Today though rather than be in waders in the river counting giant hogweed or pulling out our umpteenth traffic cone or Himalayan Balsam plant from the local meander, it was clipboards at the ready for me as I led some creative outdoor learning with groups of Yr. 8’s from St Georges School for girls on a walk from Wester Coates to St Bernard’s well. A beautiful stretch of the Water of Leith steeped in history. The walk and river wanders through the lower end of Edinburgh’s new town and Dean Village a UNESCO world heritage site, surrounded stunning nature with tumbling falls and lovely old woods.
Whilst ranger Johnny / Hannah worked led one half of the student groups on a task day maintaining paths it was up to me for a half-day session to led the other half on a creative drawing walk, aiming to show new perspectives of the Water of Leith whilst I told its stories.
Now when people think of drawing, they often have one of two answers… “oh I quite like to draw…” or “oh lord I can’t draw! why are you making me draw something!?” Yet when I hear the latter, I like to be reminded by one thing an art tutor said to me from my art Uni days in Edinburgh… “What makes an artist isn’t what or how well they do something, it’s about the fact they did it” – they simply got out and created something. After all, we live in an era of AI art and social media, we all can see 1000s or examples of the perfectly drawn leaf! So, I feel if art was simply about how well something is drawn, it arguably loses a lot of purpose and fun! With that in mind, I wanted to relax the rules of technical drawing with my walks therefore chose three following methods to add a dash of difference, fun and madness to the walks.
Blind drawing: As the name suggests is all about drawing blind! Thankfully not with your eyes closed as that’s an accident waiting to happen on a riverside, but in this case with them totally focusing on the subject your sketching, without looking at the paper you’re drawing on. Resisting temptation and allowing a much freer imperfect way of drawing
Continuous line drawing: Here you resist the temptation of ever taking the pencil of the page your drawing lines and going back over them whilst drawing not taking the pencil from the page. This creates an expressive way of drawing but also a sense of connection with everything you’re drawing for its all drawn with the same continuous line.
A Focused drawing: With this you’re using your hand raised to the front of you creating a window with the shape you make when putting your fingers together. This then becomes your subject often the single leaf, flower patch of grass it encourages you to see the worlds within the world we walk in and the smaller things in life.
So, with these methods I gave each student a pencil, pastel bord and card (folded like a map into 10 squares to record their journeys) and introduced the other key element to my walk – The Creative stop card. As the name suggests this is a card with the set aim to stop the group, to focus and begin creating on a point at the riverwalk. yet crucially I wrote on the back instructions in how to stop the group and call a creative moment so I could let the walk go into their hands with them choosing where to stop, how long for and with what drawing activity we did as a group.
After leading an example (a good old blind drawing to break the ice) I then passed on the creative stop card to a student which essentially meant they were the new leader of the walk. Essentially acting as new perspective of the Water of Leith, which in themselves led to some interesting stops. From a focused drawing on bacterial sludge in the water, to A blind drawing of a Pigeon posing across the river, and even a good Johnny on task modelled spectacularly for a continuous line drawing. It was amazing and brilliant to see how many students really came out in their element here and just have a chance to say what they think about an aspect or point of the walk which really helped link and weave some brilliant discussions on the wildlife and history of the river.
Once a St Bernards well further downstream I then had the most incredible privilege to finish the creative walk on a big wow, with a tour inside the well itself. An incredible opportunity to show off to the students some Georgian spender as talk about its colourful history as the place to drink be merry and seen. They loved also just getting to try out the pump that after 234yrs is very much still in good working order and found the mosaics above out of this world!
Honestly running these walks as part of a series of environmental days St Georges school has been a real joy and privilege. It shows one of the many aspects being a trainee ranger here on the water of Leith something that in my third month of I’m loving. It’s wonderful having every day be so different with the daily blessing of seeing the wonderful beauty upon the Water of Leith.
Want to have a go yourself – well Michael will be running a guided walk on a similar theme on 20th August – details soon