Watercolour Paintings of Antarctica
12 July 2018
Christ Church CE Primary School, Camden
Blog by Clare Dudeney

(click on photos to see more)

This beautiful Antarctic watercolour painting is by a year 4 student and shows a ship in the distance and pink penguin poo in the foreground.

In July 2018, we (Clare Dudeney, Mario Petrucci, Christabel Forbes and Helen Mason) ran a workshop on Antarctica at Christ Church CE Primary School, Camden, working with Years 3 and 4. The workshop started with a presentation by Clare on Antarctica’s geography, wildlife, explorers and the experience of visiting as an ‘Artist in Residence’ on a tourist ship with One Ocean Expeditions in January 2018. There were lots and lots of questions throughout the workshop. Then, the children made watercolour paintings and wrote poetry, imagining they were a creature or person in Antarctica.

Clare showed how ice cover changes seasonally in Antarctica, building up in winter and breaking off in summer to form icebergs, which can be huge. She gave some lesser known insights about penguins: they often walk in each other’s footsteps to conserve energy, creating penguin highways in the snow; their poo is pink and can be seen from space, it’s used to track changes in the penguin population from space. In the Falkland Islands penguins and sheep sometimes wonder around together! (Photos of penguins: by Clare Dudeney, photo of Clare and John Dudeney in a zodiac boat, by Steve Rose).
On the voyage, Clare witnessed the first ever video tagging of a Minke whale by Dr Ari Friedlaender, an associate professor from the University of California, and WWF Australia. This meant as they videoed the whale; it filmed them. The footage also showed how the whale feeds on mighty gulps of krill. (photo credit: John Dudeney).

Antarctica is protected for peace and science. It’s like no other place on Earth: you can see for hundreds of miles without air pollution, hear near silence and feel an excitement and isolation of visiting places that very few people have reached. Helen, who has been to Antarctica several times, explained how important it is to wear suitable clothing – including warm waterproof clothes and sunglasses because the Sun is very bright, especially when reflected from the snow. The UV radiation is also very strong.

Clare explained how her father, Dr John Dudeney, had worked in Antarctica for 50 years (with the British Antarctic Survey until he retired). Initially going there as a young man for two years on a base with twelve men, cut off from the outside world. There was no Internet then, so they communicated with radios and the occasional letter brought by passing ships. The children imagined they were in Antarctica, for example, sliding on the ice like a penguin, swimming in the water like a whale or colourful sea creature, flying through the air like an albatross or living aboard a ship or in a research station. They made watercolour paintings of what this might be like, by dipping watercolour paper in water and very quickly moving paint across the surface. They made some beautiful art work, and really seemed to enjoy this activity.

Mario Petrucci, a poet, asked everyone to write their names on a piece of paper. Most people wrote it in tiny letters in the corner. He said make it big, colourful and poetic. Then he asked everyone to write: who they are, what they sense (see, hear, smell, taste and/or touch) and what their message is to the world. He said ‘Every one of you will write a poem’, and they did! These profound little poems accompanied their artwork.

The children shared their poems. The teacher remarked ‘ The poetry activity was cleverly structured and enabled the children to be creative in their own way, within a simple and achievable framework’.

Christabel Forbes set up an art gallery of the watercolour paintings. She explained how important it is to appreciate the work quietly without touching. Students picked out paintings they liked and found interesting and then explained why.

Edward Bray, one of the teachers, said: ‘One of the best aspects of the workshop was that the children got to meet a range of people with different backgrounds (art, science, poetry) who all have an interest in Antarctica. Meeting ‘real people’ from out in the ‘real world’ is very exciting for them, as you could probably tell from the range of questions they asked.’

The children loved using watercolours and wanted to paint pictures of other countries. Here is just some of their feedback: ‘I liked the watercolour painting because it made me really creative’, ‘I learnt that the coldest temperature in Antarctica is -90C and you can’t have penguins as pets’, ‘I learnt that when icebergs crack it makes a loud noise’, ‘I learnt that you can’t touch penguins but when you go near them, they come to you’, ‘I learnt that putting together the most random colours makes the most beautiful colour’, ‘I love art. I did not know that penguin poo is pink’.