Friday, 27 April 2007

Drips have street cred

College day, Thursday. The room was empty when I arrived, but the talkative tutor caught me and explained that they were having a quick lesson in how to use ink in their classroom. Earrings man was running the class (have I mentioned his nose ring?), and was obviously quite enthusiastic about the technique, handing round a bag full of twigs and plastic cups of diluted ink. Talkative tutor was in a supporting role with many of his usual pithy comments - such as 'stop drawing like a hairdresser, you need to think like a binman for this', and 'drips are good, drips are cool, drips have street cred'.
I did a couple of fifteen minute poses for them to get the hang of the new way of working, then a longer one up on the table - earrings man said, 'whatever is comfortable for you,' so I told him that it was very difficult to get comfortable on a bare and grubby table. I'd been using my dressing gown to sit on already.
Point taken by both tutors I think. Hopefully the facilities and props will improve a little.
As was inevitable, drops of ink fell on white trainers and pale-coloured trousers and students were sent off to wash it out quick. And a plastic cup full of ink solution was accidentally kicked over onto the already well-stained flooring. Roll on next year and the new Arts building.
Friday was a new group in a new obscure village hall. I've been booked for a few sessions over the course of the whole year, by a man who attends the Tuesday evening group so at least I've met him a couple of times now. I arrived very early having given myself plenty of time to get lost on the way. It was a glorious sunny afternoon and a man was out strimming the verges when I arrived. Two artists were there before me and another two arrived before the start time and made themselves tea in the kitchen. Four retired men. Two women arrived late. They are a non-tutored group, enthusiastic amateur artists of varying styles and ability. One man worked very slowly and painstakingly, managing only most of my head for the five-minute warm-up poses, and two finely detailed and quite accurate drawings in each of the hour-long ones. I wanted to tell him to loosen up and experiment with new techniques, but kept my mouth shut. I'm paid to sit still, not to tell them what to do.
There was a nicely padded 'throne' provided for me, with backdrop, and a floppy summer hat to wear. As I said, we started with a few fairly fast poses, a 'dancing' sequence again, but none of them could really get to grips with that style of working. I told them that some tutors I worked for asked for two minute and one minute poses, and they visibly winced.
The first long pose was set for me - on the throne, legs together and sideways on, with hat and loose hair. In the break they asked me what I'd like to suggest for another pose. I sat sideways with one leg by my chin, looking pensive. 'Yes, wonderful!' they enthused, so I was too easily encouraged to hold a pose that I knew after five minutes was going to be a nightmare. This is when my stoicism kicks in.
They're a nice group, in a very nice tiny hall in a very nice small village. But definitely no street cred allowed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Aching for Britain

It's after 10pm on Tuesday and I'm aching. It might have something to do with the gym session this morning, but it's more likely to be tonight's life modelling session. After last night's life modelling session. It's a busy week.
Yesterday was one of my obscure village hall jobs - cash in hand so most welcome, and always an interesting bunch of usually retired village-dwellers. I've 'sat' at this venue, and for this group, before, but they've lost their tutor and are going it alone now. So I had one person phoning me to make sure I was coming, another person bringing the props, and a third arranging and timing the poses. There were 10 artists signed up and paid, but one or two couldn't make it this week.
We agreed that I would do a few ten minute poses 'to warm them up', followed by a longer one until the break, and an hour-long pose after that. It was sweet and easy. No probs. Basically I could do whatever I felt comfortable with and they were all most appreciative.
I was so chuffed I gave the son an extra fiver for sister-minding beyond the call of duty (all weekend, plus Monday and Tuesday evenings... even though I'd had a few panicked phone calls from her over the weekend when he was late back and it was dark).
But tonight was a different story. It was the inspirational tutor running her evening class - I called her 'inspirational' on the basis of her work with the Adult Art Foundation course, but I have to say she does very little actual teaching on a Tuesday evening, confining herself to sitting at the back of the room and occasionally wandering round to whisper a little to a student or two.
This evening we started with a couple of five minute poses, then it was onto a (hard, unpadded) table for a long sitting pose, 'with a break every half an hour' she promised. As soon as they'd started I knew I would regret the pose I'd assumed. And I did. It was one of those stoic evenings when I just had to count my breaths and watch the clock and wait for it all to be over.
Eventually it was. I remembered to ask for directions to my new group this Friday, the chap who'd booked me was a student at this one, and the tutor did at least praise me at the end for how still I'd been right through. Yes, I pride myself on keeping still - it's what I thought the job was about, after all.
I nearly forgot to mention all the little bunny rabbits nibbling the roadside verges on the way there, early evening. Makes me happy, that sort of thing.

