A Day of Daffodils!

Today I’ve posted an art challenge, a short quiz and a personal story. Let’s start with the art challenge.

Daffodils make an excellent subject for a still life at this time of year. You could either mount or frame your picture, or it could be used for a wonderful Easter card (Although we’ve still got a few weeks until Easter Sunday (Sunday 12th April). My preference, as long as I’ve got a decent sheet of watercolour paper, or a good quality cartridge paper, would be to use watercolours. If I could only find a basic sheet of A4 I might have a try with watercolours, but I’d probably prefer to stick with just drawing the daffodil/s and using colouring pencils.

My first top tip is to look really carefully at the daffodil before you actually put pencil to paper. There are many different varieties of daffodil, but the ones I’m looking at have six symmetrical petals and the centre of the flower (known as the ‘cup,’ ‘the trumpet’ or the ‘corona’) is usually a darker shade than the petals. It’s a bit unfortunate that it’s called the corona, thinking about what we’re all currently going through, but let me assure you that this virus has nothing to do with daffodils!

Having painted daffodils at this time of year with several classes down the years, I can tell you with certainty that the most difficult part is the stem. Too often, children have made the stem at least twice as thick as it needs to be…Remember, it’s a flower, not a tree! My advice on the stem is to make it ‘noodle thin.’

I would start off by lightly sketching my daffodil/s. A small tip is to place them on a sheet of neutrally coloured sugar paper (or something similar) because the light and dark tones stand out more if the background is a neutral green, light grey or light blue. (But it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got a ‘neutrally coloured background,’ I just find it helps. (If you put a dark object onto a dark background, or a light object onto a light background, then the colours don’t stand out as well, mid-toned backgrounds are good when painting from observation.

Watercolour is a ‘light’ medium, very different to oils, acrylic or poster paint. I would choose thin brushes and try not to be too ‘heavy’ when applying the paint. Look at the colours carefully. As I previously mentioned, for most varieties I’m sure you’ll find that the corona is a different shade to the petals. If you choose to use a ‘multi-media’ approach, you could ‘overdraw’ the painting with a black fine-liner pen. Only do this if you have a decent fine-liner, if you do it with a standard black biro it will spoil your painting!

Don’t forget, please send me pictures of your completed daffodil artwork at head@skyswood.herts.sch.uk.

Daffodil Mastermind

Just for a bit of fun, here are ten questions for your Mastermind specialist subject of daffodils! Why not have a go at the quiz. I’ll give you the answers this time next week, see if you can get ten out of ten!

  1. What is the main purpose of the stigma?
  2. Why is the anther such a vital part of the stamen?
  3. What are the two main purposes of the roots?
  4. Which charity adopted the daffodil as its official emblem in 1986?
  5. The daffodil is a national emblem of Wales. It has a similar name, in the Welsh language (Cenhinen Pedr), to a vegetable that is also a Welsh emblem. What is that vegetable?
  6. The artist, Navdeep Kular, has produced paintings of daffodils in vases and jugs. He invariably paints the vases and jugs one particular colour. What is that colour?
  7. Why do you think Navdeep Kular uses this colour for his vases and jugs, when painting daffodils?
  8. Which county cricket team has the daffodil on its badge?
  9. The ‘New Baby’ daffodil is a miniature variety of daffodil. If you planted some New Baby daffodils, how many flowers would you expect to get per bulb?
  10. Which former English Prime Minister has a species of daffodil named after him?

Good luck, enjoy the quiz!

Now for a short, personal story:

I probably wouldn’t now be the head at Skyswood if it wasn’t for daffodils!

This story goes back to late autumn/early winter 1982! I was in my final year at school and it was the year leading up to my ‘A’ levels. I had spent an afternoon each week, over a two year period, helping out at Whitehill Primary School in Gravesend and had loved the experience, so I had my heart set on going on to teacher training college. I’d decided during a lesson-free afternoon to go to the sixth form area as it was that time of year when all the college and university prospectuses were being sent out to the schools. I spent the whole afternoon looking through what seemed like hundreds of prospectus without any success; for some reason the majority of colleges or universities that offered primary teaching courses just didn’t have the immediate appeal. Sometimes it was the course itself, other times it was the location.

I was just about to give up when I noticed a prospectus with the most beautiful picture on the front cover. It was Wall Hall College in Hertfordshire. The picture was of a wonderful mansion (which was the administrative headquarters of the college) surrounded by beautiful grounds that boasted an amazing carpet of daffodils in front of the mansion. It was the daffodils and mansion that grabbed my immediate attention, so even though I was exhausted at ploughing through so many prospectuses that afternoon, I couldn’t resist having a look at what Wall Hall had to offer. The college specialised in primary teaching and I loved the courses that it had on offer, so I applied!

I remember my interview vividly because it was one of the first times I’d ever ventured into Hertfordshire and most of the schools were closed due to an extremely heavy snowfall (early in the new year of 1983). I had chosen to come up on the train to Radlett. It was a heavily reduced service and I had little joy with either bus or taxi when I arrived at Radlett station (which is a couple of miles from Aldenham). I had set off early due to the reduced train services, and just as well, as I ended up walking (mainly uphill) in a good few inches of snow from Radlett to Aldenham. When I came to the college entrance I hadn’t anticipated that the driveway down to the main college, beautiful as it was, was about another mile long!

So, on arriving at Wall Hall College, despite my youthful years, I probably looked like some desperate Antarctic explorer as I wearily trudged in for my interview and apologised for being late. Following my interview I was still in the process of thawing out as I went across to the art department, as that was to be my chosen area of study, along with ‘Education.’

I was warmly greeted by a gentleman who was to become one of my main tutors over the course of the next three years, Mr Mike Hardy. I found that everybody in the art department was so incredibly helpful, sociable and kind. They made me a cup of tea and somebody drove me back to Radlett station after we’d had a good chat. That kindness, along with the beautiful setting and an appealing teacher training course, left me in no doubt that Wall Hall College was the place for me. Now, this a lovely co-incidence as Mike’s grand-children, Hannah and Claire, are of course current Skyswood pupils. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see Mike a few years ago, when collecting the twins from Re-Play. This is when I first became aware of this connection. It’s a small world!

Anyhow, back to the importance of daffodils. I figure that the sequence of events, in summary, is that I was drawn to Wall Hall through a photo of a beautiful daffodil-filled location. This brought me to Hertfordshire and, following a successful teaching practice at Fleetville Juniors in the summer of 1986, I was offered my first teaching job. So I’ve stayed in St Albans ever since. Had I not seen that prospectus, my path would have been different and I would surely have ended up somewhere else.