Tutoring year 5 & 6 photomedia

As a qualified English, visual art and photo-media teacher, Nikki McLennan is well versed in the requirements of the NSW Department of Education art syllabus, so it is no surprise that during the year that shall not be named, she began tutoring art students as a side hustle. 

She discovered she has a knack for connecting with young minds, in what can be a daunting field of study, drawing out what inspires these Year 5 and 6 students, and discovering their abilities. 

The most recent success story is Harper, who is currently in Year 6 at Tempe Public School, and who Nikki tutored over a six-week period earlier this year. Harper is interested in photography, mixed-media and fashion, and she clearly has a strong eye for these disciplines. What she lacked was the confidence in articulating these ideas, and the ability to talk with confidence about her work and the overriding concepts that fostered the portfolio she was putting together. 

Harper is applying to the arts stream at Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design, and the requirements for acceptance into this stream is a detailed portfolio of work, an interview and a panel test, a terrifying prospect for an 11-year-old, particularly one lacking in confidence. 

To combat this fear and give Harper a strong chance, Nikki and she worked on the following to give help her get the best outcome from her application:

Week one was a planning session to really find out what Harper was interested in and for Nikki to work out ways to explore these interests while linking to a significant artist. We chose Jan Davidz de Heem for his intense use of detail, colour and still life.

still life student work

Week two was spent recreating his work using natural light, a macro lens to explore detail and texture, as well as mirrors to create illusions.

Week three was a studio shoot using professional lighting to create another dimension with shadow, depth and form. The pair used dead flowers and skulls to explore themes of the cycle of life and to reference Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.

Nikki then guided Harper to make selections of her best images, using the editing software in Lightroom. She also made a point of asking Harper to consider why she choose one work over another, which provided her opportunities to write in her art diary about her processes, her successes and why certain images lacked impact.

These explorations were then linked to a contemporary Australian artist, which is a requirement in the curriculum. Harper chose Del Kathryn Barton who works in mixed media and video and is a highly acclaimed and successful Archibald-winning female artist. 

Harper then decided to add tiny glass beads to photocopies of her photograph, which truly explored the mixed media potential of photography by including 3D relief to the work.

An extra lesson included creating a triptych with three photos that worked well together to tell a story. Harper made all the decisions and chose to print on an exceptional German cotton rag paper. This work looked amazing when it arrived from the printers and her parents decided to frame and hang it in their home, which gave Harper an incredible confidence boost.

studio shoot with skulls

Just before the interview, Tortuga Studios hosted a special exhibition evening where Harper and her talented friend Dylan showed off their work to family, friends and a few discerning artists from the space. All spent time with each of the students, asking them to describe the process of creating and executing what they had created, and their thoughts on the finished product. All of this enhanced their skills, both in discussing their work, and in the broader context of Australian art and what it can mean as a career choice. 

The best bit? Harper got into Dully High!