Session Seven, Portrait Work

Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

There was much delight at the achievements of the last session. The children are required to work in pairs and this method of working seems to really suit this class. I would also have to mark the children’s support and patience in assisting me to speak Irish. They are extremely kind and ensure that I have understood what they are saying or that I have said it properly. Languages are not my area of expertise but I always feel empowered and competent with my level of Irish when I have spent a few hours will the children. The teacher Eoghan is also very supportive with my Gailge, I now have a lot more than a Cúpla Focal.

I started this session with introducing some worldwide musical instruments, a rain stick, a couple of ocean drums and calabash, exploring what they are and who would traditionally use them. I also brought a range of kaleidoscopic lenses and tools so the children could experiment whilst each group completed their portraits.

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The first group who had drawn the portraits onto the sheets of laminate we’re ready for the next stage. The children had a selection of coloured transparent film to place on the portraits. Once complete they would be put through the laminating machine. Eventually each portrait will become one side of a cuboid that will be suspended from the ceiling.

I took each group down stairs to the ground floor where they drew each other. It was wonderful to watch as the portraits captured a unique likeness of each child under the skill full hands of the children. Once completed they joined the rest of the class and added colour to finishing their portraits.

For the next session we shall again work with a partner and work o a small construction together.

Session Six – Mr Praiseach nó Mr Ceanndána


Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

Following last weeks session we decided to take a break from teamwork and concentrate on some individual work instead. This week was International Book day and everybody in the entire school was dressed as a character from 101 Dalmatians, it was an impressive sight. Tough it did confuse my eyesight at times!

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For session six & seven we are gong to focus on self-portraits. Sketching or drawing people can be quite challenging but once you know the proportions of the body and of the face, it can be a much more enjoyable process and it is very possible to capture a good likeness also. Once we had warmed up with the sound nest I demonstrated the proportions of the human body, It can be surprising how large the actual features of the face are and that unless you are under 3 everybody has the same proportions.

The children practiced drawing the face twice. Each time I had to encourage the children to draw on a bigger scale. Our eyes take up a large part of our faces and the bottom of the eye is positioned midway on the skull. The children’s confidence grew quite quickly and to add some extra fun into the session I asked each child to draw the child opposite them without looking at the paper.

Towards the end of the session I demonstrated how to draw another person through a window using marker and acetate or laminate. I brought the first group of 6 children to the ground floor where there was larger amounts of glass. Whilst we were downstairs Eoghan the children’s teacher was exploring the kaleidoscopic lenses I brought in with me.

Next week all of the children will draw another child’s face onto laminate. We were so busy that I forget to record the children.

Session Five- Figuring It Out

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Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

It was a few weeks since we last worked together in the classroom as the mid term had provided a small break along with a trip to Airfield. Prior to our visit to Airfield the class had divided into groups and designed their builds from the materials they had used previously. The designs came out of much discussion. We were clear with the children that they needed to ensure that each child had the opportunity to share their idea and everyone needed to feel that they had been listened to. I tried to impose on the children that group thinking would result in a far stronger idea. This too should also support teamwork.

After our initial ceol patrun in the classroom we headed down to our ‘studio’ equipped with pen and paper and some of the original drawings. I had brought extra materials with me introducing more stable pieces like cardboard tubing and colour. The groups sat together and looked at their original designs in order to refresh their memories and rethink them using new materials.

Ideas flowed quickly but not as much with the ‘team’ approach as I had hoped. New designs were drawn and ideas were tackled and some argued over. A few children struggled with being heard. The children were focused on the starting to build so we let them action their designs.

Balancing and connecting the new materials together proved challenging initially and some were a little disheartened when the 3D structures did not quite match their designs. Getting large pieces of heavy cardboard to remain stable can be frustrating. Once the children figured out what and how to work with the new materials they embarked on new ideas.

There were some wonderful creations and they really enjoyed adding colour to the different structures. Most of the groups had a narrative to support their creations. The session became quite playful as they enjoyed what they made. The process of teamwork though proved quite challenging for some.

Eoghan and I talked about teamwork and have decided to concentrate on individual work for the next couple of weeks.

The children gave some very positive feedback afterwards which are sampled below.


Session Four- Rinne mé dearmad labhairt as Gailge! I forgot to speak Irish!


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Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

Spring was out in all her glory for our trip to Airfield, a working farm in the urban jungle. The air was light, crisp and filled with children’s smiles. The beautiful spring morning caused the children to spontaneously burst into song. The background effect is the sounds of a milking parlour as the children watched on. 

