Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Back to work

Great to get back to work today after a week off, despite the grey drizzle. I need to use my time constructively when I'm in one of my spaced out and 'distant' states, as I so often am.
Lots of little black or grey lambs in the pastures, more ploughed fields. White blackthorn and pink flowering cherry. Primroses in my back garden. Spring keeps coming earlier.
So this morning was the Adult Foundation Course at the college, and they were doing portraits. It was an easy session for me. The first twenty minutes or so they were copying muscle structure from anatomy hand-outs so I had nothing to do except chat with the tutor and sit on the radiator, until it got too hot. Then I sat on a big cushion on a table staring at a black mark on the opposite wall, for half an hour, trying to smile with my cheek muscles not my mouth (it's very difficult to keep a smile with your mouth for long, the muscles get so tired and droop. I learnt to raise the cheek muscles and 'smile with the eyes' while singing, it's a very useful technique for Eastern European and Georgian songs, in particular. Alters the resonance).
I didn't manage to get any writing done during half term, as I'd planned. My daughter was in a show all week, and in-between taking her there and helping out front-of-house I just relaxed. So yesterday I started actually writing my novel, and promptly slid into a mini-depression. It will be a triumph of self-help psychology if I ever get it finished.
After the break, our students had a demonstration on how to work with gouache. There are 'hot' colours and 'cold' colours, and the hot ones need to be daubed on first before layering colder ones over the top. I loved the names - cadmium, prussian blue, cerulean. They remind me of a set of Lakeland coloured pencils I had as a child with magical names - burnt umber, burnt sienna, crimson. Back to the original pose for me as they started painting over their pencil line drawings, with constant help and advice from the tutor. At the end they all had to turn their pictures round, unfinished in most cases, for appraisal.
I do like working with this group. They are mainly mature women, of varying standards and experience, and they give me hope and inspiration.
On the way home I called in on a friend who was printing out a story for me - my printer is currently non-functional - and I posted it off to a competition. The deadline is tomorrow...
This evening I had the Adult Learning and Leisure group again. The previous one had been cancelled, and only eight people turned up for this session, one of them half way through after bad traffic on a motorway somewhere. Their brief was to work on sight-size drawings this week - strict measurement with rulers, drawing me exactly the same size as I appeared from their various viewpoints. The tutor set them an experiment to start with, to do two drawing, one in charcoal and one in pencil, whatever size they wanted to. The aim was to see whether they drew larger in charcoal than pencil (some did, but not all), and how much larger than sight-size they usually worked. When they'd done those they had to measure and do a calculation as to the difference - most of the sight-size drawings would be half or a third of their normal ones. The evening ended with some titchy little fairy drawings of me sprawled on a mat for forty minutes.
Not sure if my aching shoulder muscles are due to the modelling, yesterday's gym session, or so much driving. Probably a combination of all three. I must book another massage.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

charcoal and chalk

A lovely quiet week. My Tuesday session was cancelled at lunchtime with a phone call saying that the tutor was off sick, so all I had was an hour and a half on Thursday at the college.
It was sunny for the second day running. Felt like Spring. The City and Guilds class were starting to feel like individuals at last, after being an amorphous mass of blue jeans for weeks. This session they had to work in charcoal and chalk, as they needed two charcoal drawings for their portfolios. They started by covering the whole paper with charcoal, then worked with a rubber to reveal the paper underneath, trying to make the drawing look 3D with tone and adding chalk for the highlights.
The first pose was head only, nice and easy for half an hour, could even keep my dressing gown and slippers on. The second pose was down to my waist for nearly an hour, which could have been very boring except that the students kept me amused with their horseplay. Charcoal is very messy stuff, and they took full advantage of the fact. I could see who was smudging whose face and attacking each other with long black lines, even if the tutor's back was turned. Several of them were sent off to the toilets to wash at various times.
They all finished before the end of the session, and even though they were supposed to come back with their sketch books and use the last ten minutes or so usefully, they seemed to take rather a long time in cleaning up, and eventually the tutor gave up and told me I could finish. He also confided that he hated charcoal as a medium.
Well, that's the last modelling work for over a week as it's half term round here, so I suppose I'd better get on with my writing. I made a good start on Friday with three hours researching at the local paper, and I have to admit to writing a few new poems recently... but that's another story.
Will be back when I have more to report.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

