Alex Vann from Real Arts Workshops (RAW) was delighted to get the call from Heather Wastie from Alarum Productions, to add British Sign Language and subtitles to the film of her wonderful poem ‘Histrionic Water’.
Alex is hearing and signs to level 6 and sometimes does communication support work in education and has previously added BSL to films and live performances. However, when it came to this project he asked his partner in business and in life, Gary O’Dowd, to do the signing. This is because the words of the poem are so expressive and visual that it made sense for a native Deaf BSL user to perform the poem.
Most people who have studied BSL will quickly learn that it isn’t just about doing things with your hands and arms. Rather, it uses the whole body to communicate and in particular facial expressions and it was felt that a Deaf signer would convey this with maximum authenticity.
When it came to translating ‘Histrionic Water’, it was vital to Alex and Gary that a Deaf audience should understand what it meant. It wouldn’t do just to translate the English straight into hand gestures, like others forms of communication, for example Makaton and Sign Supported English. It had to go further and tell the story and almost act it so that a Deaf audience would understand not just the words but the meaning. Alex and Gary worked on translating the poem on paper first, and Gary practiced and practiced until the poem flowed.
Filming was problematic because Gary obviously can’t hear the poem so Alex had to use hand signals and pointing to sections of the poem off camera. Even then – trying to match the timing of the spoken word was near impossible. So they shot it in small sections, in front of a greenscreen, and Alex had the unenviable task of ‘stitching’ the pieces together in video editing software to match the film of the poem. There are some fades between the signed sections because one thing BSL must do is flow – and not jump from one sign to another.
Initial feedback from Deaf audiences is very encouraging:
Alex Vann from RAW said:
We love working in collaborations with other organisations and artists so when Heather got in touch about this project we were very excited. One of our key values as a business is inclusion so making a film Deaf accessible is right up our street. We hope Heather’s film is a huge success and that we get to work together again in future.
Working with BID Services Youth Club
May 6-12th was Deaf Awareness Week in the UK. RAW delivered several projects including one with BID Services Youth Club, Birmingham based around Deaf identity. It followed on from an earlier project we ran with adults in Wolverhampton where we created a giant (5ft high) cardboard sculpture of signing hands, decorated with posters, drawings and words made by Deaf and hearing people (see photos at the bottom of this blog).
Young people with the final giant signing hands, now in the reception of BID SERVICES.
Some of the brilliant creative work being made.
Deaf Awareness at Mossley Community Arts Club
Our very own #DAWRoleModels2019 Gary O'Dowd led a Deaf Awareness session as part of our regular Community Arts Club on Tuesday evenings, 4.30-6.30pm at Mattesley Court, Walsall.
Giant signing hands for DeafFest 2019
A slideshow of closeups of the artwork created by mixed hearing and Deaf people at our joint Art Day with Zebra Access at Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton.
The sculpture will be on show at Deaffest at Lighthouse Media Centre 17-19 May 2019. RAW will have at stall 10am-4pm on Saturday 18th May. Come and meet us!
We are excited to be working in association with Deaf organisation ZEBRA ACCESS on a unique art project at Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton WV1 4AN.
The day starts at 10.30am and finishes at 3.30pm with an hour for lunch (there is a cafe on site or you can bring your own). We will be making a 3D sculpture using recycled materials - exploring Deaf identity, culture and experiences. There are craft activities for children too. Hearing friends and family are welcome.
This is a free event but please email email@example.com or text him on 07472 958534 to let him know if you are coming.
2019 has seen us working with a wide range of ages already. We love to hear the stories from adults and also enjoy when they take ownership of their own work. Some examples of our work with the older generation are here.
Greetings Cards at BID Services: Gary led on this session at Deaf Cultural Centre in Birmingham. The artists used traditional card making techniques such as decoupage and collage as well as new technology – typesetting and sourcing images online which can be printed off during the session to create truly bespoke cards for loved ones.
Presentation to ZEBRA ACCESS Coffee morning at Lighthouse Media Centre.
We made a Wish Tree and Deaf people wrote on tags what they’d like from a potential Art Club. We also encouraged them to make small drawings which were hung on the tree. Despite many protestations of ‘I can’t draw’ I think you’ll agree the results beg to differ. It was really encouraging to see such imaginative work and watch this space to see if we get to produce more work with the Zebra Access group.
Card making at Pensnett and Brierley Hill Active Retirement. Similar to the session at BID Services, this time we met a secret poet. A 92 year old gentleman wrote and recited his own poem about the pros and cons of drinking spirits! It went down a bomb with everyone – a real tonic!
