John Rigby Educational Notes

The activities below are for classroom use and for individual student’s information and assignments.

The information here is adapted from an article written by John T. Rigby for The Courier-Mail’s Headstart section on Tuesday 28 October, 2003.

I am aware that art teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools are probably teaching the subjects in this article. I knew of the quality of instruction from the folios of students seeking admission to the Queensland College of Art when I was Officer-in Charge of Fine Art at the College.

A few approaches to creating art works are covered here as they relate to the reproductions in the book John Rigby: Art and Life in the hope they may be of interest.

I would also like to reinforce that in this age of technology and computer art, simple forms of creativity can produce significant work. Picasso, Matisse, the German Expressionists and many others used linocuts, collage, paper cut-outs, plaster and technical innovations, not to mention drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, gold and silver smithing.

Art education in our schools is an important part of the learning process with emphasis on the need to stimulate the creativity of the individual, for Art has become a substantial part of the cultural fabric of society.

Some Materials Necessary for Art Endeavours

Tools and materials – pencils, ballpoint pens and felt pens, brushes, charcoal, coloured pencils, wax crayons, watercolours, acrylics, oils, rags.

Lino, lino cutting tools.

Glue, cardboard, colours, drawing board.

Found objects, glass sheet, India ink, blue writing ink.

Palette, palette knives, Plaster of Paris.

Plasticine, plywood, printing ink, printing roller, sketchbook, scissors, knife.

If possible, an easel for field trips, etc.

Encourage young people to assemble a box of ‘found’ objects. Bits of canvas, odd cards, coloured papers and even newspaper or magazine clippings may be used for collage. Keep one’s eyes open for objects to be used in plaster casts or simple sculptures.

When going to the beach, look for driftwood and shells (only if collecting is permitted in the area – not in National Parks). Fragments of coloured glass can be used to make mosaics. Beautiful gold and silver wrappings from chocolates and sweets, all of these can be useful for collage material.


Clashing Colours


Colours that contrast strongly like blue and red really jump placed together. They will look more harmonious if we mix the two colours and use to overlap between the two. Try also doing the same with colours that do not clash.

If you have some transparent coloured paper, a blue over red will give you a purple, a blue over a green will give you a darker bluish green, and so on.

Some colours give an impression of warmth, others of coolness. Artists may use the ‘temperature’ of colours to achieve optical effects.

Music and sound suggest to us different colours and shapes. One could try doing some music covers that suggest the music of say a piano, a violin, drums, a loud orchestral piece, a soprano, electronic music, etc. What different shapes, lines and colours we could achieve from this exercise.

Night generally brings to us a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Darkness can also bring a feeling of uneasiness in a lonely street. In a forest, sunshine filtering through the trees or the sound of water over stones gives us feelings.

Try doing a painting suggested by fear with colours that suggest feeling. Then paint another suggesting warmth and sunshine. Look at the example of my Brampton Island painting in John Rigby: Art and Life (Plate 35).

Produce another work using zigzag lines against various colours that could suggest different sports. For example, perhaps use paintings like Fighting Boys (Plate 167) and Ring-a-Rosie (Plate 169) in John Rigby: Art and Life to produce even more abstract designs.

Broad coloured felt pens would be most suitable for these exercises.


Colour Exercise


Draw a composition consisting of irregular shapes on white paper. Make them as interesting as you can. Now repeat the design three times using different colours to fill the background and colours in the shapes themselves.

One could use a yellow background, another dark blue, another orange. Use different colours in the shapes.

Even though their shapes are the same, the different compositions now will give us visual messages that are quite different.


Some artwork illustrating children or activities found in the book John Rigby: Art and Life

  • Going home Children
  • Solitary Girl
  • Children Dancing
  • The Girls’ Room
  • Moonlight Gatherers
  • Merry-go-round
  • Sunday in Samoa
  • Lagoon, Rarotonga
  • Shop Window
  • Ring-a-Rosie
  • Fighting Boys
  • Girl with Cat
  • Summer Bathers
  • Fossickers
  • Parliament House, Brisbane
  • Suburb, Red Hill, Brisbane
  • Sunset, Tamwoy, Thursday Island
  • Flower Triptych
  • Loss, Brisbane Flood
  • Mother and Child
  • Girl in a Field
  • Evening in the Suburbs
  • Samoan Market
  • Promenade, Rarotonga
  • Houses amidst the Tombs
  • Beach Pattern
  • Aboriginal Girls
  • Aborigines, Northern Territory
  • Butterflies
  • 24 Small Abstracts
  • Large Abstract
  • Space Junk

Alternation of Large and Small Relationships

Various simple methods to assist creativity


Plate 208 in John Rigby: Art and Life, is a reproduction of a large abstract painted in acrylics on canvas. Preliminary work for this painting was the painting of various colours on sheets of paper.

