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Life Drawing at Charleston
I’m in the Hay Barn life drawing at least 10 times a year and have possibly done 50 or more of these in the last six years, yet I also pack to go with trepidation, as if I will be doing a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon and will forget how to keep my balance.
With the restaurant closed we take lunch. As usual I scrape some of last night’s lunch into a tupperware box, add some rice, take some soya milk, decaf: coffee and water.
Materials include: wallpaper backing, A3 sketch pad and a small sketch pad. I also took watercolour pencils, pastels, a large variety of pencils and charcoal. The rest I leave to the organiser Silvea Macrea-Brown: easel, drawing board and clips … and providing a model.
Liz is back
Liz inspired me last summer to move my art into the garden and start producing additional works based on the sketches made during these life drawing sessions. I took a long a display book containing some of my early efforts a printmaking too – featuring her.
There’s a pattern to the session. Arrivals between 9:50 and 10:05am for a 10.00am start. Chairs into a semi-circle, set up, some introductions and small talk: hello Susie, Ken, Charles, Lucinda, Laura etc: hello Silvia. Good to see you again Liz.
I tape three layers of wallpaper backing paper to a drawing board; this is how I start. three, four or five fast sketches on the single sheet just to ‘get my hand it’ – something might come out of it, something bold with a sense of movement and mood, or not.
Just relax. I tell myself. Let go. Follow the advice. Be bold, be fast, use my left hand.
Not wax crayons today, but something more sophisticated: pastels. I soon learn that they don’t have the rigidity of a child’s wax crayon. I break most of the box and get as much pastel onto me as I do the paper. That, and as I get through the sheets I smudge a lot.
I think I’ll go back to wax crayon! I can be more brutal with the movement. And this two tone thing might work better. I can’t see if I got much from this exercise other than warming up my hand/shoulder and brain. I like some of the colour combinations though.
These poses were around 3 minutes each.
For a short spell I used a fancy Japanese biro I got from Lawrences – it behaves more like the Lamy fountain pen I’ve used before. Saves on paper; I get a few drawings per page.
And as I show above, I try drawing with my left hand for a few minutes. Had I stuck with this a little longer it is surprising how quickly the non-dominant hand can pick up where the dominant hand left off. There are advantages to this – it frees up the mind, opens up the subconscious, offers you the unexpected.
I then revert to the larger sheets, each drawing complete in around 2 minutes. My aim is to create something simple and expressive that I can use in larger format, as a print. maybe a mural on a wall. I like to think big. One drawing per page, using, for want of a change, watercolour pencils, sometimes as a pair, rather than sketching with a soft HB or large pieces of charcoal.
The longer poses rarely work for me. I become too fiddly and exact. Perhaps I should be drawing large. I’m not good at slowing it down, even though my taught methodology was the three hour pose with a great deal of measuring and careful, exact placing of the image on the page. Not today, not today. Maybe instead of one 35 pose I should break it into 10 poese, or certainly 6 or 7.
Lunch was before or after these. We take over a large, Arthurian round table in the restaurant for an hour. I spent a good deal of time at talking to Liz about her music, planned travels to the Congo and ways to get more attention for her singing and songwriting.
Afterwards, it is back to the drawing-board – literally.
I took along my Liz Portfolio of chine collée prints I have made over the last two weeks. Silvea liked these and asked for photos. Liz liked them too so I let her pick on. She went for something simple – the blue block of colour over her torso in mid ‘qi-dong’.
Playing the guitar and singing
At least 8 years ago I made these new year resolutions of things to do. One, and they are interlinked, remains stubbornly undone. The guitar stand remains, its handy – the guitar (in its case) is in the shed. If I sing, it is with the guitar.
A life time ago, it feels, in a different place (literally) I sang the way I now walk the dog or visit a wood or take a walk by a river. I suppose.
I still have a swatch of songs, the lyrics and chords, all typed out in 1980 ahead of going off on my gap year which started in early December 1980 working the season in the French ski resort of Val d’Isere. As well as 20 or so pop songs: a lot of Bowie, some Beatles, Cat Steven, Simon and Garfunkel, I have my own songs written when I was 17/18. Happy teen songs, love songs and comical songs (not very good songs!)
I doubt I have sung, except once or twice in church, at a funeral or civic ceremony, for at least 10 years. Come to think of it, the singing stopped around the time I also, finally, stopped swimming. Are the two at all connected?
Will something get me started again? It used to be the case that I’d catch a tune in the radio, find a song street, and if the chords weren’t too onerous I’d give it a go. I should.