Doors 4 Thought at St Martin's C of E
For a week, beginning on Monday 1st October 2018 we worked with all the pupils at St Martin’s C of E School in Tipton to create large scale artwork with a difference.
The aim of the ‘Doors For Thought’ project was to decorate 17 of the classroom doors with the key values of the school.
Each year group had 2 doors to decorate, one for their own classroom and one for another internal door in the school. Each door has it’s own ‘theme’ based on 17 of the school values or ‘character strengths’ such as ‘respect’; ‘humility’ and ‘creativity’.
We have been delighted that the children were so enthusiastic about this project. It is a unique way to represent the values of St Martin’s and engage learners with art activity.” Alex Vann, Founder of RAW
British Sign Language (BSL) was also integrated into the art sessions which were held in the main hall of the school. A member of RAW, Gary O’Dowd, is profoundly Deaf and uses BSL to communicate. BSL translations of the theme words are printed onto the doors both as signs and as fingerspelt words.
We were delighted to be asked to deliver the art sessions for HeadStart Wolverhampton Summer Activities in Low Hill + The Scotlands areas.
RAW is all about ‘Giving People a Creative Voice’. That is achieved through providing a platform for people to use the Arts to express themselves; break down barriers; build confidence; encourage team work; have fun; try something new and learn new skills.
We are aware of the work HeadStart does in supporting the mental wellbeing of young people and wanted our activities to reflect that.
We designed a varied programme which included –
- inspired by a series of postcards created by a teenager dealing with her own mental health issues. Young people were encouraged to draw and paint what makes them happy / unhappy and use innovative ways of expressing that, including collage and use of text / vocabulary. They designed masks on paper first and then painted on plain masks mounted onto canvas. These were then photographed and made into postcards. Here are a few examples of their work:
This was the messiest art work we’ve done! (Cofi)
I felt happy (Nicole)
The Tree Of Hope
- decorated with print outs of artwork they’d created previously, ‘wish tags’ - written tags about a general wish they have for the world and drawings and statements about their hopes and aspirations for the future.
British Sign Language and Deaf Awareness
- led by RAW team member Gary, who is profoundly Deaf. This included the 'Numberplate Game' to test the young people had learnt fingerspelling and numbers in BSL.
I found it really interesting – learning sign language and about blind and deaf people. It was good creating the images for the posters. (Emma)
It’s really good and I enjoyed learning sign language (Brinley)
Performing the HeadStart song in Sign Language
The young put their newly found sign language skills to good use and produced a video of them signing along to the HeadStart song which was written by young people in association with Rock School Music. The song is all about the worries some young people feel when they leave primary education and start 'big school'.
I enjoyed all of it. I was kind of nervous seeing myself on the video (doing sign language to the HeadStart song) but my confidence is growing. (Keira)
Portrait drawing in proportion
Alex demonstrated a quick way to divide a 'headspace' to get the features in the right positions.
'The 5 Ways To Wellbeing': pledges and poster designs
We used the NHS '5 ways to wellbeing' as a starting point for young people to think how they could 1. Connect; 2. Give; 3. Keep Learning; 4. Take Notice and 5. Keep Active.
We have been very pleased with the work created and hope that the young people have something they will feel proud of and remember for years to come.
Alex Vann and Gary O’Dowd.
Feedback from the young people who took part
"I like doing art because I don’t get to do painting at home" (Corey)
"I found it really fun because I can finally have a chance to paint to my full potential" (Theo)
"I really enjoyed the art session" (Isabelle)
"It’s really good and I enjoyed learning sign language" (Brinley)
"It’s really fun to try new things and make friends, and understand what art is all about" (Nnedimma)
"I found it really interesting – learning sign language and about blind and deaf people. It was good creating the images for the posters." (Emma)
"I enjoyed all of it. I was kind of nervous seeing myself on the video (doing sign language to the HeadStart song) but my confidence is growing." (Keira)
"I enjoyed the art – I’ve always done art and love to express myself that way." (Demi)
"This was the messiest art work we’ve done!" (Cofi)
Mine is about anti-bullying.(Madison)
My painting shows good things at the top and bad at the bottom. (Lexi)
I felt happy (Nicole)
NB: Copyright in all of the original work shown here is owned by the originator(s) including the young people, and has been used with permission. All other artwork, photographs and video are © 2018 Real Arts Workshops.
Alex Vann is an all round creative. He formed RAW in 1997 out of a University project and restarted it in 2018 after working as a graphic designer for agencies and in-house for many years.