AGWA Gently: Small Ideas for BIG IMAGINATIONS

By Lilly Blue, AGWA Learning and Creativity Research Manager

AGWA Gently is a creative play project for young children (and for all of us needing gentle ways of being with the world right now).

s l o w    p l a y

s h a r e d   l a u g h t e r

d r a w i n g   b r e a t h

q u i e t    c o l l a b o r a t i o n s

d e e p    l i s t e n i n g

l e a r n i n g    s o f t l y

small ideas for BIG IMAGINATIONS


AGWA Gently was born in a moment of overwhelm as an artist, educator and parent navigating the early days of COVID-19. In my role as Manager of Learning and Creativity Research at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, like many, I felt an enormous pressure to respond, to create online content and to transition much of what the gallery offers in immediate, face to face experiences to remote online resources and digital workshops. I found myself grappling with questions:

How do we now offer children opportunities for slow connected practice, embodied presence and contemplative moments without immediate live arts experiences in the Gallery’s shared communal spaces? How can we bring the sensorial open-ended explorations that are central to AGWA Learning into a digital world, while also offering a visual online pause that might provide a moment of rest in a fast-growing world of content, content, and ever more content?

AGWA Gently aims to offer creative inspirations and ideas that might spark children and families to leave their screens and play with the world for a while.* The suggestions are heartfelt, while knowing that for some families this time might not be gentle at all, that there is enormous loss for some, and time to play is a luxury for many. Our hope is that for those families who are spending time online, these thoughts, words and images might act as a breath.

Each week a new idea will be posted on Art Gallery of WA Facebook and Instagram pages, with an invitation for you to share your creations with us via #agwagently, or in the comments on Facebook. The activities are grouped loosely into themes that offer gentle explorations into the elements and principles of art and design, and some additional sensorial and poetic frames. The ideas are really invitations to carve pockets of time in the day to slow down and tune in to sounds, textures, colours, shadows, shapes and rhythms. There are no downloads or videos to watch. No links to follow, No worksheets to complete. Each idea draws on a simple invitation for genuine connection, presence, listening and play. Even if the ideas don’t lead to actual play, the images and words might allow for a moment of quiet wonder. A reminder to breathe, to feel, to listen, and to go gently with the world.


As an artist and educator my role is to create environments where the natural energetic states of children can thrive unencumbered, they can follow beyond innate curiosity and learn to trust their existing embodied knowledges. The physical experience of shared experimentation, collaboration, and open-ended conversations lead not only to unexpected creative outcomes but also emotional experiences that impact learning. These are not things that translate easily to online spaces. They are subtle, nuanced and improvised ways of navigating the complex dynamics of groups and curating environments that are conducive to experimentation and discovery. They rely on the development of relationships, real connections and the opportunity to be together.

So, at a time when we cannot gather in real time and space, we go slowly into this digital world reaching though screens to the spaces where children are actually living and playing. We offer a few small seeds that might spark some shared discoveries in being with the world, a reminder that less can be more, and an invitation to slow down and go gently for a few moments.

Take care in these new days.


Lilly Blue

Learning and Creativity Research


* This work is born of many years research and practice, the methodologies drawn from an ongoing collaboration with Dr Jo Pollitt beginning with BIG Kids Magazine, and more recently a partnership with ECU School of Education, Conversations with Rain, exploring young children’s innate relationship with the environment as a way of revisioning climate futures.

Lesley Murray’s ‘Black Soldier’ – Remembering Indigenous Military Service on ANZAC Day

Lesley Murray Black soldier 1994. Linocut, 55 x 105 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2001.

Lesley Murray’s Black Soldier is a commemorative work which has both personal and public resonance. A heartfelt tribute to the artist’s grandfather, the work has also assumed broader significance as a symbol of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ role in the Australian Defence Force, as well as in the early frontier wars.

Presenting the archetypal image of the Australian Digger in full uniform and slouch hat, the words ‘Black Soldier’ underscore how Indigenous military service has been marked by patterns of anonymity and under-recognition.

While Indigenous servicemen often experienced a sense of equality and camaraderie among the troops at war, they did not receive the same recognition and support as their counterparts upon their return.

Special platoon consisting of volunteer Aboriginal soldiers, Number 9 camp at Wangaratta, December 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial)



As Leslie Murray noted when exhibiting the work in 2001, it was in recent decades that “the RSL and the Australian Government came to recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Indigenous servicemen’s names were excluded from Australian War Memorials and unlike non-Aboriginal veterans, they were not given land once back in Australia. Murray’s own grandfather, promoted to Lance Corporal during the Second World War, only received his medal in 1989.


Alice Springs, December 1942 (Source: Australian War Memorial)
“I always wanted to tell his story.” Lesley Murray’s ‘Grandfather series’ celebrates the life of her grandfather William Murray


Black Soldier forms part of a series of linocut prints celebrating the life of her grandfather William Murray. While the works hold great personal meaning for Murray, having helped her grieve his death in 1994, she also intended to make a broader statement about Aboriginal experience and their role in defending Australia over the years.