Is it having neighbours that has put me off? I’ve not performed for many decades. In my teens and twenties I busked and sand on stage. Or drinking waking that bored the household with calls to stop?
Once upon a time I travelled with a guitar to accompany my singing and a pad of paper and soft pencils to draw. No more. But looking on the bright side there is plenty here that I have done or still do.
I took up life drawing in 2016 and attend at least ten classes a year, initially at Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, but now with Silvea MacRae Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve expanded this into large watercolours of the pieces created and since started print making at Bip-Art – I have work, glass, rollers and ink out before me.
Visits to France and learning French have slipped a bit but after a few trails with language Apps I settled on LingVist and have stuck at that for five years taking my vocabulary from 375 to many thousands – 2,500 or more words I know and have stuck from over 5,000 that I have studied. I’ve tired of the platform though and am thinking about a person/video based course picked up from Instagram. Perhaps. Other languages call!
I also got together with other French speakers twice a month in a group called ‘Rendez-Vous à Lewes’ – sadly we lost the habit during Covid-19 lockdowns and the dynamic has gone.
For five years I returned to dinghy sailing, owning a Streaker and competing with Newhaven & Seaford Sailing Club. I went out as crew on offshore boats and even crossed the Atlantic from Grand Canaria to Bermuda via Cape Verde. I sold my Streaker in 2021 and left the sailing club just this month – even though I could from time to time go out on Rescue Bot duties (I have the requisite Power Boat II licence). Other things fill my day – woods mostly! I’m in one most days. Somewhere in East Sussex.
Skiing does happen but has been ruined by a protracted legal battle with Clubhotel Multivacances and timeshares inherited from my late father who died in 2002. The family, five of us, have had to pitch in to pay ever increasing maintenance fees despite the flat being used rarely – and one flat never at all. That and the cost and appalling lack of fitness. Yet I will be in a set slope next weekend and have a month in the Alps planned for January 2024 to mark 30 years of marriage (skiing brought us together and we honeymooned in the Alps).
And then there’s Radio 6 Music. Not on the list but rather an illegible scribble for a song I must have liked. I’m habituated to listening to Cerys Matthews everyday Sunday and got a call out after Jane, my older sister died in April 2022 … and now there’s Craig Charles both are a ‘must listen’, ideally live, otherwise on BBC Sounds and often played two or more times over.
Life Drawing at Charleston Farmhouse
There’s art on show everywhere you turn this weekend with Lewes Art Wave – so how about creating your own works by joining a life drawing class?
Even if you are completely new to it you’ll find you are welcome with this small, eclectic (and eccentric) group.
What is more, the next two sessions, owing to our usual venue in the Hay Barn at Charleston being unavailable, the session this Tuesday 6th September (and in a month’s time) will be outdoors in the Walled Garden, or if chilly/wet in the ‘Outer Studio’ of Charleston Farmhouse itself, making this an even more of a unique ‘Bloomsbury’ experience.
All levels from absolute beginner to experienced artist are welcome – what marks you make and how is entirely up to you. I started out when we met in the Outer Studio back in October or November 2016.
The sessions are run by the sculptor Silvia MacRae Brown.
The models (male/female) are always extraordinary, and have the talent for creating and holding a pose, or creating a sequence of slow movement that we artists/students must somehow capture. Bring a picnic (the restaurant is closed), coffee/tea and biscuits are provided – as are all the materials if you turn up empty handed (easels, boards, paper, clips, charcoal/pencils). £55 for the day, from 10.00am to 4:00pm.
To confirm or enquire (part days are possible too) Email: email@example.com
Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown
I attend with trepidation. It’s not like singing. Imagine singing and finding for the first half-hour you are out of tune and that on a bad day there will be a lot of duff notes. Or is that just indicative of my lack of experience, that I should be drawing every day. That’s how the college student does it: all day, most days down at the studio. You have to train the connection between the brain and senses, the arm and the page.
Getting ready the night before would help; I don’t. Rather I’m making lunch, looking for paper and deciding how much clobber to take from first thing on the day of the class. I cannot transport my ‘studio’ to Charleston so some choices have to be made. I could turn up with a packed lunch and a smile and be able to enjoy the day: everything is provided, easels, materials, coffee and snacks. All I need is enthusiasm and a willingness to make mistakes, to listen to constructive criticism and to keep having a go.
We aim to start soon after 10.00am. The fifteen minutes before hand easels and boards and large wedges of paper are transported from Silvia’s car.
