Armchair Gallery

How to run a creative workshop based on Boatswain Portrait

Artwork by Clifton Tomson, created in 1808

About this activity

Workshop themes

  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Gardening
  • Outdoors
  • The seasons
  • Walking


  • Suitable for groups
  • Suitable for one to one

Difficulty level




  • Name badges (for all participants and staff).


  • Go around the room and make eye contact with everyone, shake their hand and say hello.
  • Ask everyone not to laugh (for a set amount of time). This is effective as it encourages people to start smiling and laughing – breaking the rules!
  • Set various challenges for the group to do or say and see if they can do it without laughing.
  • Ask participants if they have any good jokes to tell.
  • You could also hand out silly photographs or captions. Why not try some tongue twisters?
  • This warm-up is great to add humour and it aims to break down any barriers that the group may have.




  • Look at the artwork using the Armchair Gallery app.
  • Welcome and invite the person or group to create with you and write their answers on the flip chart. Ask open-ended questions (like in the list to the right).
  • Affirm/echo all their answers - together we build a story that can have sound, movement, words - even drawings.
  • Retell the story, then invite them to add another creative element like sound, or movement.

Suggested Questions

  • What is going on in the picture?
  • What colours can you see in this picture?
  • Who do you think the dog belongs to?
  • Why do you think this was painted?
  • Where do you think this is exhibited/presented?
  • What breed of dog do you think it is?
  • What would you call this dog?
  • How would it feel if you were to stroke it?
  • What emotion do you think the artist wants us to pick up on when looking at this?

Play this video

Workshop members can watch this on their own tablet, or you can play it to the group by connecting your tablet to a TV or projector. It can also be downloaded from the Armchair Gallery website.

Interact with the artwork

At this point in the workshop participants should have a go at using the app to interact with the artwork. From the main menu, enter Newstead Abbey, select Boatswain Portrait and tap Interact and play.

Multi-Sensory Exploration, Part 1


  • iPad or laptop and speakers for sound.
  • A selection of fur like materials (ranging in length, colour and texture).
  • Edible soil.
  • Mud mask.
  • Hay, straw or wood chippings.


  • Many different, relaxing, outdoor sounds and music can be found on YouTube. You could also incorporate dogs barking etc.
  • You could play this outdoor themed piece of music.

Multi-Sensory Exploration, Part 2


  • This activity is based on an outdoors theme and can be explored using sensory prompts. Pass around some edible soil for the group to try.
  • Edible soil can be found in old sweetshops, or you could make your own by grating some chocolate.


  • Pass around a variety of fur like materials to touch and explore with the group. Try and source furs that differ in colour, length and in texture. This will promote curiosity and discussion about what type of dog they could belong to.
  • Use a mud mask that would usually be for beauty treatments on the face. Pass this around giving members of the group a chance to touch and rub it into their hands. Once the group has explored its qualities, pass around a bowl of water and towel for them to wash it off.

Multi-Sensory Exploration, Part 3


  • Re-create dog footprints into a tray full of sand.
  • Explore using your hands to create dog footprints? Ask the group to think carefully and to visualise what the prints look like before indenting them into the sand.
  • Repeat this process until everyone has had the opportunity to re-create the dog footprints in the sand.
  • If the group is struggling with this concept – use an inkpad and fingerprints instead. Create individual paths or make fingerprints by walking on paper with fingers.


  • Pass around fresh hay or straw. This will evoke a damp, outdoor smell. This may prompt thoughts, feelings and memories of the outdoors, fresh air and walking the dog.

Making: Miniature Garden


Ask/support each group member to show everyone their artwork if they are comfortable with that. Prompt comments and discussion with the group. Congratulate everyone on taking part in the session and completing their artwork. Display the completed artwork from all of the participants where people have a clear view of the outcomes.

Thank everyone for coming and being part of the session. End the session with a big round of applause and shake everyone’s hands.


Getting Materials

You should be able to get most of the materials mentioned in this guide at your local arts supplier.

They are also avaiable on Amazon. If you shop via Amazon Smile (using the button below - UK only), then we will recieve a donation that we can put towards our work with older people.

Other Apps

You could use these other apps to further explore digital technology in your workshop.