“Many fought and lost their lives fighting in alien lands, for not only their country, but in the hope of making their situation in Australia better for their families.” Lesley Murray

Hear more about Lesley Murray’s ‘Grandfather series’ in this AGWA TV interview:

Tom Malone Prize Winner Mel Douglas and “Three-Dimensional Drawing”

Now in its eighteenth year, the annual Tom Malone Prize showcases the skill and ingenuity of some of Australia’s most accomplished glass artists. Canberra artist Mel Douglas was awarded the Prize this year for her five-part piece Tonal Value, a complex work which demonstrates her ongoing interest in a kind of “three-dimensional drawing.” The work’s elegant gradation from white to black explores how the intersection of objects and drawing can create a new form of mark-making. We caught up with Mel to hear more about the work and how her practice has developed since first winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014.

Tell us about your ‘drawing with glass’ approach and what this involves on a technical level?

Over the past six years, my practice has investigated how and if studio glass can be understood through the aesthetics of drawing. I began this investigation to test how studio glass could become a drawing or expand the field of drawing, particularly as objects and drawings are often thought of as two separate entities.

The technique draws on traditional screen-printing processes – instead of printing with ink onto paper, I am printing with glass powder directly onto a kiln shelf, and firing the glass. The glass is then transferred onto and adhered to paper. Each glass drawing is taken from an original drawing, each work is individual, and these works are not made in editions.

Click through the images for an snapshot of Mel Douglas’ technique

How does incorporating drawing into glass art offer new creative possibilities?

Investigating how and what ‘drawing with glass’ could be, I applied theories of line, conventions of contemporary drawing alongside ideas and rules of geometry to the distinctive material quality of glass. By combining the unique qualities of the glass with the rich potential of mark making, I have developed techniques to consider how line can inform, define and enable an object as a drawing.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach to developing work that looks beyond the disciplinary confines of one material, I have combined ideas and theories from the wider fields of the visual arts, anthropology and the sciences,  extending the potential of glass to be understood as drawing. I have taken the approach, that to better understand a material, I needed to push its limits to see where it crossed over with other materials.

What do you think glass can offer that’s different to any other medium?

Glass may be an unforgiving medium, but it’s extremely versatile. It can be blown, cut, cast, flameworked, kiln formed, filled with neon gas, and illuminated. Artists’ approaches to working with the medium have become increasingly multifaceted—combining glass with video, exploring 3D printing and other emerging technologies.

Glass as a means for exploring lines spatially offers abundant and unique avenues. Being an amorphous material that changes viscosity depending on temperature, a line can be drawn out freely into space and immediately sets into a drawn form, it can hide and conceal line, it can cast shadow lines which move through and in to the substrate.

What was the intention or concept behind your work Tonal Value and how did this develop as the piece took shape?

Tonal Value contemplates how objects occupy space. The space that surrounds an object has the ability to hold and suspend, by tilting these objects in space and changing the orientation, each work holds on to that last moment of silence and stillness before it spills over. This sets up an ambiguous tension, a sense of anticipation and movement within a still frame.

This work also looks at the different values of line that can be achieved through exploring the viscosity of glass, and how the changes in tone or colour change the quality and gauge of line. By moving this image through a series of tonal changes, from a stiff white, which gives a tight, thin and pronounced line, through to black which melts at a lower temperature, the line becomes softer and bleeds into the substrate making a thicker, more painterly line.

Mel Douglas Tonal Value 2019. Glass on paper, 5 units: 71 x 71 cm each. Courtesy the artist. © Mel Douglas. Photo: David Patterson.

How does the physical positioning of a glass work change how it is perceived?

There are so many physical changes that occur when you move an artwork from the studio into a gallery setting. Private to public, it transforms a playful idea into something more defined and absolute and the transformation of glass that occurs under different lighting conditions can be extreme.

Sometimes taking a work from the studio into a gallery setting removes the intimacy: the viewer loses the ability to take in all of the subtleties. However, in opposition, displaying work in a gallery removes all of the mechanics behind the work. It provides a clean defined space for the work to be seen and interpreted.

Mel Douglas Tonal Value 2019 (detail)

How do you feel your practice has evolved since previously winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014?

Towards the end of 2014, I began looking for new ways to integrate line and surface, I wanted to find ways to animate and subvert surfaces through line. I was seeking to find a connective purpose between my forms and their surfaces to explore space; I wanted the lines to be active and directive.

My practice has also developed by my need to extend the potential of thinking about glass within a conceptual framework. Until recently my work has been viewed primarily within the studio glass discipline. Through a critical examination of the potential for glass to be understood as drawing this research has led me to reconsider how my new work might be received outside of a studio glass perspective.

Where do you feel glass art sits in contemporary art practice?

The modern movement of studio glass began in America in the 1960s and is still recognised within visual art and craft disciplines. When a number of artists in the USA [such as Harvey Littleton and Martin Lipofsky] began to work with glass as a creative medium it created a significant shift between designer and maker. Disciplines, like ‘studio glass’ have been highly focused on understanding the material, and in doing so have made it possible to delve deeply into one subject, to learn everything possible from one set of tools and to develop new tools based on discoveries.

While my practice has developed from this modern history of studio glass, I am looking for a different kind of pathway as a contemporary practitioner. Just as craft theorist Glenn Adamson has observed, “in the last fifteen years contemporary studio glass has begun to expand its horizons, focusing less on technique and more on the artistic expression of ideas.’


Read more about the Tom Malone Prize and view this year’s catalogue on our website.

To find out more about Mel Douglas’ work, go to