Charleston is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesdays so we have the place to ourselves – though the office is open and someone comes over to help make sure we have all that we need and the chef comes into the restaurant to order and take deliveries and prepare food.
we used to meet in Charleston Farmhouse itself; not in the studio space used by the Bloomsbury group (that would have been cool), but in a small alcove. That could only take a handful of people. I have no idea at all how I heard about the session; this would be November 2016. I’d been attending sessions in Brighton at the Sussex County Arts Club a few times a week for several months. Did I hear about it from someone there? Did I learn about it on a visit to Charleston? Or pick something up online when I was searching for something in Lewes? I know I was getting fed up of going into Brighton but found the life classes in Lewes were booked up.
There were twelve or perhaps thirteen of us today. I got myself tucked over to one side as out of the way as I could be while still able to get a clear view of the model.
The last couple of sessions I’ve taken a large whiteboard; I like the scale. I tape a section of wall paper lining to this with the intention of putting all the initial doodles and sketches together. As the model, it is Ruth today, will move slowly through a series of many short poses I like to try to fit them all onto the one page.
I use Crayola wax crayons; I don’t think wallpaper liner deserves pastels. I would try pastels if I had a large enough piece of cartridge paper – perhaps. Though I have found I can repeat the exercise, ‘copying’ from this sheet to further sheets once I get home.
For half an hour it is like being in a library, or better still, like sitting a formal exam. You can sense the concentration. The model moves like Salome in front of Solomon – but in slow motion, a movement that from time to time pauses for a minute. We sketch feverishly; one artist attacks their page as if they are shoveling coal into a coal-hole, most pick away studiously with less vigour.
I make the first mark. I have three complementary crayons: bright green, dark green and black. I work from left to right across the page alternating colours. I then fill in the spaces with small doodles or larger sketches. Afterwards I reflect: next time I will think of the entire sheet as a composition with the model smaller on the back of the sheet creating a timelapse effect (I hope) where I have captured her around the room as she moves.
There is no stage, possibly for the first time to my knowledge. In the past the model has been on this platform under a large window. Once we brought the model into the centre of the barn. This brings the model onto the floor and closer to us. We can draw in the round, she can approach us. Our angle will change without us having to move.
There were then two short static poses: two ten minutes each I think. I should note it down at the time, but I don’t and by lunch time the order in which I have produced multiple sketches on different sheets of paper using different tools is lost to me.
This might have been where we are invited to do a couple of exercises: drawing with the non-dominant hand (in my case my left hand) and drawing from memory – simply not looking at the model (though later in the day she was rather elegantly covered in a translucent piece of chiffon).
We break to give the model a breather, to admire each other’s work, talk about it and share notes and practices. Silvia was keen for us to take a look at ‘I Live Here Now’ by Liza Dimbleby.
It reminds me of how I used to sketch in my teens and twenties, on the beach in France, in the bars in Val d’Isere and even on the chairlifts. And then it died away until recently. Certainly in my teens my mother had encouraged me to have a pad of paper with me all the time and I did.
We drink tea or coffee and eat biscuits. We get some air or disappear into the barn for a bathroom break (an experience in itself as The Charleston Trust invested into new gallery and restaurant space some years ago – all swish with oak and glass around a small courtyard – like the corner of an Oxford college, a small one, like St.Edmund’s.
Round three: more poses, of course, always getting longer and with length a chair. I think it was 30 minutes or so to begin with, followed by an exercise where we draw from memory – only looking at the page. What I find I do is I recall all the problem solving moments, the insights I gained, and the techniques I used at the time to position things, to use negative space, to use the window from and chair … I lack natural insight from knowing my anatomy and underlying skeleton. But I give it a shot – whatever I am invited to try I give it a go and learn something from it, from what works and what does not.
I’m aware of Silvia doing the rounds, commenting, suggesting and helping correct other students/artists. As my mother would do when she was around she appears at my shoulder but I’m unaware of her presence until she speaks. It is like a voice through an earpiece, almost as if your own subconscious is pointing out something you are failing to see: her head is too large and the neck couldn’t support it.
I don’t question this nor fret about the marks I have already on the page, I simply add more, drawing over what was there even if it risks my having what could look like a model with two heads, or a model who had moved her head and I’d caught both positions. I am not here to produce a finished piece, mistakes are necessary and they tell their own story on the page.
