You can’t turn on the TV or go online at the moment without seeing a mural. Whether they are in car adverts, backdrops to photoshoots or decorating the offices of the world’s leading companies, they seem to be everywhere. They have always been an effective way of making a point in a very visual way that anyone can understand, from the religious murals of the Renaissance to the political murals of the deep South and Northern Ireland; large scale art doesn’t just decorate blank walls, it gets people looking up and taking notice. It is an industry that I love passionately, after running my mural company Charlotte Designs for 13 years.

My name is Sarah Hodgkins and sixteen years ago, I had my first child. As a trained interior designer, I was excited at the prospect of designing my baby’s nursery, I know how important the environment is on people and this is particularly amplified for children. So, imagine my dismay at the lack of interesting design options for the nursery, I was shocked. I decided to take matters into my own hands and painted a small mural on my daughter’s wall as part of a pretty, garden themed nursery. A room she loved and remembers clearly to this day.

That is how Charlotte Designs began. Other Mum friends asked me to design rooms for their children, some with specific design issues, others just to get something special for their child and I quickly saw how both parents and children responded to these rooms, the murals particularly. So in 2009, with 4 years of mural painting behind me and my youngest going off to school, I decided to restructure the business and focus solely on murals.  Roll on to 2018 and I have now painted over 350 murals for homes, schools and businesses up and down the country, inside, outside and on ceilings and doors. It is a bit of a standing joke that if you stand still too long next to me, I will probably paint you!

Unsurprisingly, the first school I painted was my own children’s primary school. They were having problems with the toilet’s being graffitied, so we ran a competition for the boys and girls in years 4 to 6. The boys designed cars and the girls beach huts, we picked four of each and recreated them as faithfully as possible. It was hugely successful. Not only did the toilets not suffer from graffiti again, but even when the toilets were eventually properly upgraded many years later, there was a near riot when it was rumoured that the murals might go, even though most of the artists had long left the school.

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Creativity needs the right space to flourish as Professor Ken Robinson emphasised in his famous TED Talks on nurturing creativity in our education system, (he has done a few on this topic which are worth watching). Many schools are tight on space and budget, so it might surprise you to learn that over 90% of my school clients ask me back to do further work, one mural it seems, isn’t always enough! This shows there is always money and wall space available if the outcome is worth it.

So is it worth it? Well, the fact is that the vast majority of Charlotte Designs’ school clients receive an ‘Outstanding’ from Ofsted. Now whilst that can’t be just because they have had murals painted, it does show a clear link between schools who place importance on their environment and the standard of learning achieved. Here are some reasons why:

 

  • Murals contribute hugely to the school buildings and grounds providing an aesthetically stimulating environment for learning, as well as a useful resource for teachers. (Professor Ken Robinson would be very pleased). Many schools have many blank, uninspiring areas such as corridors or playground walls that need an injection of colour and form.

 

  • Value is seen in the juxtaposition of frequently changed displays of student’s work next to high quality work by experienced practitioners. There is plenty of research to show that exposure to art is very good for the brain, however old you are. As we get to understand more about how the human brain works, it is now recognised that art boosts productivity, lifts the spirits and increases wellbeing.

 

  • Mural projects inspire ownership and goal sharing. They encourage participation for all, even large groups and work for a wide range of ages and abilities.

 

  • Working with experienced artists and practitioners provides links with the local community and experience of working on a collaborative project. Without exception, the process of designing and having a mural painted is something that the whole school community engages with, parents, pupils and parents alike; as well as the wider community.

 

  • Exposure to high quality works of art encourages students to formulate their individual responses to art, exploring their feelings and discussing their emotions, not just creating works of their own.

 

  • Murals can be effective at delivering key messages (such as the importance of exercising, healthy eating and safety messages) in a creative and inclusive way.

 

  • Murals are particularly effective in communicating with those children with learning issues. I have a number of heart-warming stories about how my murals have helped children with autism to feel safe and secure in their schools.

 

  • Lastly, don’t forget the very simple fact that murals provide a long lasting and valued resource for learning. You can sit a whole class down in front of a mural and teach.
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I have some wonderful testimonials from school teachers, heads and governors and many reference sites throughout the UK. Used to working to budgets, if you have a limited amount to spend, it is not a problem, I can design to budget. There are however, many sources of funding that can be applied for and I can help to find and secure these.

If you would like to explore your options, Charlotte Designs provides free consultations and quotations. More information can be found at www.charlottedesigns.co.uk/educational-murals-schools/

 

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