February fill-dyke

Heavy snowfall across all of Britain, schools closed, chaos on the railways. It was raining here. I drove to the college past newly-ploughed fields to find that ten of the young group of students had made it - nine of them in straight-leg blue jeans and trainers again.
This week they were working on tone. The room was quite cold, and I was given a plastic chair to sit on. I padded it with any available fabric, and was allowed to keep my slippers on and the bottom half of my dressing gown draped over my legs. Light from above, looking to my right, for one hour. Followed by light from below and looking to my left for half an hour. Very boring session. Apart from noting the tutor's remarks about how the nose is like a ski slope and the chin is a tangerine stuck on below the lower lip.
On Thursday evening I had a full body massage at home from a friend of mine, aaaah, much-needed and totally blissful. Unfortunately my shoulders were then gently aching all night from the tension she'd released and I found it hard to sleep.
Friday morning was more heavy rain. I noted three soggy newborns in the lambing field on the way to work. As expected, the Foundation Course students were still recovering from their North Africa trip, and not one made it into college that day. I was handed over to the other tutor I've been talking with, but his students seemed reluctant to turn up on a Friday morning too. We started the session late, with only three of them up to the break, and as their previous model couldn't or wouldn't do standing poses, he asked me to do those please, leaning on the wall or a table. A very gentle taskmaster this one, kept asking me if I was OK for another ten minutes, didn't work me hard at all. My shoulders felt better after leaning on a wall for half an hour, at least, and I was able to think about my forthcoming visit to the archives of the local paper for research - next Friday, as the college have a training day.
This tutor is much less talkative than the other, but does seem to have a good relationship with his students. He was showing them sketches and pictures by Pierre Bonnard (I wrote the name down this time so I wouldn't forget), and plenty more of them turned up after the break - thirteen in total. A very mixed and interesting group to observe. They had a variety of hair styles (long, scruffy pony tail, dyed, bleached, streaked, shaved), jeans in black and even white as well as blue, sometimes frayed and holed. There were more colours too, and even a tartan short skirt and Goth eye-liner - definitely my sort of teenagers. And they had their very own Eccentric Painter too, with a box full of paints and a habit of muttering and producing odd and interesting pictures. Must be an archetype then.
The second part was a repeat of the half hour standing pose, leaning on the wall, followed by half an hour sitting down. All quite easy and relaxed for me, although my sitting pose may have been difficult for them to draw.
At half past eleven this lot went off to some other artistic endeavour, and another class was filed in. They'd been noisy and disruptive next door for most of the morning, and I think the tutors reckoned that exposing them to their first ever life model might shock them into silence. They were right. Such a young bunch, some of them seemed only half formed to me. I stared out of the window to avoid embarrassing them further by catching their eye, and observed the first dangling catkins of the year.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

inspiration and hedgerows

I had a comment from Julie on a previous post, asking me why I did this work when I was obviously worth far more than they paid me. I suppose the short answer is that I don't count my worth in monetary terms - and therefore nor does the rest of the world. I made a decision when I became 'self-employed' that I would only do work I enjoyed, or else what was the point of it? I consider myself to have an excellent quality of life, although on a low income, and I've always valued time, love and creativity over anything I could 'buy'.
Tuesday's session at the college was one of those that makes me remember why I love this job - despite my on-line whinges. It was the Adult's Art Foundation course, 10 of them in a lovely warm room despite the frost outside. The tutor was aiming to get them to take risks this week, to focus on process rather than outcome, and they'd all been instructed to turn up with a few twigs. Yes, just twigs from the nearest hedgerow. They used broken twigs, thick brushes, and thinned paint (later with ink too) to 'agitate the surface' of their paper with a rough wash, adding line with the ends or sides of the twigs, with flicks of paint too. A messy business, but it looked like great fun, and they produced some astonishing results.
They were told to exaggerate features, use caricature really, and although none of the results were strict drawings of me, they captured an energy, an essence, which would otherwise have been lacking. One of my favourites had me resembling a woodland sprite, with huge eyes, pointy chin and a mass of wild hair. In another I seemed to be a serene Madonna figure.
I choose my own pose in this class - the tutor tells me how long it's for and whether what I adopt is suitable - and it usually is. So for fifteen minutes at a time I could think about my novel in peace, working in my head on the first section, what life would be like for the main character and who else I would need to contact for background information. The students had to write in their own journals before the break, which gave me chance to jot down my ideas before I lost them. They were asked how they'd found the process, what did it make them feel (some loved it and some hated it). One even commented on how quickly she became attached to the stick she'd been using.
Apparently this method is leading towards oil painting, which they will be trying out in a future session. Something to do with layers, and wanting to put back the white and paler tones. I couldn't quite follow the reasoning myself, but she seems to be an inspirational tutor and I'm sure she knows what she's doing.
I was left alone in the room while they all went off for their break, so I enjoyed looking at their efforts while nibbling on some almonds and figs - my version of fast food. The tutor had offered me coffee from the staff room, but in fact it was another tutor who brought it, the one I'd talked to about travellers in the 80's. He wanted to know if I was free that afternoon as his model had just phoned in sick. No, sorry. But we had a good chat again.
After the break they were given orange ink to add to the mix. The black painty bits were to indicate the tone, and the orange ink the highlights, where the light fell on me. Wow, wild. But don't get any on your clothes... I did actually break my own rule and moved to indicate to an Artist that her pot of ink had just been knocked over and was in danger of staining the (already very messy) carpet...
The session ended with a sort of pep talk from the tutor, about how their Foundation course is supposed to be an adventure (one I'd like to take one day, perhaps), and how she was introducing them to an Expressionist mode of working, rather than Realist, which gave them more choices as an artist. Also that it was a very exciting time to be in art, they were on the cusp of a change, back towards more emphasis on life modelling from the Post-Modernist era - that Conceptualism may be a dying concept.
I don't know about her students, but I find her pretty inspiring. It's great to be a part of all this, albeit in a minor sort of Muse-like way.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Unbalanced, as ever