Then lunch. I had mixed up various vegetable/plant based casseroles from the fridge with rice – this is ample. I could vanish off to Middle Farm Shop, we have an hour. The cafe at Charleston is closed. Several of us gather around a large round table in the restaurant. Today I get to know Ruth, our model. I have drawn Ruth three or four times now over 8 years; you’d have thought I would have drawn her more often – once or twice a year. I rather think that if we have twelves sessions a year then we generally have as many models, maybe eight with some duplication.
The truth is when you draw you see shapes, negatives space, limbs, tendons, patches of light and dark – not the person. Is this my mistake? There isn’t time to get a likeness of the model. I can do that, but it is an entirely different skill and requires a long pose, or the same pose repeated in order to spend 3 or more hours at it. (Note to self, a regular Saturday or Sunday slot at Sussex County Arts Club would give me this).
Onwards to a long pose so Ruth lies down. A bench/platform is created from tables with blankets and cushions. We draw on. And once again, as it produced some interesting results and a lot of positive comment we are invited to have a go at drawing this from memory – after Ruth had got up and gone.
Tea. More looking at what others have done and talking approaches. I asked a lot of questions about adding colour and the problems I’ve been having with watercolour and pastels. Keep it simple. Just two or three colours was the tip I took and will apply once I am home.
And then a warm down of shorter poses to end the day.
I scribbled these onto A4 or A3 sheets in quick succession. There wasn’t the ‘flow’ we had with movement first thing. I kept at it hoping to get the essence of something but wasn’t overly happy with the outcome. I keep everything regardless and will file it away once I get home. Sometimes I see a shape, or a get a feeling for a pose later and have ideas of doing something with it.
Once again we compare drawings, talk tools and technique and eventually depart, a few staying behind to chat and help load the back of Silvia’s car with the easels, drawing boards, materials and paper.
Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown
I look forward to the first Tuesday of each month with trepidation; I’ve been attending a life drawing class at Charleston (in the Hay Barn conversion for the last few years). The models are always very well chosen: good at their job! able to hold an interesting pose and ready to try all the things that Silvia suggests, which includes continual movement, as well as movement into a short poses, and then of course the class short pose (one to five minutes), the longer pose (ten to 20 minutes) and about as long as we go (45 minutes).
I was brought up on the 3 hour pose. The single, carefully executed effort to reproduce exactly what the eye can see. This is not Silvia’s approach; this is art from the heart and soul, on the fly, capturing the sense of the movement, the essence of the model. I’ve come to prefer sketches completed in a few minutes, while last time I ran off more than 30 ‘doodles’ onto a lengthy sheet of wall liner paper using wax crayons – the movement continual, each sketch possible a few seconds each.
This has been invaluable on my recent efforts to capture the ‘essence’ of club swimmers slogging it up and down the pool. Capturing the feeling, sense and movement of limbs and water, with the added complication of reflections is proving one heck of a challenge! Going out to sketch trees is proving easier – though fraught with its own problems. Does a tree keep still? How do you fit it onto the page? How do you different between tree species without going into the detail of a leaf or the bark?
The cost is still £55 for the day – which is excellent value for 6 hours at Charleston. We start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm. It isn’t all drawing. There are a few coffee/tea breaks (coffee/tea, milk and biscuits provided). And we break for an hour for our picnic lunch. We can sit in the Charleston Café (they are closed on Tuesdays) or find a spot in the yard. Or make a dash for Middle Farm along the A27.
I go away mentally and even physically exhausted. I like to ‘knock ’em out’. I also keep everything – religiously. This was my later mother’s mantra. I still have drawings I did with her in my early teens, and a few self-portraits done even younger, and the odd girlfriend from my mid to late teens (clothed I must add!). I never attempted a nude until my early twenties (and the drawing wasn’t what either of us had in mind). Then one class in Primrose Hill in the 1990s and nothing until we moved to Brighton in 2000 – and the first classes with Sussex County Arts in Brighton from 2014 or so, with Silvia at Charleston since November 2016.
With the unusually fine and dry weather the back ‘yard’ here in Lewes is a temporary studio. Feeling like San Diego I feel confident to leave boards, easel and all the accruitments of my ‘practice’ out – currently just watercolour onto cold-pressed cartridge paper.
No budget sees me being resourceful. I have come to love wall paper lining and wax crayon. The very materials my mother started us kids off on when we were little: I cannot remember when I started to draw as it would have been age 3 or 4, as soon as I could hold something in my hand and not be inclined to eat it or shove it up my nose or into my ear.