Once the animals many of which were new born had been observed and their sent inhaled the children headed to far end of Airfield. This area offered a little protection from the wind but allowed us a space for building whilst soaking up the sunshine. We divided the class into the same 5 groups of the previous week. I had brought with me bamboo, willow, wire, fabric, wool and twine. The task was to build a structure or den of their choice. Little instruction was required and the children picked up their supplies and identified an area where their group would create. The only stipulation was that no two builds were to look the same. Also no growing plants or branches were to be picked, they could use various trees and pre-existing structures within their own build. The adults and I moved through each of the groups assisting and from time to time suggesting what would add more stability to their builds.

There was so much discussion about what and how they could build. At times the children and I forgot to speak Irish! Their ideas flowed fast and they eagerly compromised their plans to bring in the ideas of others. There were some quiet interesting approaches used and lots of things got figured out. I was surprised at how long the builds kept their attention. I didn’t give the children the fabric until well into the session. The sunlight offered some gorgeous opportunities to play with light and shadows on the fabric. The work looked really beautiful and the energy and dynamic of the group was positive and very productive. If not for the approaching school bell I think the children would have stayed for a few more hours. A bonfire and marshmallows would have been just perfect to accompany the wonderful smiles on the children’s faces and mud plastered uniforms!


Session Three – Anál Mór –To take a deep breath.

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Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

We had decided to break the session into two parts ensuring that the children would get to work on something on their own and the second part would involve teamwork. We began the session with creating our rhythm pattern again using the sound nest exploring pattern-pátrún ceol, introducing the children’s voices. The zoom mike picked up the children’s introduction very clearly this week.

The school is a multi-denominational school and the children throughout the school explore the different religions around the world. This is a theme that my own practice had researched over a number of years so I am keen to begin to look at this with the children. As yet I am not sure in what form this will manifest itself. This term one of the religions the children are looking at is Shintoism, a belief with a large following in Japan. This week is also the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Both of their written language share common origins and as I have practiced Chinese Calligraphy for may years I brought the traditional tools required to share the art of Japanese and Chinese Calligraphy.

Callagrafaíocht – Calligraphy

Seapáinis – Japan

Sínise- Chinese

Ióga – Yoga

Machnamh – Meditation

Dúch – Ink

Gualainn- Shoulder

 Through Calligraphy we may find calm and focus. In Ireland we are more familiar with the practice of yoga to support us in a little meditation. The beginning of the each session the writer grinds the hard black ink into the carved stone using a circular motion to create liquid ink. This can take several minutes to complete. Chinese script or symbols are created from a series of pictures simplified down to a symbol or caricature using a few brush strokes. We practice making marks with the brushes which are held in an upright position. The action uses the whole arm and not just the hand. The children created some beautiful marks as they got used to the movement and flow of the ink on paper.

We moved on to intruding some of the characters or symbols. This script is a lot less abstract than using the 26 letters of the alphabet. The children really focused and worked hard to create the symbols. Each symbol describes the object or verb often through a series of actions.

Some examples of the words they were working on



Bláth daite ag snamh sa ghao (a colourful blossom that swims in the wind)

A colourful petal that blows in the wind.



Bamboo blowing in the wind.




Scian a mharaíonn gan fuil a dhóirteadh

A knife that kills without drawing blood.

The children seemed to really enjoy what they had achieved during the sessions. Once we had cleared up we headed down to our ‘Studio’. The teacher Eoghan had talked to the children about teamwork and how important it is a skill for them to learn whilst they are in school. Teamwork comes naturally to very few and through practice the understanding and benefits of it can be seen.

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The class divided into 5 groups, this time remaining in the groups as they sit together in the classroom. At this stage we had only 30 mins left to design and build. Each group was given 1 sheet of paper. The children were asked to discuss and sketch out what they were going to build. The emphasis was on the discussion between the children. Each child need to feel that they had shared their idea and the group would choose which they liked or take ideas from the different suggestions and build something together as a team.

The discussions went really well and Eoghan and I carefully monitored the groups to ensure that all of the children felt heard and their ideas shared. The discussions were interesting and as the children talked they saw their ideas grow and the designs take shape. We did not start to build and decided to leave the building until the next time.

One group gave us a little feedback as to what we did in this weeks sessions.

Session Two – Obair Foirne- (Teamwork)


Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill

Ranga Dó: 30 paiste

I surprised even myself this week, my level of Irish is far better than I had expected. I did however bring along at least 90% of the vocabulary that we would be needing on the day. I also brought along my Zoom mike so we could capture some audio of the children throughout each session and feedback afterwards. A little sample is in this blog but the sound level of most of the other pieces recorded were not good enough quality to use.

We began the session with creating our rhythm pattern using the a sound nest and the children’s clapping and exploring pattern-pátrún ceol, introducing the children’s voices.

