Friday, 30 March 2007

The Sea at Barcelona


It was worth coming just to see the sea.
Just to see the deep turquoise shining with silver
in early spring sunshine.

It was almost worth coming just to see the
turquoise, orange, green, yellow, red, purple and blue
walls and shutters and folding doors of the hostel,
the surprise of patterned walls opposite our window in the morning.

It was well worth coming to experience Miro, to feel the
infinite sadness of a missing yellow, to almost weep before
simple lines and splotches of colour, to wonder and laugh with
dolls arms and feet and hanging gloves all rendered in bronze.

And to know that this is me,
that I am here, responding to
iconic trees, painted tiles, graffiti,
washing hung from balconies.

And then there was the man gesticulating into his
mobile phone while occasionally remembering to push his
young daughter on her stabilisered bicycle
up the wooden decking towards us,
with the sea on both sides and the sun overhead.

And this.
Just all of it.
being in

Friday, 23 March 2007


Just got time to fill you in on this week's work before jetting off to Barcelona... it's all art-related of course, so maybe I could count it as a legitimate business expense? Only joking.
So, Tuesday saw a new group but with an existing tutor - the inspirational one. I had to find a different building, but my directions got me to the door and the Reception very well and on time. Unfortunately there was no-one on Reception at that time in the evening, and I had no idea which room the class was in.
Eventually a passing artist with half-eaten plastic-wrapped sandwich in hand, took pity on me and escorted me down stairs and through double doors, endlessly and repeatedly it seemed, until we finally found a blue-floored white-painted aggressively-strip-lighted room in the bowels of the earth, where a group of people were setting up easels.
I was shown into the store room to change. It was markedly colder in there. I was taken to the tables at the front as soon as I stepped out, with a request that one of the students would like to take pictures of my back, if that was OK?
Fine. I assumed a curled up posture facing away from the camera on the hard table top (thoughtfully and tastefully decorated with a curtain, but no padding), but realised after a few flashes that the tutor was assuming I'd started and would stay still for the next hour... I broke my own rule and moved, just to get more comfortable for a long session.
Several of the students - a mixed bunch aged from twenties to well-retired - were working with a scratch crayon technique, whereby they have already covered a sheet of paper with crayon, dark shades over light, and they 'etch' the figure with sharp pointy tools. However this didn't seem to be compulsory, and one lad sat on the floor doing pencil sketches the whole way through.
The first pose, curled up with back view, was for half an hour, followed by a standing pose for twenty five minutes, then a break. A gentleman came up to introduce himself, he'd booked me for a different group later on in the year.
After the break I did a sitting pose on the edge of the table for almost an hour, with one stretch partway through. A fairly boring evening's work really. The tutor did very little too, sitting in a matching pose at the back of the room looking exhausted and letting them get on with it. Must have been a long day - I know she teaches the other group at 9.30 in the morning.
Mind you, I was half way through my gym routine at that time.
Thursday was Botticelli day. The village hall group were in the kitchen again, musing over their research material and early morning cups of coffee. They established that he used a very white tone and stylised poses and figures, and apparently I needed to put on at least a stone in weight - oh, and grow my hair down to the floor. They posed me as the famous 'Venus' painting, using a yellow sheet to stand in for the rather coy hairstyle - at least some parts of me were kept warm. One imaginative artist even managed a good approximation of a clam shell beneath my feet.
The evening session was warmer, at least. We covered much the same ground but with fewer and less confident students, and the tutor let me sit down for the second pose this time. Both sessions had begun with the ritual 'warm-up' poses of five to ten minutes each, drawing, but after that they were into paints of various sorts - watercolour, acrylic, or oils depending on taste or budget.
This morning was back to the college and a darkened room. All the lights were off and I was posed on a plastic chair set up on a table next to the window, looking out of it. The aim was to produce soft, smudgy, back-lit pictures. I stared at the overgrown bank and the busy road below. I noted hazel, elder and ivy, two squirrels, an orangey-brown wren and three other birds which looked like chaffinch, bluetit and dunnock, but they were moving quite fast. One ambulance passed by with sirens wailing, and a silver sports car parked in the only remaining space on the side of the road. A youngish woman got out. I ignored the rest of the traffic, but my old traveller's eye identified the standing dead wood and the angle of snap required to extricate it from the rest of the undergrowth.
The room was full of students and although I couldn't observe any of them directly, I was aware of their interactions behind me. The tutor made the rather flimsy floor shake each time he walked past the table. After the coffee break, during which I turned the heater on to 'high', I did a mirror image of the same pose, so as to get a matching crick on the other side of my neck. This time I observed a fluffy robin with blazing breast, who sat on a twig and watched me curiously for a while, and the return of one squirrel. The silver sports car drove off again.
I was particularly keen to get home early today, and was hoping there would be no work again this afternoon. I did ask about whether I'd be needed after the Easter break, and was told they'd look into it, but probably, almost definitely in fact. Finally I got my answer - next week there is a student who would like to use me for the afternoon session, for a particular project, but this week - I was free to go. Yay! Barcelona, here I come...