I’m wasting time. I have two drawings marked up to paint and want to press on. Both are someone in water – both are of one of Silvia’s models ‘Dave’ in this instance (my wife has said she is fed up of seeing naked women all over the house so I’ve been working up sketches I have of ‘Dave’ and ‘Tim’).
Come to think of it, that is ‘Tim’ falling into the water (clothed as a swimming coach who someone has pushed into the pool, while the swimmer is ‘Dave’ – as Dave is bald which makes it easier to turn the top of his head into a swimming cap. Neither actually look like they are swimming, which is the problem.
I have been drawing swimmers in action – a challenging task! All swirls, shapes and somewhat reminiscent of a series of too short time-lapse photographs in which everything is blurred.
I digress. There is a class coming up, this Tuesday 2nd August, at Charleston – in the fancy new Hay Barn rather than in the infamous Farmhouse. If are planning to attend or have questions get in touch with Silvia by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want a lift from Lewes email me: email@example.com
Life Drawings Reworked in Colour
My first Tuesday of the month life drawing class doesn’t come around quick enough, so, for the first time in nearly eight years of doing this, I’m making time to take pieces created during the class to rework. For the first time since an A’ level in art 50 years ago I am using colour; it’s taking time to figure it out! This is Liz from Life Drawing 7 June 2022: redrawn onto cartridge paper with a fineliner pen then a watercolour wash added.
Above: Liz, from June 2022. From Qi-Dong movember drawings where only her arms were moving. Various attempts at adding colour.
There are new skills to learn (and costs to meet). I prefer to work on A2 sheets or, ideally larger … which requires a lot of paint: good watercolour can cost £15 for a 15ml tube. I am still trying different approaches: from a small set of watercolours to a few tubes of primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and mix everything up. This is what my late mother did with us as children: only primary colours, no such thing as black, that sort of thing.
Having started with some of the individual and sets of drawings I did of Liz at the June session I then went digging around in my archive. I remember the session drawing Dave back in November 2016; it was only my first or second session at Charleston with Silvia MacRae Brown.
Above: Dave from 2016, from the original charcoal drawing reworked and painted up in various ways
In due course, so long as it doesn’t bring too much additional expense, I will finally use boxes of acrylics, even a set of oil paints, gifts I believe from as long ago as my 18th, 21st and 50th birthdays bought for me either by my motheror a girlfriend. I’ll need to get some tips before I start.
My mother will come into this often. From as young as I can remember we were learning how to create an observational drawing: each other watching TV, a bowl of fruit, other still life: shoes, toothpaste, flowers in a vase – that sort of thing. Each of my siblings and I developed our own styles and interests: for older sister Jane it was female fashion, for my older brother Nick it was racing cars, for me it was portraits and for younger sister Joanna it was animals; in particular horses and dogs. We were told never to throw anything out: I still have some of my efforts kicking about, self-portraits age 12 or 13, old girlfriends from my teens, a pair of cowboy boots … Over the last 7 or 8 years of life drawing (I started out going to Brighton to attend sessions at Sussex County Arts Club) I have kept every sketch, the good, the bad, the half-finished, the overworked, the misshapen, the clumsy … It is to these piles extracted from folders behind or under the sofa that I am now seeking inspiration.
I rather prefer my technique of November/December 2016 when I first visited Charleston. We sat, six together in a small room in the farmhouse. I couldn’t use my learned technique of carefully and very slowly marking up and measuring out proportions, limbs and muscles – there isn’t time. But at least I combined the two: take a moment, take a careful look, figure out where the drawing will sit on the page, get a few ‘landmarks’ in place: bellybutton, head, hands and feet, the external genitalia …
Above: Dave as Tim in the style of Egon Schiele. Tim as Tim – in the style of Egon Schiele.
Over the last few weeks I have ‘had a go’ with watercolour, watersoluble pencils and charcoal. I am yet to break out the acrylics or oils though I have a few canvasses that have been kicking around for years.
If I’ve learnt anything in the last month, for me, at the moment at least, it is very much a case of ‘less is more’ – a wash on a sketch yes, but adding layers of colour is not yet something I can do with any accomplishment. For a start, I need a colour reference – the model in front of me ideally, if not a photograph to work from. This is colour added to a Frankie image:
Life Drawing with Silvia MaCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse
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.
Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacCrae Brown.
Tuesday 7 December 2021
Since mid 2016 I’ve tried to join the life drawing classes run by Silvia McCrae-Brown at Charleston.
