The barn at Charleston Farmhouse – Artists’ Studio and Musuem
I took up life drawing in 2016; until then I’d only even drawn portraits and things: buildings mostly. Initially I attended Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, turning up a couple of times a week over many months, possibly 18 months on and off, before I heard about the day-long sessions run by sculptor Silvia MacCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve been a regular ever since. I think we try to make 10 sessions over the year, always the first Tuesday of the Month. Maybe we don’t meet in January or February (too cold for the model), whereas in late July, certainly August we are in the ‘summer barn’ at Friston Place which can see us in the enclosed garden – life drawing outdoors. Though the model may need a parasol and sunglasses!
My late Mum (who gained an MA in Fine Art from Durham University) would be proud of me; and intrigued though this wasn’t her style or approach. Coincidentally she was taught by Quentin Bell when he was a lecturer at King’s and says she baby sat for his children Julian and Virginia I suppose. She was from the school of art where you sit carefully observing a single pose for several hours and execute it with scientific care and a soft pencil. She draw us like this, and in due course I was drawing my friends too in a similar fashion. What we get with Silvia is art as being, the heart and soul of putting marks on a blank sheet of paper, drawing from the shoulder, drawing at speed. At least that is how I have come to see it.
Today was a challenge like no other.
Usually a model will make a series of poses, say ten poses each lasting 3 minutes (minimum) or six poses for 4 minutes or some such. We may follow up with poses of increasing length, say a couple of at 30 minutes that a ‘long one’ of 45 minutes. Not today. Never with Silvia. She always has a trick up her sleeve which I feel conjures out of us a playfulness, and character that would otherwise be lacking.
Liz is a wonderful model: beautiful, intelligent and keen for ‘her’ students/artists to have a chance at creating some magic (even if we’re everything from novice to professional). The ‘warm up’ of a series of short poses was instead a series of semi-constant movement using Qi-Gong. Her feet and torso solid, Liz moved her arms synchronously in the same repeating pattern. This was one heck of a challenge. I like a 1 minute pose that I may complete in 10 seconds, but here the movement is constant. I made it up as I went along, at first establishing the torso/trunk and head as best I could, and then picking a moment that I would return to hoping to capture that moment. I then found myself trying to add to my initial doodle in the fraction of a second that position was repeated.
After several attempts at this I then tried different things: making the trunk as hesitant as the arms/hands would appear, and then getting as many stages of the hand and arms as I could – forgetting about the torso/trunk and legs, only adding these later. It felt like trying to capture a moment of a hummingbird feeding, yet Liz moved really slowly. It was a challenging ‘warm up’ – far more challenging that lots of ‘short’, static poses of 3 to 5 minutes, and more challenging than drawing with your non-dominant hand only (left in my case) or drawing with your eyes closed. I proposed ten drawings. I used a fountain pen with black ink. I tore them from a pad so that they could be shared with the class. We do this: all work out on display to view and discuss.
We took a break: coffee/tea and cake.
Next up a 30 minute pose. Liz sat. Looking at it I think I rushed setting out the pose. I do chance it which means I can dislocate a shoulder or shorten a leg, and most easily of all, turn fingers into a bunch of bananas/broken twigs. I tried some pastels. I wonder if I can ever get away from black ink on white paper – that or lumps of charcoal. I lose something I feel when I take my time and it gets fiddly. Or I make it so. I admire the artist who gets the pose as simply as possible than adds a few dashes of watercolour.
Lunch. We bring our own packed lunch as the Farmhouse and kitchen is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I usually bring something or make a dash for Middle Farm.
An hour to make friends and catch up with others. May of us have been doing this for a few years. I was missed at the last three sessions; the first I had Covid, the second I had a terrible cold and the third I had a family funeral.
After lunch we began with the only long pose of the day. I think it was 30 minutes, or was it 45 minutes? Liz got herself comfy on a sheepskin rug and pillows and by all accounts fell asleep. We drew. I ventured into colour – a new development for me. So far I’m only having success adding a simple colour wash to ink drawings.
After that we returned to movement, but this time with a pose frozen for a few moments, even a few minutes. For me this was enough (usually), to get a flavour of the pose, everything positioned just about in the right place with an opportunity, very tentatively, to try and get a sense of Liz by adding features to her face. Liz had music to do all of this too, haunting songs, nothing familiar but all beautiful.
These multiple poses are something I could work with – on even larger sheets, recreating what I was doing today, trying to fit in the ‘right’ combination and number of poses: say three to five main poses, with eight or nine minor ones.
And so the day came to an end – it was 4.00pm. Like others I felt I had been sitting an exam it was that intense, though far more fun.