OBSESSIONS / Ornamental education: Five artists give workshops in Suffolk over the next month. Alexandra Buxton saw some things they prepared earlier

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It was when printmaker Michael Carlo mentioned that he sometimes swings across a ravine on the end of a rope just for the thrill of it that I resolved to sign up for his weekend course at Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery. Art, at the school I went to, wasn't a bit like swinging over a ravine.

Carlo says that art should be all about freedom of expression. Children at rural schools, he maintains, should spend less time doing studies of bottles and fruit and more time getting muddy doing drawings at the bottom of ditches. In his recent work, Carlo documents the slide of the well-tended Suffolk fields into the limbo landscape of set-aside.

Michael Carlo is one of five artists invited by Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery to take part in the gallery's festival of the visual arts starting on 30 January. The others are Simon Carter, whose landscape paintings will be used for a workshop, Les Bicknell, Jeremy James and Jo Budd. 'The idea is to make the gallery a place where people become involved in the creative process, and not just somewhere to stage exhibitions,' says gallery director Barbara Taylor.

The workshops begin tomorrow with a one-day course given by Les Bicknell, who specialises in whole book philosophy. He promises that within half an hour participants will have created several crude book structures. 'One approach might be to press bits of old cardboard, ink and newsprint through a mangle,' says Bicknell, 'The aim is to encourage a wider concept of books by exploring the book as an art form.'

By applying his fascination with the traditional crafts of printing and bookbinding to unconventional materials, Bicknell makes statements which are both humorous and political. As artist in residence on a waste disposal site, he assembled books from fridge doors, garden rubbish and wallpaper.

Ceramicist Jeremy James is known for his portrayal of domestic animals in stoneware clay. His course will be based on observation of live rabbits and hens. 'It's sometimes surprising how little people look. They seem to be working from an image of an animal in their head, perhaps a picture in a book, rather than what's in front of them.'

James aims to capture the essence, rather than the detail, of an animal. 'I'm not into decoy duck syndrome,' he says. 'What interests me is the multitude of movements and expressions of animals. One of the hardest things for beginners is finding a different language within the same piece - making the clay hard and sharp for a bird's beak but soft and airy for its feathers.'

Textile artist Jo Budd will begin her sessions by explaining how she translates her source material into large-scale finished pieces. Some of Budd's recent abstract work used her three-year-old son's paintings as a starting-point. 'He was doing these wonderful free paintings, just enjoying pushing the paint around,' she says. 'I did a print using the kind of marks he was making, and then collaged other pieces on top.'

Many adults are daunted by a blank sheet of paper and a paintbrush. Budd has found that by introducing people to techniques where they have less control, such as dyeing and simple printing, she is often able to help them to overcome their inhibitions. Some of the mature students Budd has taught at evening classes have gone on to take degrees in art. 'I don't aim to change people's lives,' she says, 'But it can happen.'

Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, The Market Cross, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 1P33 IBT (0284 762081). Workshops: book art with Les Bicknell, Jan 30; textiles with Jo Budd, Feb 5-6 and Feb 8; painting and collage with Irene Edwards (based on Simon Carter's paintings), Feb 19-20; printmaking with Michael Carlo, Feb 26-27; sculpture with Jeremy James, Mar 5-6. Weekend workshops pounds 15 adults, pounds 7 under 18; one-day workshops pounds 8 adults, pounds 5 under 18.

(Photographs omitted)