We began the project by looking closely at positive and negative shapes before undertaking a series of exploratory exercises with particular focus on the use of symmetry in cultural designs. The class was also inspired to a degree by the Christo and Jean-Claude Umbrellas project that was undertaken in both Japan and the United States between 1984 and 1991. While our project would be very different and considerably smaller, there was something to be learnt by using umbrellas as the basis for a large-scale installation.
After careful planning and after the production of a full-scale template to trace around, the students each began painting their own umbrella, using commercially available house paint rather than normal classroom acrylics. House paint seemed to apply well to the water resistant surface of the umbrellas and certainly reduced flaking when the paint was dry. The students clearly enjoyed the scale of the project, although fitting all of the umbrellas into the classroom when fully open was at times sometimes difficult as was their storage as he paint was drying. In choosing black combined with only one colour it provided each design with a bold colour scheme.
Each of the participating classes had each chosen a different colour providing six distinct shades in addition to the common element of black. Once complete and hung on mass, the impact was immediate and the reaction of the school community was very positive. ‘The Umbrella Project’ had been quite a lot of work, but the end result certainly emphasized the power of collaboration in producing strong installation projects.