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Lying down on the job

I thought I was late when I arrived at the college on Friday morning, but the room was empty apart from the tutor. He had arranged a sun lounger mattress on top of two tables of slightly different heights, and at an angle to the rest of the room. Which end did he want my head, I wondered? I looked round the room. The floor was in a worse state than my teenager's bedroom. They don't seem to get round to much cleaning or maintenance in these huts, maybe because they are building a new (state-of-the) Art Department.
I changed, the students dribbled in, and I took up the agreed pose - head towards them, lying on my back, one knee up and the other crossed behind it.
'It's more like a landscape than a body,' they were told. 'Look at all the hills and ridges behind each other.'
The first hour was quite manageable. I had a little stretch. The next half hour left me cold and in some discomfort, but then it was break time. The students left, the tutor went off after offering me a coffee, and I learned how to turn the heating up.
Students trickled back, complaining about how hot the room was now, agreeing to meet up in the pub at lunchtime, and joking about whose 'dentist appointment' was going to result in shorter hair. The second pose was the opposite way round, feet towards them, so I curled up on my front with a half twist and closed my eyes for the next forty minutes. Part way through a girl left for her dentist appointment.
The pictures were good, I have to say. Several different styles and approaches, but definitely some good results for their portfolios. The tutor has been asking them all about their plans, applications and interviews for a while now. They seem to be going on to all sorts of courses from Archaeology and Animation to - well, probably not Zoology.
Lunchtime. I was assured that the trainee tutor was taking a group this afternoon, and that there would indeed be work for me this week. I sat in the staff hut eating my multi-grain bagel and salted nuts, reading this week's novel, and let the gossip wash over me. At one o'clock I went back to the life model hut, which was empty, and sat there reading for another half hour until the morning's tutor showed up again.
'I don't know what's happened to him,' he said. 'He was supposed to have an assessment today as well.' He treated me to a long moan about the present and future of Further and Higher Education, then told me that I might as well go home. Again.
At least my daughter is happy to see me, unexpectedly, every Friday as she struggles out of school with her games kit and guitar. And her immediate demands for money, food or friends round to play.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Modigliani and hats

