Ross Wallis + Digital Media + Art

teacher and enthusiast


Art Attack

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and certainly art can sometimes reach children who experience little academic success at school.

'Screens tend to suck people in,' says Ross Wallis, ‘and people become addicted, but these very traits can be put to good use.’ My aim is that all my students should want to create, not for me, but for themselves, and computers can play a really positive role. Playing with images, creating animations, filming and gaming can be just that - playful, and fun and creative.

Ross is Head of the Arts Faculty at Sidcot School, an independent Quaker boarding school in Somerset. He is a great enthusiast for using technology in the art room. 'The iPhone 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.'

Here are some of Ross's suggestions for art activities which work especially well with a smartphones and tablets.

  1. When taking photographs, perhaps going on ‘photo walks’ add constraints. You could get pupils to hold the camera only horizontally so they record only what is above or below - sticking all these photographs together makes for a great photo quilt! Alternatively students could look for circles, faces, letters of the alphabet, the colour blue… there are many verities on this theme which encourages mindful photography.

  1. Take a selfie, cut it in half, and flip it to make a symmetrical face. The Photo Booth app will do it automatically and it provides endless hours of hilarity. As an extension, duplicate the face layer, add a gaussian blur filter, then rub back through to reveal details of the sharp image such as eyes, mouth and teeth

  1. Take a selfie and then use this as the basis for a drawn self-portrait. The image could be printed, and cut in half, then one side drawn and the other left as a photo, or it could be drawn directly from the device. You could make a new grid layer over the image to help with proportions.

  1. Use the camera rather (or as well as) a sketchbook to record a day out to galleries, the zoo, etc. Students who are not too keen on sketching and making notes might be really keen to take lots of photographs record their thoughts and observations, then create a slideshow with voiceover.

  1. Cut and paste montage is really very simple to do on tablets, and the effects can be fantastic - making posters on issues, creating surrealistic art, and just having fun.

  1. Use devices to create supporting evidence for examinations. One student recently produced an entire GCSE photography submission from her mobile phone, taking the photographs and displaying them with comments and links as a blog.

  1. Apps such as Comic Life can be a lively alternative to research in sketchbooks - presenting and reflecting on one’s work using a comic book structure.

  1. Youtube can be a fantastic source of inspiration. Having seen a stop frame animation of the Bayeux Tapestry, we combined year 7 Art and History lessons to create their own version - using Comic Life on iPads to do the initial storyboarding and scripting, then shooting cut paper animations on the iPads. We use a plastic frame and tripods to keep the ipads steady while filming.

  1. Find a picture of a famous artist such as Van Gogh and use an app such as Crazy Talk or Morfo to transform the image into a talking, 3D character who discusses the key features of their work.

  1. On school trips and visits get the students to create podcasts or films, perhaps with interviews, reflections, information about the place, events, objects, activities etc.

  1. Stop frame animation is so easy to do on iPads, and great fun. We use a plastic frame that can be screwed onto a tripod, which will hold the iPad parallel with a table - then students create animations on the table using apps such as I Can Animate, iStop motion or Stop Motion. Students can draw on paper, recording the drawing as it grows, frame by frame, or use cut paper in true Terry Gilliam style - silhouettes work really well, as in the work or Lotte Reiniger, or drawing on a whiteboard, or even using the students as the models (pixelation).

  1. Use, wordpress or wikispaces; free web site creation tools which are ideal for showcasing the work of a class or a project. You can create a website just for a project, or for a series of lessons, or a student can create their own site to showcase their coursework.

  1. Geocaching using GPS is a very creative use of electronic devices. Games like hide and seek can be recreated digitally. We did a project where students took photographs in a park, then created animations using the photographs as backgrounds. Once finished, we uploaded the animations to devices with a GPS tag, so that they played as one stood on the spot where the photo was originally taken. A simpler version of this can be done using QR codes.

  1. Image pingpong is a game that we play lots, either in school, or between school. This is a simple montage game - starting by taking a photograph, send it to another artist/school and get them to develop it with montage and drawing, then send it back, develop it further and send it back… quite quickly a narrative will start to build, and the game also becomes addictive! A great way of learning tools for digital manipulation while playing a game. The surrealists where on to this long ago with their Exquisite Corpse drawings. Alternatively, and even more simply, send someone a handful of images, and get them to montage them - and send you a handful of images to montage.

  1. Blipfoto is an online photo sharing site which is also like a journal. Having signed up, you take photographs, and upload just one photograph each day, which needs to have been taken on that day.

  1. Instagram is similar to blipfoto, but there is is no limit to the number of photographs you can upload, although they are limited to a square format, and like Facebook (unlike blipfoto), the images are aimed at your friends. Using sites like Blipfoto and Instagram is a great way of getting students to take lots of photographs, and get feedback on the images that they are taking.

  1. QR codes are a great way of sharing the work that students have been doing. Images, animations and films, intact anything that can be uploaded to the world wide web will have a unique URL that can be turned into a QR code.

  1. Re-telling fairy stories is always a great way to get ideas for films and animations.

  1. Films and animations can be created entirely on iPads using a verity of apps - cameras to capture film and image, editing apps such as iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, and apps such as Garage Band, Thumbjam, and Rockmate to create soundtracks.

  1. Nearpod is an app that lets you create bespoke lessons, control students’ devices and monitor classroom activity, share videos, audio, questions and surveys with learners. It is like powerpoint, but with may added interactive features such as polls, questionnaires, drawing and other tools.