PES students paint clay

One Ponoka school is taking an artist’s approach to remember students as the school plans a big move.

Karl Untalan concentrates as he practices his painting techniques.

Karl Untalan concentrates as he practices his painting techniques.

One Ponoka school is taking an artist’s approach to remember students as the school plans a big move.

Ponoka Elementary School’s (PES) home is going to move to what is now Diamond Willow Middle School and Grade 5 teacher Paula Wilkins’ hope is to bring something from the old school to remember it by. “We wanted something to look back on.”

She feels clay painter Debra Bryan had the proper skills to get a clay tile mural into the new building when renovations are complete.

“We would not honestly be able to do this without her,” stated Wilkins.

Her hope is for kids to return 20 years after to look at their work. To help pay for Bryan’s expertise, Wilkins and education assistant Laeta Morskate applied for an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant last year. The application process is quite rigorous and Wilkins was grateful to have an artist there.

“It’s just been a dream come true.”

Students were able to draw up their own designs for the mural, which was important to Wilkins who feels kids represent themselves in their work. They were given drawing and painting techniques to a rather technical process and the children learned more from it, she added.

Bryan was at PES April 8, 9 and 10 for the first part of the program and then returned April 12, 13 and 14 to help students complete their work. The first week was spent learning how to draw designs onto the clay tiles and the second concluded with painting.

Some of the tips she gave students were to think about the size of their drawings, with smaller tiles a more simple design can be more effective than one with little details. The biggest challenge is in the paint, which has to be applied carefully as colours do not usually mix well. “Paints are like felt pens… This is why we have to practice so much.”

When the painting is complete, Bryan will take the tiles and fire them in a kiln.

“The firing takes about 14 hours…Then it’s so hot it takes a day to cool down,” she added.

One of the benefits of firing clay is how long it can last, tiles can last for thousands of years.

Minister of Culture Heather Klimchuk toured PES April 8 and enjoyed seeing students in action.

“Thrilled 2 see kids paint a ceramic tile mural thx to artist-in-residency program @ Ponoka Elementary!” Klimchuk said in a Twitter post.

Students used a special paint designed to be fired at high temperatures otherwise the colours would melt away. Bryan enjoys working closely with students to see their designs. “I like seeing the artwork because they’re all so creative.”

An important part of her work is promoting what she does to younger children because she feels the only way more people will take up the work is if they know it exists. “Someone has to go out there and promote it.”