Thursday morning, thick mist when I left the house, becoming hazy sunshine across the Levels with thick shadows of willow trees across the road. Rooks were nesting, lambs giving suck, two swans lay at their ease in a field and bunches of mistletoe dangled profusely from every poplar tree.
When I arrived at the large and cold village hall, the artists were in the kitchen revving up with coffee and looking at pictures by and articles about Modigliani. They admired my outfit, chosen especially - oh, very French, love the beret, we'll use that. I even took a silky lilac dressing gown printed with sprigs of cherry blossom, which they allowed me to keep on for the first two five-minute poses until the room warmed up a little.
So, Modigliani - long necks and faces, stylised eyes, demure poses. Orangey skin hues.
'They all look miserable,' observed one artist.
'Bored,' said another.
'I think they're serene.'
OK, OK, I'll do my best.
I settled onto a chair in a demure pose with drapes behind me and my hair piled into a loose bun on top of my head, and looked at a distant telegraph pole for nearly an hour with what I hoped was a suitably miserable, bored and serene expression, chin lifted to give the longest neck I could comfortable manage for that length of time. I watched the sun alternate with shadow. I watched rooks and starlings settle and fly off, distinguishable only by the size of the black blobs and how they flew. Thrillingly, I watched a swan fly past, wings flashing grey and white and the longest neck you could imagine. Finally it was time for the break, coffee and little flapjacks. I had a peek at their work. Some astonishing interpretations and use of colour. The tutor told me that they'd been very resistant initially to copying the style of well-known artists, but that their art was progressing in leaps and bounds and now they enjoyed the process.
I was pleased that I hadn't modelled for the Egon Schiele week. Next time it's Botticelli. I'd better eat cream cakes and chocolate all week then.
The second half of the session I looked the other way so I could get a matching crick in my neck, and I wore the black beret against a white background. Nothing else. I didn't think those ones worked so well. And to finish off, a couple more short poses, standing. The music was nice, sounded like Handel, Baroque certainly. Good for musing to.
The evening session was with the same tutor but a different group, location and for Adult Learning and Leisure (ie lots of forms to fill in). The hut was closed up and dark when I arrived and the students sat in a line of cars outside, waiting. Finally the tutor drew up full of apologies and tales of a slow bus on country lanes that she'd been stuck behind. When we opened up the room there was a distinct and most unpleasant smell of fish, which I traced to an empty mackerel tin in the waste bin. I removed all the rubbish to a wheelie bin outside and we wafted the door as long as possible. Good job the weather's mild.
The music this evening was a CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to my delight, except that it was a live version and there was distracting applause at the end of each track. Apart from that, it was a repeat of the morning's session, but with only five students, who had rather less of an idea of what Modigliani painted. I took a different hat, and the tutor brought one too, so the two long poses had dark or light backdrops and light or dark hats. There was a wide variety and standard of painting produced, but I could certainly see the improvement from when they first started.
Drove home through light drizzle and managed a shower before falling into bed. Another full day at the college tomorrow.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Village life with wrinkles

My son managed to buckle the back wheel of his new bike over the weekend, I found him wheeling it home this morning after he decided it wasn't up to the trip to college. So being an accommodating sort of mum I took him there in the car, went straight on to today's village hall which was in the same direction, and arrived half an hour early. I sat in the car with my eyes closed and listened to the birds. Lots of rooks, an insistent peeping, and about four or five other calls at odd intervals. Totally quiet apart from birdsong. I suppose that's one reason people like to live in villages.
Another reason was evidenced by the 'Millennium Quilt' which took up the whole of one wall inside the hall. Forty two patches individually worked by 'ladies of the village', of an astonishing variety of styles and themes, but all depicting aspects of contemporary life in the village.
People often run late on Monday mornings, unlike myself, and the artists were still arriving partway into the first pose. We did a series of five minute warm-up poses showing 'dynamism', ie twists and gestures, followed by a fifteen minute seated pose on a stool, and a half hour until the break, also seated. The artists do a lot of moving around in this class, looking for better angles, which often involves moving easels, tables, chairs, other people's equipment etc. Reminds me of the choir I sing with, where we move between parts for each song.
There were a few faces I recognised from other groups - one said we're doing Modigliani on Thursday, that'll be fun; another booked me conditionally for some portrait classes she hopes to run, while taking names and contacts of anyone else who might want to come to it. This was the last teaching session for the tutor/organiser and she was presented with several bottles of fine wine and some orchids in a pot by the grateful regulars. I was introduced to the person who would be taking over, who will no doubt be contacting me with bookings in the next few weeks.
In the break (coffee and two chocolate digestives, not the healthiest breakfast) I discovered that there was another model there, who models for the same group and gets two classes of tuition free, instead of payment. We discussed the annoyances of working for colleges with endless forms to fill in, and agreed that we both like these informal groups best.
The second half was a long repeat of the earlier pose, while people moved around me and complained that they were not on form today, and a twenty minute one in a different pose but still on the stool. No serious aches and pains this session.
I prefer to be posing for groups where the average age is 'retired' - I suspect I was the youngest person in the room - they consider me to be young and fit, as opposed to the students who have that 'yuck, she's the same age as my mum' reaction in the back of their minds. The other model (who was also considerably older than me) said that her grand-daughter is studying Art and complains about the life modelling sessions: 'they're always wrinkly old men'.
Well, I'm not wrinkly yet, except when I smile. And they love my skin tone too. Somewhere between skimmed milk and cream, depending on the light.
I brought home one of the five-minute sketches for my personal portfolio. When I AM old and wrinkly, I'll be able to show my own grandchildren what I looked like, way back before they were born.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Reading a book - bliss