Monday, 23 April 2007

City Break

Friday morning and back to the college, for a new group. This is the tutor I've had once or twice before, the one who knows my traveller friend - I've decided to call him 'helpful tutor', because he is.
When I arrived he was in a bit of a panic because he'd just been given some garbled message about the life model not coming in. Did I phone the college last night, he asked? No, not me. I'm here.
The helpful tutor tries to anticipate everyone's needs. He asks me if I'm warm enough every half hour or so. He asks me if I'd like a break to stretch. He lays out all the oil paints in tins in the middle of the floor and ensures each student has all the colours he or she needs on their palettes. He goes round the room handing out paper towels.
There were 12 students for the first half of the session, a few of them from last term's group wanting extra life drawing practice - including the eccentric painter, who was sitting on the floor sketching this time - but mainly the new group, who were painting with oils. The tutor went round opening windows and giving short breaks because of fumes from the white spirit. We started with a half hour pose, sitting on a (padded) plastic chair leaning my arm on a table and head in hand... this continued for another twenty-five minutes up to the break, as I'd suspected it would - oils take longer than half an hour I've already learnt. And after the break - the same pose again, as two students who hadn't finished their paintings came back. One was his daughter. There were five new students for the second session, and four who returned from the earlier one.
Oh, and he did bring me a very nice coffee too. We chatted about a number of things, from travelling in Australia and New Zealand to the state of the FE sector. Seems he's still studying for his PGCE, but had done a number of other jobs before, including running his own painting and decorating business.
On the way home I saw a magpie harassing a pheasant in a tree, and three hawks circling over a hedgerow.
I was keen to get home in time as I had a lot to do and a quick turn-around before... going to London for the weekend! It must be at least fifteen years since I've ventured to the big smoke, and I was not expecting to enjoy it. But strangely I did. It was a writing expedition, staying with an old friend and working on a fantasy novel that three of us are attempting to write together. She lives in Bonnington Square in Vauxhall, a hippy haven right in the middle of the city complete with cheap and superb vegetarian cafe and community gardens. On Saturday before starting work we all went for a walk along the river to see the sights, and called in at the Tate Britain for a few minutes. Long enough for me to discover Basil Beattie. So on Sunday I snuck back there for a blissful hour while my friends were enjoying the spring sunshine and doing their community gardening rota. Ahhhh - Jacob Epstein... John Piper... Turner! Wow, what a revolutionary Turner was. And just as I was leaving to meet them for lunch I was pulled into the the room with the huge Stanley Spencer picture, the Resurrection. Amazing. I could stare at it for hours.
I'm so pleased I've rediscovered the joys of visiting famous Art Galleries in cities. Can't wait to go back.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Spring weather

Good to get back to work on this glorious sunny April morning after a two week Easter break. And it was back to work with a bang today - or is that a crunch? When I arrived at the college all the students were set up ready and the talkative tutor showed me a series of sketches he'd just been showing them. Lots of difficult short poses, basically. The other tutor (earrings man) didn't actually say very much all session, at least not to me; it looked like he'd asked talkative tutor to help him out with this rowdy class and how to deal with a naked woman too.
So it was up on the grubby table at the front of the room again, and leaning to one side for the first pose. The five minutes he'd promised me turned into ten as the tutor demonstrated techniques first, but I managed all right. The next pose was 'starting blocks', which gets a bit painful on the knee after a few minutes, rapidly followed by 'throwing a hand grenade', and a twisted leaning standing one - and so it went on.
The students were working with felt pen on large sheets of paper, several poses to a sheet, no detail at all. Simply catching the pose - 'this is how Manga artists work' they were told.
I had to endure several uncomplimentary comments, such as comparing my tummy and bum to a kidney bean on its side, and references to 'no bumpy bits today'. When we'd run out of his sketches I had to improvise whatever weird poses I could come up with, the more unusual the better he said. Makes them look more, makes for better drawings.
At least the teenagers got tired before me! They were moaning about how hard he was working them this morning, and it was with some relief that he declared the last pose. I was using my dressing gown for padding by this point, as he'd introduced a hard plastic chair to the set-up, and also asked for one with me perched on the edge of a filing cabinet (still on the grubby table though). Ho hum, makes up for all the times when I just sit and gaze into space for an hour I suppose.
The drive back was glorious, and the car was pleasingly warm. The hut had been unheated today. I noticed quite a lot of May blossom out already and the first pink buds of apple blossom about to open. A very early Spring round here.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Avoidance techniques