Naturally being in Ranga Dó the children are the perfect age for gore and creepy crawlies of tropical dimensions. They had expressed an interest in seeing my Ciaróg (Beatle) collection. We all learnt some new words as I had headed to google to name the various creatures that would be joining us.

Damhán alla – Spider

Trantúla dubh- Tarantula Spider

Féileacán – Butterfly

Cuileog – Fly

Leamhan – Moth

Trumpallán – Dung Beatle

Foicje – Wasp

Cipíneach – Stick Insect

Péist – Worm

Snáthaid mhór – Dragon Fly

Bóin Dé – Ladybird, which I particularly like as it translates as ‘little cow of god’.

After lots of ooohhs and squeals and discussion about where in the globe the creatures came from and whether one could eat any we washed our hands and had a bit of lunch and a run outside.

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The children had really enjoyed the exploration of structures, building in 3D and understanding stability so we focused the session on this again. We remained in the classroom seated at our desks. I gave each child some Boucotelli a type of hollow spaghetti and some marla. Initially I asked the children to work in pairs to assist the building of a structure from the pasta. As the session progressed the pairs became single units. The children became quite absorbed in working with 3D this way. There were many different types of structures some very ambitious and some really interesting work.

The first part of the session was based in the classroom. Once we had put away the pasta as this was like a warm up session we moved down the corridor into a spare classroom which has become out studio. I had brought with me the insulation piping, Velcro, transparent fabric, pegs and each child brought their chair or cathaoir with them. We divided the class into 5 smaller groups. The children were invited to build a structure of their choice. Each group or team needed to be able to discuss and plan what they were going to build and how they were going to build it. Clearly some of the children found teamwork extremely challenging where as some children thrived on being part of a team. Structures went up and many came down as ideas were discussed, ignored and shouted as designs were torn down and rebuilt. Thankfully the children’s teacher Eoghan took this dynamic in his stride and supported the children figure things out or calmed them down.

We had 5 groups in total, 2 groups built quite ambitious pieces with some interesting ideas and good teamwork, another group built a complicated piece but perhaps under the guidance of a few determined engineers in their group and the final two groups energy and ideas was focused on the group dynamic. It was hard to watch the children struggle with teamwork, for many it is something new and it is a skill that needs to be learnt through practice.

We felt it was extremely important to have time for feedback at the end of the session. Some of the children said they found the teamwork really challenging and others enjoyed working this way. We debated whether working this way would be something that the children would want to do again. Eoghan felt that this is something that the children need to learn and with practice they will find it much easier and could find this a valuable skill to have. We agreed to divide each session into two the first art the children will work on something individually and the second part we will focus on building our teamwork skills.

A sample of the children talking about what we did in the session.


Session 1: Tá Cupla Focail Agam!

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Artist: Helen Barry
Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill
Ranga Do: 30 paiste

I did wonder whether I had bitten off a little more than I could chew! This was the first time I had embarked on an artist in residence in a Gael Scoil. The energies of a mixed group of second class children could sometimes be hard to focus without adding another language into the mix. My Irish was yet to be tested but I did know that the level of the children’s Irish was far better than mine. I had made an initial visit to meet the children in Gael Scoil Shliabh Rua pre Christmas to get a sense of what we might do together.

The Gael Scoil has yet to grow into its building hence there are many empty classroom on the first floor. I set up in one of these large empty spaces which still smells of fresh plaster and paint. The children had mentioned they would like to do some construction and this being my preferred medium I headed to the dictionary. Building – ag tógáil, Structure – Struchtúr, stable – seasmhach are a few I started with.

We began the session in the children’s classroom introducing the session with creating a musical pattern or pátrún ceol together. I had brought a ‘sound nest’ a percussion instrument that everyone can play and produce some beautiful sounds from. We used a simple rhythm, based on counting 1,2,3,4 or aon, dó, trí, ceathair. We used clapping and tapping the desks to distinguish the sounds as as we practiced and we substituted the clapping for names and words. Then the words became a task, ‘Ba mhaith limo go roghnódh sibh go leír focal amhain déas/maith/dearfach fút féin.’ /’I would like you to use a positive/nice/good word that describes you’. We explored a variety of words but the children were perhaps not used to finding the words that describe themselves in a positive way. It is something we shall return to.

We moved to the empty classroom our ‘studio space’ and tested out our ability to work as a group, follow instruction, build a large-scale structure and get to know some building terms. I have asked the children to assist me with my Irish. Their teacher Eoghan is on hand to offer any vocabulary when I am stuck and explains more deeply what I have asked the children to do. We had fun, it was surprisingly easier than I thought to communicate through Irish but I was exhausted. The children have requested to do some more construction which we shall do again next week.

I left with a great sense of achievement and with some extra words to add to my Irish vocabulary.