Fourth year Graphic Design - BA (Hons) students, Abbie Swan, Lucy Martin and Yasmin Serrano Price, have researched, designed and installed a garden mural to inject some creativity into city-centre Tollcross Primary School.

Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) has a growing incentive to create strong ties between local Edinburgh school pupils and students of the college. The ability they have to teach one another is vast - insight and inspiration ricocheting in an exchange of creativity.

Recently, one project has allowed for such a crossover of students, overseen by Graphic Design Programme Director, Zoe Patterson. This saw 4th year students designing a mural for Tollcross Primary, a local, city-centre school.

The project was initiated when an ex-student of Zoe’s got in touch. She, along with other parents at the primary school, had started an initiative to overhaul the playground in an effort to improve the health and well-being of the children. With resources being scarce, the parents were reaching out to local organisations and institutions for their creative input. This wasn't the first time the ECA Graphic Design programme had worked with city schools and it immediately appealed to Zoe's desire to facilitate outward-facing, community-based projects for her students.

The task at hand was to replace the faded, garden mural with something new to brighten up the playground. This real-life brief - constraints, costs and specifics included - was handed to Zoe’s fourth years, and received with real fervor.

Lucy Martin and Abbie Swan are two of the trio whose design was chosen by the pupils and parents of Tollcross. They chatted about the effect of the project, both on the pupils and on their own sense of Graphic Design.

“Going to the school and seeing the playground made us realise the importance of the project. It was quite grey, not an inspiring or stimulating place for kids.”

Nevertheless, the children possessed a enthusiasm which, merely recalling it, spread a smile across Abbie’s face, “They were unbelievably energetic. We don’t feel like it, but we’re grown-ups to those kids, so we worried they might be shy, but they were just such fun.”

The initial visit allowed the students to understand more about the space they were designing for, and also to gather ideas from the school pupils who had produced their own suggestions for the mural. From this, mock-up designs were drawn and refined, incorporating the colour and exuberance of the kids drawings.

Recognising their own characters and ideas in the girls' detailed plans was a real boost for the kids “there’s Boatsnake, who I drew!”, Lucy remembered one child exclaiming. Another fond memory of the children's enthusiasm was after one workshop with the girls, the teacher asked the class how they felt.

“They were saying things like ‘I feel really good’, ‘I feel happy’, and one boy said ‘I feel like I can do anything!’” Abbie remembered.

Colourful mural in Tollcross Primary School
Image courtesy of Abbie Swan
The mural has helped revive the school garden
Children draw their ideas for the garden mural
Image courtesy of Abbie Swan
The children drew their own ideas for the mural

The girls spent a week implementing their designs and their mural now takes pride of place within the playground. But the positive effect clearly didn't just rest here.

“It’s been really therapeutic painting like this. It seemed so daunting, and - stereotypically - as graphic designers we thought we couldn’t do something like this. But we all actually really enjoy the hands-on nature of it; the creative aspect.” Lucy described.

“We had a lot of time to chat whilst doing the mural,” the girls laughed, “one thing we discussed was how much we would be up for doing something similar again. It has opened doors. We tackled quite a large-scale mural for our first one so it feels like we could take on more.”  

Abbie described the true importance it had for them; “If you’re doing it just for yourself, you can muck it up and it doesn't matter so much, but this really has a meaning and a purpose.”


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