The Animal Olympics - Gylemuir Primary School and Edinburgh College of Art

Little Girl with Horse Puppet
Category: Live Literature

The Animal Olympics 2012 was an informative, inspiring and creative collaboration between Gylemuir Primary School and Edinburgh College of Art. The project was organised by Jonathan Gibbs, Programme Director in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and used Live Literature funds to invite Vivian French and Cate James to take part. Jonathan tells us more....

The Animal Olympics project was an opportunity to work with school pupils in writing and illustrating stories and connects to a larger plan in relating Art College and University studies to the school curriculum. 

We visited Gylemuir Primary School three times, introducing the list of animals and their Olympic events, dividing the pupils and students into eight groups. We began to invent ideas for models and sets for the events.

The second visit allowed for more development, with each group presenting and explaining its work with a third visit enabling the students to assist pupils in finishing the construction of the animals.

Vivian French noted the importance of writing as well as illustration stating, "As well as thinking about the visual representation of the Animal Olympics, we talked a lot about what the spectators might be saying, and we wrote copious notes to use later in the speech bubbles. We also discussed the way sports reports are put together, and thought about the style, vocabulary and syntax - and contrasted this with the way a spectator might describe an event when he or she went home to their family. We made lists of 'action words' that might be useful to a reporter, and thought of the way we'd describe the feelings of a winner as against those of a loser … and the feelings of someone who fell over in the first few yards!"

Finally the pupils visited ECA for the staging of the Animal Olympics 2012. Models and sets were brought together. These were then viewed, celebrated and photographed. Everyone participated in the awards ceremony at which medals were awarded to all the children.

We learned of the great fund of energy, imagination and inventiveness within each child, at all levels of ability. We also developed ways of working in collaboration with a class of primary school pupils. Consideration, discipline and organisation were necessary in bringing together rather disparate and ambitious aims. For example: How does a Rhinoceros do the pole-vault? 

Having learned much from Gylemuir, we plan to progress to other aspects of narrative; words, pictures and objects; storytelling and book illustration, in other schools.  

The Animal Olympics was a concentrated theme, with a clear set of tasks. As such, there was storytelling, character development and words with pictures all contributing to the final event. The Illustration students made badges, one for each child, with the name of the animal and its Olympic event. The school has kept the models, which have been exhibited and seen by a wider audience. Each pupil received a gold medal. All together, this was a cheerfully creative event with more serious aspects, enabling art students to work with primary school children and consider the nature of art and design at various stages of eductaion.  

All the work was vivid, expressive, and extraordinary. 

The ECA students had an excellent affinity with the young pupils and were able to inspire them in making really imaginative interpretations of the themes. Vivian French expertly coordinated and enthused the entire group throughout the whole process and added:

When the school came into ECA to see the exhibition we wrote a participatory story; the students illustrated the different events as the story progressed. Afterwards several children said they'd had a lot of fun writing the story … they sounded extremely surprised! But we were delighted. It was indeed a great event. 


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