Different coloured sheets of paper have been torn or cut into various shapes and sizes. Onto a reasonable-sized base of card or heavy paper, I have dropped the pieces. Some will partially cover others, some will vary in size and colour and still others may have neutral or greys in contrast to strong juxtaposition.

To begin with, this may seem to be a haphazard way of beginning a painting. After observing the way the various pieces of torn paper have fallen against each other one may wish to rearrange according to what you feel works. By sticking down the various pieces of paper, one has a basis for an abstract design which you may feel can become a larger painting.

A further exercise in design can be experimented with using your above colour abstract. Cut out a couple of square or rectangular masks of various sizes from a piece of paper. Place these over different areas or move them about. It is a valuable exercise in assisting you to evaluate shapes and colours in relation to one another. Out of this, you may decide some of these masked areas could lead to more paintings or a larger collage work.

Mood and Feeling


Colour creates the responses to mood and feeling in creative expression. Perhaps I could refer to two paintings of children in the book, John Rigby: Art and Life.

One is Children Dancing (Plate 29) and the other Solitary Child (Plate 172). Generally speaking light, beautiful colours create a mood of happiness. Arrangements of muted colours such as black, white, greys, browns and ochres create a lonely, melancholy feeling as in ‘Solitary Child’.

Emotional response comes from using tone and colour in a multitude of ways. For instance, contrasts of dark and light can evoke in us a feeling of drama. Colours that are low toned, close in value, give a feeling of uneasiness, of something mysterious and unfathomable.

We can get a feeling of excitement from colours that range from light to dark, just as colour contrasts that are close in value, especially primary colours vibrate.

Mix up colours on your palette using your primary colours to create secondary colours, and from these tertiary colours of beautiful greys. By the way, I have mentioned the word PALETTE.

When I was in charge of Fine Art at the Queensland Collage of Art, I used to observe students using anything from ice cream container lids to bits of cardboard as palettes to mix their paints on – not good.

A reasonably sized bit of glass, preferably heavy quality and taped around the edges to avoid cutting oneself makes a good palette. Attach a piece of white board or paper underneath it. It’s easy to clean and nice to mix colour on. Arrange your colours on the palette from white through warm colours to cold colours and black.

WAX RESIST – Repellents such as candle wax reject water paints or ink. Oil pastels will do the same. Wax crayon drawings and scribbles on paper flooded over with the wax repellent. Washed under the tap, the ink is removed from the repellent.

SIMPLE PRINTING – On pages 66, 224 and 225 in John Rigby: Art and Life are examples of linocuts. Making prints can be most satisfying. Linoleum, about 6mm thick, lino-cutting tools (V-gouge, U-gouge) black printer’s ink, roller, spatula, sheet of glass, newspapers, rags, turpentine or other solvent.

Paper, sketch book, India ink.

With a linocut or woodcut everything that is not to print is cut away. Whatever remains will print black. White areas must be gouged out completely, although white areas can be broken up by black textures, similarly a black area can be broken up by white textures.

Stick to simple clear shapes. Try doing a brush drawing with India ink on white paper the size of your lino and transfer your design to the lino.

In making the print, the paper is placed on the inked block and rubbed over with the handle of something like a large spoon and the fingers. Of course, it is nice to have a printing press.

PAINTING WITH SPATULAS – Plates 25 (Falling Night), 26 (Muster), 48 (Pullenvale Landscape) and 184 (Moonlight Gatherers) in John Rigby: Art and Life are some paintings executed with spatulas and paint scrapers. For some time in earlier days, I used this method a lot. Mixing up quantities of colour and applying it slab like on to the painting support. Best when applied thickly in one go, not messed about with. Provides great texture and prevents one from becoming too absorbed in detail.

