The Art Sheds: Enhancing the Visitor Experience

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds History, Art Sheds Teachers, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth, Visitor Interaction

The Visitor Services Team is an integral part of the day to day running and maintenance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum and part of their job is to maintain exhibitions, particularly ones with interactive elements.  The Art Sheds is a prime example of an exhibition that requires regular maintenance by the team to ensure that it always looks good for visitors.  Visitor Services Team member Vicky recalls some of the tasks the team had to consider when looking after this exhibition.


A panoramic picture of the Art Sheds, taken by the Visitor Services Team’s Duty Manager Kim

“From the very beginning we were briefed by artist Susan Forsyth and our curator Moira Lindsay on what our role would be in helping to maintain the Art Sheds exhibition.  As it is an interactive exhibit there are a number of things that would need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis.

“Members of our team were invited to briefing meetings with the curatorial and technical staff so that we could give our opinion on what issues we thought might arise from a visitor’s perspective.  As these are actual sheds, they are raised off the ground slightly, so we had to find a way to ensure that visitors with mobility issues would be able to use the sheds.  To solve this issue we purchased a small ramp.  We also quickly discovered that although the sheds are child-friendly they are not pram-friendly due to the small size of the interior and the plinths used to display the statues and the vase so we created a sign with instructions for parents visiting with babies and smaller children.

ink pots

The Ink Pots for the Nudes Shed

“We regularly replenished the ink in the inkwells and ensured that pencils were always available.   We were given a metal embosser so that we could mark the thick cartridge paper supplied in the Art Sheds with a logo and replaced the paper levels regularly. The watercolour paint trays required regular cleaning and visitor art was collected and displayed on regular rotation in our reception area.  Co-ordinating requests for workshop places and setting up trestle tables and seating for tours and talks was also our responsibility.


The metal embosser supplied by Susan to create ‘watermarked’ Art Sheds paper

“One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was taking pictures of visitors receiving the medals that Susan Forsyth designed for those who participated in the exhibition.  They were so popular and the looks on the faces of the children especially when they were presented with a medal was really heart-warming, they were so excited and proud of themselves!


Two happy Art Sheds artists with their creations and their limited edition medals, designed by Susan Forsyth!

“We also took regular general photos and posted images and news on our social media pages to encourage visitors to come and try out the Art Sheds. We liaised with the Liverpool Biennial team who helped us by cross posting and re-tweeting messages, and we even received a mention in the Liverpool Echo, which we were thrilled with.


Our mention as one of the Liverpool Echo’s top ‘Biennial Picks’!

“So many people commented on how pretty and fun the Art Sheds were, and how in particular the exhibition had made their children excited about art. Lots of people also commented on how they enjoyed hearing about the history of the Art Sheds whilst on our weekly free drop-in guided tours (every Tuesday and Thursday at 12.30pm), imagining them sitting out on our Quad over 100 years ago from the view out of the window and how seeing the art in Gallery 7 by artists such as Augustus John really made the sheds’ history ‘come alive’.


Donkey Easels – what a great name!

“I also remember us all being tickled when three large boxes arrived marked ‘DONKEY EASEL’ in big letters and then the penny dropping when the boxes were opened containing the clever little easels with the flip up tops and the benches attached for the visitors to sit on when creating their art.  And last, but by no means least, I loved it when Susan asked us to help to put together this blog to accompany the exhibition, which we hope you have enjoyed reading as much as we have enjoyed writing it.  The Art Sheds exhibition has been so much fun, so informative and we have loved taking care of it.”

The Art Sheds exhibition closes this weekend, Saturday October 25th 2014.


Creating Classes: Kirsty Hall educates in the Art Sheds

Visitor Interaction, Workshops

Kirsty Hall is the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s Education Officer and she is also the winner of the Civic Contribution Award at last year’s Celebrating Excellence Staff Awards at the University of Liverpool. The award for Civic Contribution pays tribute to individuals and teams who have demonstrated a commitment to the University’s civic purpose and its founding principle of ‘the advancement of learning and the ennoblement of life’.

Celebrating Success winner and VG&M Education Officer Kirsty Hall

Celebrating Success winner and VG&M Education Officer Kirsty Hall

Amongst her many duties, Kirsty is responsible for putting on a programme of practical arts and craft-themed workshops for adults. This year, she arranged the workshops that complemented the Art Sheds exhibition and here she tells us of her experience working alongside Susan Forsyth.

“I first heard about Susan Forsyth over a year ago when I submitted a proposal to Culture 24 for Susan to lead an event here as part of Connect 10. Connect 10 gives cultural venues the opportunity to work with an artist for the national event Museums at Night. Whilst we didn’t win the competition to host Susan, we were shortlisted and Susan was keen to work with us, having been impressed with our proposal and venue.