It's Sunday morning and I'm avoiding writing my novel again. Thought I'd better catch up on last week's work, Easter hols have started now so no new posts for a fortnight after this.
I was totally knackered after my Barcelona weekend, could sleep for England, only just fully recovered now. Comes of being middle-aged I suppose!
I'm away visiting family over Easter, then onto a friend on Exmoor to hear about her travel adventures, and finally a writing weekend in London. Scary. I've not been to the big smoke for many a year, being a country girl myself...
I have work bookings all through April and May, but nothing in June so far. The college work is tailing off now, so it's down to a few private groups. I could do with an artist booking me up for several sessions, or some more proofreading work, or even getting paid to do summer festivals. I usually get a performer's ticket to two or three, with a community choir, but I haven't worked as 'crew' for many a year.
Anyway, back to the modelling work. On Thursday I was back at the college with the usual group, but a different tutor. I'll call him earrings man. The talkative tutor was there part of the time to help him out on his first session teaching this group - it was a bit of a shambles to start with. There were 14 students in the room, and not enough easels or drawing boards. Mr earrings wasn't quite sure what to do with me either. Finally they were all set up with lines of sight and charcoal and chalk and paper and masking tape, and I was posed on the edge of a table with my legs at an angle resting on a bench - and that was it for an hour and a half. Earrings man gave individual help where required, the talkative tutor dropped in and out to keep an eye on proceedings, and I just got colder and stiffer as usual.
After the session earrings man asked me if they were always this rowdy. I told him they were better behaved today than most weeks. At least there was no rubber-chucking or charcoal face-painting this session.
Friday was rainy. I drove over in drizzle and as expected, was asked for same pose as the day before. Talkative tutor seems to run out of imagination by Fridays. I varied it a bit by sitting with my knees at the opposite angle - for another hour and a half, with one stretch. There were six students today, it was their last session with me and they were basically left to their own devices. One used a fineline pen, three used charcoal and chalk, and two were painting. When I checked out the results at break time the paintings were the most interesting, but the least anatomically correct.
Gazing out of the window again, I watched a shower of silver drops falling by the window, perhaps a squirrel passing on a branch overhead. Later the sun came out and multicoloured drops winked at me from every branch. A bluetit perched momentarily on a twig by the window. The two squirrels passed by again, accompanied by a rather worried-looking male blackbird.
I mused on the nature of beauty, and the strange propensity of this furless primate to appreciate it, and to want to create it. Wandering on in my thoughts to creativity in general, I decided that one day I'd like to write poetry in Spanish. I'm not sure if that'll be before or after I take an Art Foundation course and study music composition.
Talkative tutor suggested either the same pose or something 'wild and interesting' for after the break - so of course I opted for the latter. I opened out the grubby mattress, laid my robe over it and tried out a few of my scrunched-up supine poses. 'Yes!' declared the eccentric painter. Oh dear, I thought, I'm going to regret this arm flung over my head. Never mind.
Forty-five minutes went quite fast with my eyes closed, and the tutor remarked that these were much better than their earlier efforts, probably because the odd angles and unusual viewpoints made them really look.
I had a chat with the eccentric painter after the session, about my desire to paint and the advantages of working on hardboard rather than canvas (mainly cost - £1 as opposed to £20). He said he'd like to do lots more Life Drawing - nice to have a fan - and I told him I was just off to check at admin when they might want me for next term.
Amid the usual chaos we managed to sort out some dates for me and I filled in new forms (as I'd forgotten to bring mine) so as to get them in before the Easter break. Just enough time left for a bowl of thick leek and potato soup at the canteen before the afternoon's photography session.
One of the girls wanted to do some big paintings for her end of term project, and was interested in bodies and body parts. I think. So she'd brought a digital camera to capture lots of different poses from different angles. I dutifully curled up foetally, stretched out limbs, twisted back and shoulders to her requirements against a backdrop of black sugar paper, with the lights angled by an attentive tutor. I gave thanks for my previous yoga experience, and decided I'd like to come to their end of year show.
'Oh yes,' said the tutor.'You'll be much in evidence.'
Better not bring the kids then.

So, back to the novel. I promised myself and my appointed slave-driver that I'd do another thousand words by the end of today. Bugger. I really do go to great lengths to avoid writing. Perhaps I should see it as an enjoyable and self-indulgent pastime resorted to in private... I'm sure I'd get far more done.