In 2007 I was invited to teach a watercolour project for 3-4 year olds at the Ecole de Saint Chaffrey by Christine Maynardier. Christine was an inspirational teacher, now retired, who often invited artists, musicians, storytellers, chefs and all manner of interesting people to contribute to the school curriculum. Not only would I be teaching the children and extending my French vocabulary but Christine herself would learn a new skill by working alongside me. What a great exchange of ideas!
Christine was keen for the children to enjoy the fluidity, transparency and vibrant colours of “aquarelle” painting but I was concerned that they could just end up with a brown soggy mess if we didn’t find some way of defining different areas of the painting. The masking fluid was a great idea but I wasn’t sure if the children would have the dexterity and patience to achieve a complex design in the time allocated so I drew out a number of examples myself.
Christine and I took the class on an outing to the picturesque Lac du Casset where I started a watercolour of the scene while the children collected Spring flowers. We talked about the colours and shapes of the petals and leaves. Back in the classroom we used a “model watercolour” I’d prepared earlier to suggest interesting colour schemes to the pupils. The children did really well using the pre-drawn designs, although we had to regularly grab the water pots and fill them with clean mixing water to keep the colours as pure as possible!
One of the challenges for me was explaining the techniques in simple French and I learnt a great deal of new vocabulary during the project. The end results were very beautiful and we displayed the paintings in simple IKEA frames at the end of year exhibition. Then the children took them home as gifts for their parents. The following year Christine adapted the project by simplifying the flower design so that the children could apply the drawing gum themselves. I was delighted that I had passed on my knowledge to such a great teacher! I learned a great deal about the history and traditions of the valley from Christine. She was one of the people who inspired me to write my book ‘The History of Serre Chevalier and Briancon’.