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Illustrator Spotlight – Shani Nottingham

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Illustrator Spotlight – Shani Nottingham

Sound Waves Literacy 5/5/23

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest places. Take, for example, the humble bread tag.

For artist Shani Nottingham, the inspiration was to use that ubiquitous piece of plastic littering kitchen benchtops everywhere (not to mention landfill, roadsides, beaches and waterways) and create an artistic statement that could make a difference.

Shani created The Breadtag Project, a long term art/environmental awareness program, using bread tags as a creative medium. It all began when Shani looked at the bread tags her teenage son was leaving around the house and, being attracted to the variety of colours, began wondering what she could do with them creatively.

Shani explains, ‘I made a few very, very simple little pictures with the tags – an apple and pear, I think – using them a bit like mosaic tiles, and posted them to Instagram. The response was lovely, very positive, so I thought maybe I could try doing more of these.’

‘I wanted to find out what colours of tags were available, as this would influence what images I would be able to make. It was then, after going online and reading about bread tags, that I discovered what pesky, nasty, polluting little things they actually are. From this knowledge, the idea of making art to actually draw attention to them as an environmental concern began to take hold. And so, The Breadtag Project was born.’ Shani’s creativity and strong environmental message gained the attention of Firefly Education, leading to a collaboration on the Sound Waves Decodable Reader, Tag Art.

The opportunity was an extremely appealing one for Shani, for many reasons. ‘Knowing that the message about saving plastic from going in the bin, of being aware of plastic pollution, and maybe starting a little conversation about this, was exciting. Also, thinking that it might stimulate kids to be creative in a way that is outside just drawing and painting was really cool.’

She continues, ‘I am also a trained teacher (yep, I went and got another degree, in Primary and Infants Education), so the educational aspects of the book were really appealing and gratifying!’

The process of creating a complex piece of tag art is time-consuming. Before she can even begin thinking of her composition, Shani first spends painstaking hours sorting the tags people have sent her from all over the world. She sorts them by hue, to be used like the colours in a paintbox.

Using sketches and reference pictures, Shani gathers her bread tags and begins placing them in different positions – photographing, refining, and photographing again. After achieving the perfect composition, she photographs the final version. Shani then takes her creation apart – it only lives on as an image.

‘My favourite piece [in Tag Art] is probably the shark; I loved doing his goofy face. I did many many versions of him. There are no grey bread tags, so I had to try different colour tags before I settled on blue. Limitations mean problem-solving and thinking creatively though, which is the fun part.’

With such a creative and educational background, we asked Shani for some advice for students and teachers who may be inspired by seeing her work in Tag Art and wish to start their own bread tag project.

‘There are so many everyday objects that it is possible to create with. Beginning with a ‘Making Things Box’ and filling it with recycled, repurposed items and talking to your students about plastics and recycling is a great start!’

Some of Shani’s suggestions include using bread tags to create data displays for maths, or looking at the dates on them and finding them on a calendar. For science, students can research the plastic that is used to make bread tags, and investigate its properties and environmental impact.

‘As a teacher, I see many possibilities for a project using bread tags, not just with art, but with many different Key Learning Areas.’

If you would like to find out more information about Shani or her Breadtag Project, you can visit her website or Instagram.

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