“Nature Transformed” / “A Level” art for beginners

Over the last year, for an hour and a half each week, I have been privately tutoring an “A Level” Fine Art student together his younger sister.

I began my academic career in a sixth form college,  where I taught “A level” fine art for many years.  I used to enjoy this time of the year because at the end of January the students had completed their coursework, then in February the exam titles were announced. Candidates usually have a choice of about 8 different starting points from which they select one to respond to, in readiness for their 15 hour practical exam in May.

The three months before the exam is a period is for developing IDEAS, EXPLORING and selecting resources, RECORDING observations,  ideas & insights and REFLECTING critically upon their progress . During this time they also PRESENT a personal and meaningful set of responses, realising their intentions and making connections between visual and other elements. In addition to choosing from a list of themes, they are also asked to conduct CONTEXTUAL research, beginning with  a list of named artists that link to their chosen theme – All of this is documented within a sketchbook.  We also encouraged our students to produce a digital sketchbook as this made it easier for the exam board.

“NATURE TRANSFORMED” is “our” chosen starting point and my student and I have explored a number of different options, developing ideas and recording them.

To begin, we created a mind MAP of the student’s personal interests,  including PHYSICS, MATHS and ARCHITECTURE.  He was also interested in natural PATTERN and 10 photos of pattern from the natural environment were researched and assembled onto a digital sheet. This was followed by another sheet exploring the work of ANDY  GOLDSWORTHY + another sheet looking at mathematical connections and the work of RICHARD LONG. This initial work was put onto the shared section of the school hard drive.

At this stage I encouraged my student to start assembling his work in an A3 sketchbook. This could then be photographed and sent to the school hard drive. Man-made repeat pattern found in architecture and interior design was next investigated – in particular, ISLAMIC PATTERN and the structure of Cordoba mosque / cathedral in Spain. I also suggested tiling photographic images to create wallpaper designs.

The list of CONTEXTUAL research began with investigating the following artists : RICHARD SHILLING, CAS HOLMES, RICHARD LONG, JAMES DORAN WEBB, however, many more will be investigated – not least – Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Deacon, Peter Randall-Page, Chisto and Jeanne Claude, Robert Smithson, Eva Hesse, John Thomson, Sophie Munns, Tony Cragg, Chris Drury, Terry Winters, William Morris, Cathy De Monchaux etc. Examples of the artists work are drawn into the sketchbook and a series of notes are made analysing the work and or possible developments and connections are made.

A PRIMARY source of investigation might include drawing from dIrect OBSERVATION, whereas contextual research is found in art books, journals and websites and these sources are known as SECONDARY SOURCES, which are listed in a BIBLIOGRAPHY. 

During his art lessons at school, my student and his art teacher devised a scheme of work to schedule and clarify a number of practical tasks leading up to the Easter break plus a list of further developments to be completed both during the holiday and leading up to the exam period itself. Some of these tasks included input from myself and some were independent tasks.

PRIMARY : TASKS ( as agreed with art teachers)

1. EXPLORE ways of drawing different mathematical / geometric shapes/ patterns/ lines combining photographs with mathematical principles / nature (explore Fibonacci and the golden section ). [i.e. Draw a spiral over photos such as pine cones or sunflowers.]

2. Continue using INKSCAPE software and the iPad to experiment and draw  – explore RELIEF PRINTING. (simple shapes cut from card and primed with shellac or PVA before rollering on the ink and transferring the image. Experiment and discover whether opaque white ink can become invisible on tracing paper / acetate and if fluorescent colours can be successfully viewed behind?

3. Photograph  glow in the dark pebbles and experiment in different environments – at home at night and (possibly night beach shots if adult supervision is available?) in a darkened studio – put this work in a folder on shared area.

5. Make Willow withie SCULPTURES inspired by mathematical structures – take into natural landscape to photograph over Easter :  NB : these should include 2D AND 3D structures.

6.  go into woodland and photograph withie sculptures in situ : look at Goldsworthy for composition ideas.

7. Create at least 10 good photos to put in shared area on return to school.

8. draw and experiment with Inkscape onto these photos. 

9. Experiment with a strip of sheet or a wide bandage and create patterns by wrapping fabric around the trees (Christo and Jeanne Claude inspired). draw and experiment with Inkscape onto these photos.

10. layer these photos and experiment with adding lines and colour (influenced by his art tutor’s work with Procreate software). Where his tutor’s work is using free expressive drawn lines Merlin will explore his technique of layering his Inkscape style lines. Merlin will bring these back and put into folders in shared area.6.

11. AFTER EASTER : put photographs of glow in the dark pebbles into shared area (approx 4).
put photographs of withie structures in woodland photos in shared area (approx. 8)

12. put DIGITAL (inkscape)  line photographs of withies in natural environment in shared area. (approx. 3)
put wrapped around trees photos in shared area (4 photos).
put photographic experiments created using DIGITAL (Procreate) / layering of images and exploring colour etc – put into shared area (approx. 4 images).

13. complete artist research notes

14. experiment with fluorescent paint on withie structures and fluorescent paint on white fabric strip

15. explore structure techniques to create a large spiral 3D structure in prep for exam.

Friday 20th : photo shoot : after school in dark/dusk – student and art staff  will go with SW to photograph light experiments in woodland space.

Week 23rd April to 30th April
More experiments / preparation for exam structure. Photographing and documenting. Finishing artist research and project statements and evaluations.

Exam Week

Monday – get all materials ready & talk through the process and stages with SW. Discuss SCALE OF THE 3D STRUCTURE.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – completing the exam. Make sculpture for first day and a half. Photograph on second half of day 2. Manipulating and creating as a piece of artwork on day 3 using iPad and “Inkscape” and “Procreate” software.

NB : By this stage of the course students should have reached a stage where they can work independently and produce a large body of practical work that is accompanied by records of their ideas, experiments, observations and developments – this should be both subjective AND objective.

To aid the creative process and make for a productive and stress-free build up to the exam, teachers very often write individual schemes of work for students to follow – hence the above !  Individual Learning Plans or schemes of work are very useful for Ofsted Inspections but I encourage students to experiment and develop their own ideas and not rely too heavily on a prescriptive set of tasks – at this level students should be self motivated and show that they are capable of working independently. 


As a visual learner myself, when I was a student, I found it invaluable to see examples of specifically what was being asked of me – now as a tutor I like to provide my students with as many exemplars as possible. This is not something students in Higher Education get a lot of – although I demonstrate traditional figurative drawing skills alongside my animation and computer games students ! Included at the end of this post are a number of mixed media experiments that I have done over the last few weeks.

“A level” art is certainly not a “soft option” and to gain a respectable grade students have to not only show an aptitude for the subject but they have to work extremely hard and present a professional body of work that is assessed using criteria that is objective and rigorous. Good students are methodical, imaginative, motivated and demonstrate a strong intellectual approach to their studies.

NB : All artwork on this site is my own work and subject to copyright All rights are reserved.

I have deliberately not added any form of annotation to the artwork but all are created on an iPad using a combination of Procreate and Instagram editing software. Many of the pieces include layers of imagery including 3D pieces and or drawn and photographic elements.

The first piece is a collaborative image made using repeat triangular patterns and drawn using “INKSCAPE” software by my student. The layers underneath are from my sketchbook and include imagery from when I did a “creative drawing” / psychology workshop in the Guildhall Square with students from Portsmouth Grammar School.





NB All artwork copyright Chris N Wood All Rights Reserved

About chriswoodartist

painter, print-maker and illustrator

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