“I was particularly drawn to the participatory elements of Susan’s work. Susan had run a number of ‘Zusammen Choir’ events, where members of the public create and sing songs, so I was keen to hear what ideas she had for the VG&M. In my role I see first-hand the immense benefits of public engagement in the arts, so I was very pleased that Susan proposed another participatory piece. Once Susan discovered that the University used to teach art in sheds in the quadrangle behind the Victoria Building, her ‘Art Sheds’ installation was decided on. I feel that these art sheds give visitors the chance to try out a number of traditional art forms in a calm, comfortable space, and it is this feeling that drove me when planning the Art Sheds workshops.


One of our Art Sheds students taking part in the ‘Seascapes’ workshop

“Susan was keen to involve practising artists and allow them to interpret her broad themes of still life, landscapes and portraiture. These themes link to historic traditions and what was taught in the art sheds during the Victorian era. The media chosen were also influenced in part by Susan’s own artistic practice. The workshops I planned for participants covered an array of media, such as watercolour and oil paints, clay and plaster of Paris for casting. There are many talented artists in the local area who contribute to our learning programmes and whilst we have utilised their craft skills in the past, this was an opportunity for them to draw on more traditional areas of their art practice.

Ceramicist Kirsti Brown

Ceramicist Kirsti Brown

“So far Juliet Staines has led a watercolours workshop and Kirsti Brown has taught two ceramic sessions. In October there will be workshops on Plaster of Paris casting and Josie Jenkins will lead an oil painting tutorial. The workshops are proving very popular and succeeding in introducing new audiences to the VG&M. We like to ask our participants for feedback to know if we’re doing things right, or how we could improve, so I was delighted to read one card from a person who clearly enjoyed Kirsti Brown’s class, which read: ‘Thank you so much for a wonderful and inspiring morning Kirsti!’ ”

The Art Sheds October 22nd oil painting class with Josie Jenkins is now fully booked, and there are limited spaces left for the Plaster of Paris casting workshops on 1st and 4th October. Please call the Victoria Gallery & Museum reception on 0151 794 2348 to reserve a place.

Art Sheds Workshop: Oil Painting with Josie Jenkins

Visitor Interaction, Workshops

Josie Jenkins studied Fine Art (painting) at Norwich School of Art and Design, graduating in 2002. She has worked as an artist based in Hull and Nottinghamshire before settling in Liverpool. In 2011 Josie was featured in the BBC2 television series ‘Show Me the Monet’ and her most recent exhibition, ‘Pathos and Entropy’ resides in Cork Art Gallery.

Josie will be teaching an oil painting class in the room that houses the Art Sheds, Gallery 6 on 22nd October and talked to us about her teaching techniques.

Josie Jenkins with one of her artworks

Josie Jenkins with one of her artworks

What part of the Art Sheds inspired the themes of your painting workshop?

I was inspired by the Art Sheds as an opportunity for anyone to have a go at making art from observing life and I hope that my workshop will do the same.  My workshop looks at still life but I will be using all sorts of things in my display.  I do like the vase of flowers that Susan Forsyth chose though.  I will have to use some flowers somewhere as they are great for painting.  I was also fascinated with the pieces of work that Susan Forsyth selected to display from the VGM’s collection.  I think that the added information Susan gives about each piece of work brings it to life.  There is something in her selection to inspire everyone.

What teaching techniques did you use in this class?

The workshop will teach some of the basic principles of observational drawing and painting.  It is about looking carefully and representing what you can actually see, rather than what you think you know is there. We spend so much time looking at the things that interest us through the lens of a camera or on a computer screen.  Painting from still life is about trying to create the essence of something existing in the real world and there are different ways of doing that.  I will also teach the basic principles of using the water soluble oil paints we will be working with, but really, the end result is completely down to the person making the painting and their interpretation of what they can see.

How do you approach different levels of skill in workshops like yours?

I usually start by getting an idea of how much painting or drawing the individual group members have done before, but the instructions I give to everyone as a starting point are the same regardless of their skills.  It is the kind of subject where individuals can move at their own pace but still enjoy working alongside other people who have different skills.  What I do find is that some people like to be left alone to work things out for themselves and others respond better to having more direct help, so when I teach one to one, I tailor it to each individual.

Can I take part in your workshops if I am a first timer?

Of course.  It is the sort of thing where anyone can have a go.  Sometimes it’s not even the finished piece that matters to people taking part, but more the experience and what they learn in the workshop.

What do you think of the Art Sheds (either coming from the view of the past real sheds or the present exhibition) as a teaching/learning environment? 

“Until I saw the exhibition I didn’t know about the original “Art Sheds” that had been used to house the School of Architecture and Applied Art.  It was really interesting to learn about this!  My favourite exhibitions are the ones that do many things for the viewer and I think Susan Forsyth’s is a great example.  It teaches you something about local history, it presents some fantastic pieces from the VGM collections, it offers an opportunity to participate and it is also visually exciting.  I love the way the sheds are painted, they are fun!  Art doesn’t always have to be so serious.”

