What?: Dulwich’s 200-year-old Picture Gallery is the setting for this immersive biweekly art class for under-twos, which combines an inspiration-gathering toddle round the gallery with a terrifyingly hands-on pens-and-paints session.
Our one-hour workshop began in the light and airy Linbury Room with a quick run-through of the agenda and, of course, an obligatory performance of Wind the Bobbin Up. This was followed by a recce of the gallery’s permanent collection, with babies and carers encouraged to find the artworks listed in the themed handout. Our subject was ‘You and Me: Family Portrait in the Gallery’.
After about 20 minutes spent trying to interest Bab in the impressive assortment of Gainsboroughs and Rembrandts while she paced sideways along the length of gallery sofas like a crab and ignored me, we returned to the Linbury Room to create our own ‘mini masterpiece’, or giant mess, depending on how you look at things.
The floor was covered with an enormous paper canvas, with rainbow stamper pens dotted around for the babies to doodle with (or, in Bab’s case, try and neck like they were vodka miniatures and she the world’s tiniest alcoholic). There was also a big table covered with bowls of paint and shaving foam, and big sheets of paper poised for a splattering.
Bab got confused by the presence of bright plastic bowls and the fact that we were sitting at a table, decided it must be lunchtime and proceeded to stuff large quantities of shaving foam into her mouth, nostrils and eyes before realising her mistake and having a massive, sticky-eyed meltdown while I tried to unblind her with baby wipes. This was about an hour after she threw up all over herself, me and the woman sitting next to us on the tube on the way there. Despite this rather unfortunate series of events, she still seemed to thoroughly enjoy the class. All I can say is thank God I remembered to pack a change of clothes. Next time I’ll try and remember to bring one for myself so I don’t have to go round smelling like stale boff all day.
Where?: Dulwich Picture Gallery is a 10-minute walk from both North and West Dulwich mainline stations, and a short bus ride from Peckham Rye (Ginger) and Brixton (Victoria). The lush Dulwich Park is just next door and its brilliant adventure playground is well worth a visit while you’re there.
Duration: The session has recently been condensed down from 90 minutes to just 60, apparently in the name of minimising disruption to nap routines. Given that we had to get up at the crack of dawn to travel to the other side of London at rush hour in order to make it to the class, which we arrived at caked in the fruits of Bab’s motion sickness, I could have quite happily stayed a bit longer. As a morning napper Bab’s routine is always going to be disrupted by any AM activity, which annoyingly is when the majority of them seem to happen, but I thought this one was worth it. Hopefully Bab thought so too, notwithstanding vomgate and the shaving-foam incident.
Best Bits: This is a truly inspiring class whose uniqueness is enhanced by the beautiful setting and lovely staff, who all took a genuine interest in the babies and even went as far as to memorise their names and sing a special goodbye song with a verse dedicated to each of the pint-sized painters.
Worst Bits: I don’t know how worthwhile setting a theme and expecting under-twos to find related paintings is, though I can see how it would keep things fresh if you’re class regulars – plus I don’t think you can ever be too young to cultivate an interest in art.
Facilities: Baby changing; step-free access; upmarket cafe serving great coffee and child-friendly eats, and boasting an outdoor area you’ll want to stay in all day – except you can’t because you have a baby.
Cost: £16 per adult and child. For this you get the undivided attention of your own volunteer (there were actually more volunteers than parent-and-baby pairs, which created a lovely, intimate vibe), entry to the gallery’s permanent collection, free coffee and tea, and all the materials needed to create your own mini masterpiece to take home – except I forgot to take Bab’s because I’m the worst mother ever.
Would We Come Back?: Another mum told me her daughter had no idea what she was doing the first time they visited, but after a few sessions she appeared to have metamorphosed into Dulwich’s answer to Jackson Pollock. We live too far away to come to every class, but I do love the idea of Bab gaining confidence in her artistic skills and we will definitely be back to hone them at some point.
Bab ponders which colour stamper pen to chomp on at Mini Masterpieces, Dulwich Picture Gallery