First Impressions

I started my art course today.

Unsurprisingly, most of the morning was spent with introductions and filling out forms. I sat beside a young man who was perspiring with nerves, and a girl with plugs in her ears who seemed very shy.

The course tutor mooted the idea of having a Student Representative but advised we nominate a peer next week when we might have learnt some fellow students’ names. I quite fancied the role of Student Rep myself, although while I was thinking about whether I would have enough time to make the commitment, a bearded man with square rimmed glasses threw down his gauntlet and announced his intention to stand for the role. I learnt that up until two weeks ago, he had worked for a trade union. Despite bearing a passing resemblance to Gerry Adams, he could be a good choice.

Once the forms had been filled in, and we’d been introduced to each other, we started to draw. Today, the emphasis was on developing our observational skills through line drawing. We started with a still life of just three objects, spaced widely, to draw on a sheet of A1 in charcoal. Although we only had three objects to concentrate on, it was difficult to accurately reflect their sizes and distance in relation to each other and most of our early marks were rubbed out, each time leaving a ghostly impression of our mistakes. Gradually, more objects were added to the still life, which made it easier to understand the spatial relationship between them and the marks became bolder.

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Fine Art

After I finished my GCSE Art, I vowed to myself I’d never paint another picture again. It took me twenty years to break this promise but during Summer last year I took some time out from work and went to a drop-in painting class in Deptford.

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I enjoyed it so much, that I decided I wanted to do more, so spent the next few months attending class after class, evenings and weekends, to build up a portfolio with which to apply for a more protracted period of study. I went to ‘Painting for Beginners’, ‘Painting Continued’, ‘Drawing for Beginners’, ‘Drawing Continued’, ‘Introduction to Watercolours’, ‘Creative Sketchbook’, ‘Painting from Photography’ and a few more drop in classes when I had the time.

At 6.30pm yesterday evening, I had an interview for the only course I’ve applied for.  It’s a two year course in Fine Art timetabled around work commitments (because you’ve still got to pay the bills, right?).

At 6.45pm yesterday evening, I was offered a place on the course.  Just like that.  No nail biting wait, no unreturned ‘phone calls or rising tension when the postman comes.  Just a simple “Yes, we’d like to offer you a place”. I start in September. I’m happy.

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A different perspective

I played truant the other night.  It was week five of my ten week drawing course and in the absence of a half term holiday, I decided to give myself the week off.  It wasn’t all down to rebellion though.  A couple of nights previously, I attempted a 5k run with my local running club and for the next two days developed an impressive Keyser Söze limp after the shock I gave my poor knees, so didn’t relish the thought of standing at an easel for three hours.

My drawing course this term is taken by a scruffy little Greek man who has but one working eye.  I’m not sure if he teaches perspective but it should be interesting if he does. I haven’t worked out yet if the other is glass or real, but his frequent tripping over easels all seems genuine. We spent the first week drawing a paper bag, and the second the same paper bag but crumpled a bit.  The next couple of weeks we drew the chunky bits you get in posh pot pourri from a job lot the tutor had bought from a charity shop. Except mine looked less like seeds and more like an eyeball and a willy.

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The class is mixed, though mainly women; some accomplished, some a little neurotic. There’s a lovely man who always places his easel next to mine.  He smiles the whole time and gives my work a constant stream of compliments.  At least I think they’re compliments; he tends to talk at a level only audible to bats and dogs so I struggle a little to hear him and don’t even know his name.  There was also a hottie in the group which got me momentarily excited. He’s still in the group but I no longer find him hot.  That stopped abruptly the moment he spoke and I discovered he sounded like Joe Pasquale.

But the course has made me realise that I don’t actually like drawing; it’s a means to an end to make my painting better. Having said that, I hope I still like painting – it would be a bit of a barrier to becoming an artist if I didn’t like drawing and painting (though it hasn’t stopped Damien Hirst).  I’ll find out soon as my next painting course starts on Saturday…

Slow dance

When I was younger, I went to Sunday School for six weeks. I started going because my mother thought it would be a good extra-curricular activity to do, along with gymnastics and bird watching. I stopped going because the Sunday School teacher would never let me finish my drawings from the week before and I would be faced with a blank sheet of paper again.