On Friday I wore the same outfit as Thursday, expecting that the tutor would have something similar in mind for the other group. I was right. But no mask and no lampshades. This time I kept the jaunty hat on instead. 'You can read a newspaper if you want,' he informed me. Ah, I don't have a newspaper, but I do have a book that I brought to read in my lunch-break. Yes, that was fine.
I sat on the plastic chair on the low table reading my book about travelling in Ladakh with a Tibetan healer, while occasionally glancing around the room. There were originally only two students, joined by a third before the break. 'Plenty of room!' said the tutor. 'Go where you want, choose the best easels.'
He told me the others were probably finishing assignments, then we were joined by the tutor from next door introducing three or four of her students who were studying fashion and would like the chance to draw a clothed model. Except that one of them left soon after, grumbling that what she'd really wanted was a naked torso.... can't win 'em all.
So a happy morning was spent by yours truly, being paid to do what I love the most, except that I wasn't allowed to change my position. The back of the chair was digging into me after a while, but it was manageable.
I did try to check at the start of the lunch-break whether I was required afterwards, but no-one seemed to know. I was told that this was entirely normal. I'm glad I don't work as a teacher, especially after encountering another one in a state of great stress after losing her keys. I ate my lunch in the staff hut, went to the LRC to read the Guardian, and strolled back to the life model hut around one o'clock. Two other tutors were there discussing tables for the textiles group. No sign of my allotted tutor or his class. I wandered back and forth for a while between there and the staff room, no-one could locate him and eventually I was told to go home.
'Don't worry, you'll be paid for it.'
Worried? Moi?

After two weeks at the college fully clothed it'll come as a bit of a shock on Monday morning when I'm back to an obscure village hall for two and a half hours. But hey - never a dull moment. I thrive on variety.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Great work if you can get it

Getting dressed this morning I decided to go flamboyant. The wide pink-and-lilac camouflage pants, a black shirt with laces up the sleeves, black fringed scarf, long black coat and jaunty hat. Plus the new shades. My kids sighed and said, 'where are you going?'
I answered, 'to work'.
As I arrived the tutor was leading the C&G group from 'their' hut to the life model hut. He was delighted when he saw what I was wearing. 'Perfect!' he said. 'Do you have any objections to wearing a Venetian mask?'
Well, let me see.... do I have any objections to wearing a Venetian mask? Bit of a rhetorical question, really.
They were working on pattern today, line drawings with pencil. I sat on a chair on a low table, fully clothed and wearing a mask - and surrounded by seven large and tasteless lampshades.
I love this job.
The mask was painted gold, with gold trim all around it and tiny orange spotted feathers forming a delicate outer trim. Then the whole lot overlaid with large red and black feathers curving outwards. Wow. It did squash my nose a little and I was afraid I was going to sneeze, but apart from that the morning was a doddle.
I even enjoyed the supermarket shopping afterwards. Maybe that's the key - dress up to do mundane tasks. I might give it a try.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Public Transport?

Thursday and Friday are college days, as usual. I arrive for the City and Guilds class on Thursday morning, to find that today I am not expected to take my clothes off. In fact, I have to put more on. The tutor has kindly brought me a colourful scarf, a hat with ear muffs, a large umbrella, a rolled up newspaper and two carrier bags. Today I am supposed to be waiting at a bus stop, and they are doing a large drawing of me, with smaller details at the side and notes as to colours, to do a painting for their portfolio at a later date.
I duly climb onto the table and wait for a bus for an hour and a half. It never comes. I go home.
Friday morning I arrive to see - oh look, the same props, but for a different group. Seven of the Art Foundation students are waiting to draw me - the first pose standing up, same as before, and the second will be sitting down, he says. I look in the other direction today, just in case I was standing on the wrong side of the road yesterday. Still no bus.
In the break I go over to the tutors' hut - being fully clothed for once - and make my own coffee. I hand in my claims sheet for last month and engage in a lengthy chat with the administrator about her flu. I go back to the room, and the tutor tells me they haven't finished their drawings yet, although they're coming along nicely, so do I mind standing again, please.
Does it matter if I mind?
Oh well, I suppose most people would be glad if they were paid for buses that never arrived. That was nearly three hours waiting today.
At lunchtime he tells me I'll be with the other tutor this afternoon, but when I come back at one o'clock the other tutor says his class is doing something different, already arranged. So it's back to the staff hut to hang around in the hope, or threat, that someone else may be wanting my services. They don't. I come home early.
I think the county council could do something about improving the bus service though.