Josie’s Art Sheds oil painting workshop is currently fully booked, but if you want to book Josie to conduct a workshop or find out where she is teaching next, then you can contact her in the following ways: Via her website at  or by calling her directly on 07811 081341.

Art Sheds Workshop: Ceramic Tactile Pots with Kirsti Brown

Visitor Interaction, Workshops

As part of the Art Sheds exhibition, artist-led workshops were scheduled by VG&M Education Officer Kirsty Hall.  The second of these focused on ceramics.  We had a quick chat with the artist who took the class, ceramicist Kirsti Brown to hear about how she produces and teaches such a workshop.

Ceramicist Kirsti Brown

Ceramicist Kirsti Brown

What part of the Art Sheds inspired the themes of your ceramic workshops?

The workshops were inspired by the theme of landscape found in some of the University’s collection that Susan Forsyth had curated. These included a small Whistler sketch, a Constable print and the large map of Liverpool. I was also inspired by the participatory theme of the Art Sheds, involving the public to take part in Art.

What teaching techniques did you use in this class?

Each session began with a talk about the project and a look at the exhibition to give the workshop a context. Having the materials prepared I would then demonstrate the main techniques, further demonstrations on techniques took place as the workshop progressed. People want to start making as soon as possible and I find re- grouping often works better than a very long demonstration at the beginning. Encouraging participants to take the idea in their own way so is something that I strongly promote and once everyone has started I talk to them on an individual basis to draw out their ideas and suggest ways in which that can be achieved.


How do you approach different levels of skill in workshops like yours?

I plan session that will suit all skill levels. I have taught sessions to children, adults and adults with learning difficulties throughout my career so can draw on past experiences when planning as well as delivering. The techniques I use for workshops are quite straightforward to achieve and the challenge is to work with the participants and help them to develop their ideas to take those techniques further.

Can I take part in your workshops if I am a first timer?

Yes, I love it when people haven’t had any experience of working with clay and then discover what a fantastic material it is to work with. It was once an integral part of school life, but I am finding that many younger people have had little or no experience of working in clay.

What do you think of the Art Sheds (either coming from the view of the past real sheds or the present exhibition) as a teaching/learning environment?

The environment was excellent and I’m glad I was able to run the workshops in the exhibition space. Not only could the paintings in the exhibition be used for reference and inspiration, but also engaging in an art practice within the exhibition space emphasized the idea behind the Art Sheds project to both participants and public alike. I loved the idea of the exhibition being an Art School, linking it to the original School of Art. (On a personal note, my parents met at Liverpool College of Art in the late 1950’s so I wouldn’t even be here without that history!)

In a practical sense the room was light, bright with a calm atmosphere helping to inspire the participants. The museum staff were really helpful and everything was in place for each of my workshops.

The finished pots

The finished pots

You can book Kirsti for a workshop by contacting her via the contact form on her website

If you would like to attend one of our upcoming FREE Art Sheds artist-led workshops, there will be three more coming up in October.  Please visit our website for details.

Art Sheds Workshop: Seascapes with Juliet Staines


As part of the Art Sheds exhibition, artist-led workshops were scheduled by VG&M Education Officer Kirsty Hall.  The first of these focused on seascapes.  Using experimental drawing and watercolour techniques, artist Juliet Staines helped the attendees develop their own style of painting whilst exploring the medium of watercolour pencils and pens.

Juliet was inspired by Susan Forsyth’s Art Sheds and her choice of accompanying paintings by Lear, Turner and Whistler when she chose the theme of ‘Seascapes’ as the workshop subject.  The workshop, keeping in line with many art workshops supported by the Victoria Gallery & Museum, was aimed at all levels and abilities.  As Juliet often runs both our fun Family Saturday craft workshops for youngsters and our popular Crafternoon sessions, which are aimed at an adult clientèle, she is knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to working with an audience of mixed ages and abilities and attendees respond well to her techniques.

Of this experience, Juliet said: “What a joy to work from a multi-layered exhibition where visitors can immerse themselves fully in an actual Art Shed to create their own piece of work for exhibition or to take home. Alongside the installation pieces, there is a rich and visually inspiring exhibition of works from some of the artists who also taught in the original Art Sheds, which adds depth to the learning environment.”

Here is a selection of images of some of the finished art by the workshop attendees.

Seascapes1 Seascapes2 Seascapes3 Seascapes4 Seascapes5 Seascapes6

If you would like to hire Juliet to conduct a workshop, please contact her via

If you would like to attend one of our upcoming FREE Art Sheds artist-led workshops, there will be three more coming up in October.  Please visit our website for details.