tell which ones are enduring. My session at Bett will be partly hands on, but mostly a demonstration of what we have discovered so far, my students and I. I am always on the look out for creative ideas and killer apps, and I love sharing the discoveries that we make.

Among my passions, as mentioned above, are the photo sharing site, image pingpong, and drawing from life. I have just celebrated my 2nd blip birthday, having taken a photo, just one each day, for the past two years, manipulated on various apps, then uploaded and shared. Over the same time I have been collaborating with artists from all around the globe, sending images back and forth in an extended version of the Surrealist’s game ‘Exquisite Corpse’. Another passion of mine is collecting flipbooks, I have a large box of them. Both iPad and iPhone are inspiringly creative tools for stop frame animation. All of this I bring into my teaching, trusting that students will catch whatever disease it is that I have, and I am happy to pass it on to you too - see you at Bett!