I've actually ended the week with some energy left over, for a change. Probably because I only did two modelling jobs this week, at the college.
Thursday was a delight - I didn't even have to take my clothes off. They were studying hands and feet, so I just rolled my sleeves up and set to work, holding a variety of props. A mug, a bottle of juice and a rolled-up paper tube later they were definitely improving. The poses were supposed to be five minutes each, but all stretched to at least ten, and fifteen if he was doing a demonstration first. It was the talkative tutor again. I have to say he really knows his stuff, though.
I had plenty of time to observe the students as they were observing me, and came to the conclusion that they were remarkably conventional for Art students. Out of eight lads and four girls, ten of them were wearing blue jeans, ten of them were wearing trainers, of which six were a grubby white. All eight boys had short hair, six with ears fully exposed, and even the shaggier two were definitely styled. Gel was much in evidence. All four girls had shoulder-length or longer hair. They even threw rubbers (erasers) across the room to each other, and kept asking the tutor to have their pencils sharpened.
The last fifteen minutes of the class were for feet, and I had to stand on the table again, trousers rolled up, but mercifully with socks left on. My feet are not the prettiest part of me.
At the end of the session we went through my diary and he booked me for several more weeks, running right up until Easter. At least my pay arrived on Friday, but for less than I'd expected. I'll have to claim the tax back sometime.
On Friday I arrived a little late due to an accident on the main road, two ambulances there as I crawled past in the queue. Makes a change from counting dead badgers though.
The eccentric painter had been banished from the hut to prime his board - the metallic gold paint he was using featured a skull and crossbones on the tin, and was apparently poisoning the entire class with fumes. Most of the others were working with chalk on black paper today.
The first pose was to stand (on the table again) with one leg behind the other, and leaning forward onto a stool with straight arms, looking up so they could catch a profile too. He wanted them to look for shapes, the rectangle formed by my arms, how my head was set between my shoulders, for example. I reckoned it was a ten minute pose, and told him so - he gave me a break after ten minutes (more like 15 as usual) then I carried on. It was 35 altogether.
The second pose was longer and he wanted another unbalanced one, weight on one leg and leaning on the stool. 'Look for the centre line,' he'd say. 'Look at that hip, pushed right out.' Hmm. I carefully arranged myself so the weight was on three points and I could subtly shift between them to keep the blood flowing and ease my muscles. What I hadn't accounted for was the unexpected strain on the hand (and arm and shoulder) that was on my hip.
The students were so keen to keep working that they refused a break at ten o'clock, going straight into the second pose. We did persuade them to leave the room around half ten though, and I was brought my most reviving coffee. I didn't have any sort of coffee habit before I started working here. While the tutor was absent I did overhear one of the students complaining that he talked all the time and she preferred to work in silence. Ah, I thought, maybe that's why I haven't been 'working' on the novel too, no silence in which to space out?
I am a bit concerned that I'm not working more, or faster, on this. So far I've contacted the local paper to do some research on 'traveller' stories - I need to make an appointment, but unfortunately only for Thursdays or Fridays... which is when I'm working. I'm also managing to miss catching the county's gypsy liaison officer, who is out of his office every time I phone, and doesn't seem to like email. I need to contact midwives and teachers too. And fill in a time-line for the events in the plot. Maybe next week...
The afternoon's session was quiet, as usual. My 'regulars' returned -the painter, the one who talks to me, and another - plus a new girl. The tutor seemed to have run out of steam a bit, he was noticeably quieter this afternoon, apart from a discourse on the techniques and interesting private lives of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and the eccentricities of a rich and famous American painter of the 20th Century (I hadn't heard of him before, and have forgotten his name already. Sorry).
All the Art Foundation students are off on a 'field trip' to North Africa for a few days before next week's session. They were abuzz with anxieties and excitement all day - exchange rates, spiders and snakes etc. I just wish they had the funds to take their own life model too.
Never mind. I've booked a weekend break in Barcelona with an artist friend who needs to get away from her young children. Yes! Travel at last. Scary stuff. Just what I need.