I’ve kept all my efforts and have a photographic record of most. I’ve just taken a look over these by way of comparison – I’m glad to see a significant transition from the awkwardness and impossibility of these early drawings.
Silvia Macrae Brown runs the life drawing class at Charleston on the first Tuesday of each month. I go along when I can, Covid permitting. I’ve taken the day off from work in the past to go along. It is just one day.
It matters to have someone with a plan, especially if it is designed to stretch us. This isn’t one of those classes where anatomical exactness created over a single pose over many hours is wanted, rather we have multiple poses, movement, drawing with our non-dominant hand, or with our eyes closed.
Today was different. There is an exhibition of Duncan Grant’s work ‘Duncan Grant: 1920‘ showing at the moment.
So the plan was to work the way artists at Charleston worked 100 years ago – a life model was a rare treat so what doodles and sketches they made were reimagined into later works, painted onto tiles, cupboards and wall panels.
Now it was my turn. I’ve always embraced instructions whether from a coach or teacher – however awkward I may feel the challenge of the new can create insight. Today was such a day.
An idea that had been fermenting in the first idea for something to contemplate in the afternoon was brought forward. The model would hold a pose and rotate 45% every minute – that of put her on a rotating plinth. I prefer the short pose. I find 30 seconds is enough. The race is to ‘grab’ the essence of the pose for future reference. Silvia is a sculptor who often references her own approach to seeking to find the essence of a pose.
I use a Lamy fountain pen and black ink. I used to swear by an artist’s felt-tip but have come to prefer ink on paper for its smudge-ability and inconsistency; I enjoy the fight. Just as I enjoy keeping one step ahead of the blunt pencil by having at least 20 sharpened (with a Stanley Knife, never a pencil sharpener). I only use soft pencils for drawing long poses when I’m in the mood for that kind of exacting task. I prefer to be quick and intuitive rather than slow and studied.
I keep all drawings.
This is a dictate handed down by my later mother who did her MA in Fine Art at Durham University in the 1950s. Quentin Bell was one of her tutors – he was a lecturer there at the time.
I will just show a few here to illustrate the progress. I know that plenty of my efforts fail, so will just do another, and another, and another until it starts to look and feel right. This is what is meant about getting your hand in … like a gymnast or dancer practising moves before a session.
After another go like this and taking note of the instruction to be capturing the essence of the pose I went for something smaller.
From these the idea was to take a pose and work it up as a single art piece, as bathroom tiles, wall paper or some such as the Charleston artists did (not the reproduction tea towels and place mats you might buy in the shop).
From here, whether or not the model was posing (which felt impolite and potentially a waste of a rare resource) we were invited to take a pose and work it up as a pattern, shape or draft for an artwork. I had a few goes with a single, double and various other repetitions and combinations.
And a single pose with colour – something I’ve rarely ventured into using!
This was a breakthrough moment for me. I’ve only ever thought of a life class to be a period of work that delivers its only outputs at that moment, on the day. That any reworking of something would be a lesser thing – akin to copying from a photograph. How wrong I am. Of course artists are forever gathering up ideas on pads of paper or working with models and items in the studio to work up into a distinct and separate work.
For lack of ink and seeing a set of blue sheets of paper to use up I went for white charcoal and produced a series of five multiple sketches on single sheets, followed by a few single images.
I was beginning to feel confident with what I was able to express with a few simple lines. The skill is to let the hand/arm draw what the eyes are seeing and the brain is feeling. Experience, practice and growing knowledge of where the bones and muscles are helps.
We were then invited to return to a favourite pose and work on this. The model kindly took a number of poses as requested including the ‘crossed arms above the head’ which I favoured.
We ended the session with a seated pose. Enjoying using the white charcoal pencil I had only grey or green darker papers to choose from.
A single pose for 35 minutes I did four sketches in each trying to do little more than get the entire figure on the page without making it too small. I then added the colour based on the model sitting under a bright orange/red heater in the barn where we are working.
A delight to be back with Silvia MacRae Brown at Charleston – only 2 months short of three years since I last attended. And possibly as long since I did any life drawing, though I may have had a few sessions at Sussex Arts Club.
I got through 15 ‘cheap’ sheets and a few more expensive sheets. I enjoy the rapid fire drawings and the exercises, such as drawing with you eyes closed once you have the shape in your head. I had already been taking my glasses off to see and mark shadows before adding detail.
My Mum would be proud. I always hear her tips gently spoken over my shoulder. How to observe. How to make your marks. The importance of keeping everything you do.