The Sunday School teacher wasn’t being cruel as every other child had finished their drawing. My drawings weren’t finished because I moved at a snail’s pace when I was growing up. I was creative. A daydreamer and a perfectionist. I wasn’t academically slow, just physically, and as a result was late for everything. I danced to a different beat.

This was the source of frustration to my parents but even more so to my teachers who misconstrued daydreaming for laziness. It was much easier to label a child lazy than creative and I can understand that being late for school every day and handing essays in after deadlines with excuse after excuse would rile the most patient of teachers.

Occasionally though, I got away with it. My history teacher was a lovely cuddly lady called Mrs Yeo. I remember little of what I was taught, but I do remember that I once handed in half an essay – two sides of A4 lined paper in blue ink – on the subject of the Crimean War. The next day I was summonsed to her office to find paperwork scattered all over the floor with a frantic Mrs Yeo in the middle, desperately searching for the second half of an essay that had yet to be written. She had no doubt that there was a second half because the first half had stopped mid-sentence.

The older I became, the less I daydreamed as I started to believe it would hinder me. On a practical level, no-one wants to employ a slow coach, and in early interviews for my first temping jobs, I was judged on how quickly I could type, not on how pretty I could make the text look.

However, earlier this year, I started to paint again and had a little daydream of being an artist. Later today, I have a meeting with my boss and am going to tell him that I rather like my daydream, and would rather like it to come true.

Negative Space

It was my last drawing class a couple of weekends ago.   A great sprawling still life was arranged on the floor so we could consolidate our learnings on line, space and perspective.  It was also important, the tutor added, to explore the “negative space”.  This has been a favourite theme of hers but a concept I’ve struggled with.  However, put simply, it means what isn’t there – e.g the space and shadow in or around objects, the absence of solid form – can be just as interesting as what is there.

The day before the class, I’d visited some friends who now live by the seaside.  They have a three year old son who was happily playing and chatting to himself.  We started talking about imaginary friends.

My nephew used to have an imaginary friend.  His name was Sam and he was a dinosaur.  Sam was friends with my nephew for a couple of years, but one day they fell out and he hasn’t been seen since.

I never had an imaginary friend.  But I did have imaginary boyfriends.  They were all real people but none were my boyfriend.  One was called Adam, who played the trumpet in an orchestra I was in when I was younger.  He smiled at me once very briefly (I think I may have knocked his music stand) and I was smitten.  On a family holiday to Wales, I remember trailing behind my parents as we walked along wet beaches, with my arm stretched away from my body, as if holding Adam’s imaginary hand.

In my last drawing class, the hottie of the previous classes didn’t show up.  While I got more done, and the results were marginally better, I found myself feeling a little bit disappointed.  However, I finally got to grips with the concept of negative space.

Finding my voice

In Primary school, I had a teacher called Mrs McGill.  She always wore a high necked frilly blouse with a brooch pinned at her clavicle.

Mrs McGill had a very scratchy voice that sounded like the noise broken glass would make if it could speak.  It was more of a croak and my young mind thought this was because the pin from the brooch had pierced through her blouse and got stuck in her neck.

I went to my drawing class today.  The tutor also has a scratchy voice but does not wear a brooch.  She has a vocal disability which means that her voice is barely above a whisper and it is a struggle for her to speak.  However, because she’s good and worth listening to, there is absolute silence in the room when she does talk.  Last week, she asked me if I could be her voice and call the class to attention which I did with an authoritative “Oi!!” to all.  I felt privileged, as if I’d just been given the honour of prefect (which I sadly missed out on at school because I wasn’t good enough).

We worked with charcoal again today and were warned it was going to be messy so I wore my funeral attire.  The theme was contrast and tone and our main piece was to draw our outerwear – coats, scarves, bags etc. – casually draped over a chair.  I meant to draw my coat and bag, but by the time I’d finished sketching my coat, it filled the page so I had no room for my bag.  Shame really, as it was my best handbag.

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