PLASTER – Plaster Techniques – When exhausted from painting, one can turn to other media. Found objects can be used to achieve interesting results.

You will need some wood, a strip with a cross-section of about 2.5cm by 2cm to saw up to make a box. Also required are plasticine, plaster, knife, objects of various sizes and shapes, Plaster of Paris in powder form, two or three sticks of plasticine, a few modelling tools, and a sheet of glass.

Onto a wooden board roll a sheet of plasticine of about 22cm by 15cm in area, and about 2.5cm thick. Into the plasticine area, press any objects that make an interesting pattern. One can also make various texture. In Space Junk, Plate 210, in John Rigby: Art and Life is an example of using plaster and various objects I have used.

Once the plasticine surface is covered with the design, objects of course removed after pressing into the plasticine with varying pressure, one builds a solid wall of plasticine around your design so that you can pour in your plaster.

The easiest way of making your walls is to roll a pancake of plasticine onto your glass about 2.5cm thick, then with a sharp knife cut lengths of it to form the walls. Press firmly against the slab especially the corners so that when you pour in the plaster it will not leak. The plaster does not need to be too thick as it has to run into the depressions you have made in the plasticine.

Pour in sufficient plaster to fill the mould and leave for about six hours before peeling away the plasticine. Leave to set. A final coat of varnish often enhances the cast.

The Art Book


Production of a book, especially a book on artistic endeavour, is not an easy job. I had the idea of producing such a book a few years ago, knowing that unless it was approached in a professional manner, one should not attempt it.

The research is considerable, the expense is considerable, and the assistance required is considerable. Research comes from many sources. In my case, this was helped by my having over many years kept a record of catalogues, critiques, newspaper articles and other memorabilia.

One has to know of the many collectors who over the years purchased works and how to contact them.

The writer of the book has to be knowledgeable about the subject and requires considerable material to inform his or her writing.

Quality in reproduction depends on the quality of photography, mainly 4×5 inch transparencies or older 35mm slides where the whereabouts of some works were no longer known. This requires a professional photographer, who came to my large studio at night to photograph collected paintings, drawings and prints over a two-year period. This necessitated special lights and cameras to be arranged.

A publisher, designer and printer came into the scenario. Contracts are arranged, schedules are set. In my case the printer is experienced in art publications and located in Singapore.

The book goes through a number of designer proofs and, after design is approved for a 240-page book with more than 200 reproductions, mostly colour, the book goes to the Printer. The colour proofs come from the Printer for approval. More than 70 were returned for changes in colour and tone.

It is a long process taking years from idea to completion and sometimes one wonders why? However, it has been accomplished, and John Rigby: Art and Life was launched at the Queensland Art Gallery in November 2003.

Art in Schools


Art teaching in schools should primarily set out to develop a person’s attitude to the arts. This entails the young person appreciating that this is not only knowledge of methods and materials to produce art in its various manifestations, but of seeing, feeling and appreciating the world in which we live.

Learning something about Art and participating in artistic endeavours develops our imagination, widens our appreciation of all things visual, helps with self-critical analysis, and gives much pleasure and satisfaction in our daily lives.

Apart from the world of Fine Art, the graphic arts and design invade our everyday life. From our toaster to our motor car, the artist/designer has been a part of its development. In animation and production of films, in architecture, together with the other arts of music, dance and literature, our lives are made richer.

Art education stimulates the creativity of the young person in schools and can lead on to performance, electronic media and video.

Colour appeals to children most of all. To this attraction, they bring positive emotional associations. Young children prefer simple compositions, while older students are able to appreciate some degree of complexity.

As a rule, children prefer stated spatial relationships and well-defined form to ambiguous rendering.

Schools should have a good library of art books and prints to which students can refer.

Encouraging pupils to express themselves is probably the first criteria in art education. However, formal lessons can be offered in regards to the studying of pictures through books and prints.

Young people’s art has a freshness characterising their work. Art appreciation implies knowing and having information about art works and using such knowledge as a basis for discrimination, interpreting and judging.

Reading a painting involves concepts of design, technique and style.

To accept knowledge as a vital component of art appreciation is not to preclude those highly personal reactions to art that come naturally to the young.

Copyright © 2003-2012 John T. Rigby.
All Rights Reserved.