Sunday, 20 May 2007

The Generation Gap

The first thing I noticed when I walk into the 'life model' hut at college was the enormous wet patch on the floor, all around the heater. The friendly tutor told me that the ceiling had nearly collapsed under the weight of water trapped in the roof - he'd had to slit the ceiling panel and put a bucket underneath to catch the flood. The college had given up on maintenance for the huts as their budget was fully stretched building the new Arts block....
The lesson was based on a Schiele drawing - thankfully one of the less unflattering ones - and was about the use of line. Six girls and three boys arranged themselves around the room while I did one of my famous 'perched on the edge of a table' poses, but this being the friendly tutor at least the table was padded and covered. Half an hour became forty minutes - he checked to make sure I was OK with that - and we had some good conversation during the ensuing break. I'd been observing the students and noticing they could be categorised as cocksure youths with hairstyles, and thin bored timid girls, so we got into a discussion of teenagers in general and in particular. He has four of them at home, lucky man. This lot are sixteen to seventeen - one is his oldest daughter - and I could assure him that they did develop more personality and originality, but that yes, they were growing up in a completely different social and economic milieu to our times - we had feminism, Thatcher, and mass unemployment; they have consumerism, technology and debt as the norm.
There were only four students in the second group and I did the same pose, but facing the other way. The undergrowth outside the window is now thick, green and impenetrable. I watched the occasional dapple of sunlight struggle through to reach the grubby floor, wavering like light reflected off moving water. Then I started imagining drawing hands - mainly my own - as the next stage of my personal artistic odyssey. Hands and gloves seem to be a bit of a theme. And by the end of the session I'd moved on to imagining making a music track with multiple samples of blackbirds' song - liquid honey over pebbles interspersed with the sharp chirr of alarm... shame I don't have the skills or equipment to create it, but that's usually the case with my creative flights of fancy.
So all in all, it was pleasant and easy work today, in messy grubby surroundings. I'm not an old hippy for nothing...
The ash trees are finally in leaf. The wild roses are flowering, weeks too early. And it was raining again by the time I got home. No mowing today then.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Even more yummy hats and gloves

Thursday evening, just got home from my fourth modelling job of the week. Only one more to go, tomorrow morning.
I arrived far too early at the village hall this morning, it didn't seem worth going home after dropping the son off at college. His bike has another puncture. So I took myself off for a walk as I was feeling a bit stiff, about a mile out of the village in intermittent sunshine. Dark grey clouds were louring but I thought I could get back to the car before they emptied all over me. Once I'd passed two noisy strimmers at work in the garden of a newly-renovated cottage (which called itself a villa) I enjoyed the urgent birdsong emanating from several orchards, admired a small group of cows with young calves, and startled some rather large rabbits. Reaching a pumping station I climbed the bank to look at the river, which was alarmingly slightly higher than the road, while enduring the oily boiled cabbage stink of the ubiquitous fields of rape.
Further on there were some very prosperous-looking (ex?)farms, complete with topiary in the gardens and some beautiful horses. I also spotted a moorhen with one half-grown chick on a rhyne. It all reminded me of my time in Norfolk many years ago, when I'd lived in a similar red-brick farm cottage in the middle of nowhere.
I had to remove two layers before I got back back to the car park, the threatened rain didn't fall and the gusty wind was decidedly warm. But the interior of the hall wasn't. The artists complained, and the tutor put the heating on. After a lot of short warm-up poses to Brazilian dance music I wasn't feeling the cold at all.
I'd remembered to bring my own accessories this week, and the tutor had her hat box full of goodies, so we had a field day deciding what to dress me in. One of the artists requested a curled-up pose after so many stretched-out 'limby' ones, so I ended up on a cushion on the floor wearing a hat and red slinky gloves with a floaty scarf wrapped round me. Forty minutes later it was a bit difficult to uncurl for coffee and a huge range of delicious biscuits - I managed to limit myself to one with almonds and pistachios and one curly finger covered in chocolate...
I was determined to wear my long purple velvet gloves and purple feather boa - I had the excuse that one of the artists had the exact shade of purple in her collection of pastels - so after another long curled-up pose which was even more difficult to extricate myself from (fortunately I spent the last ten minutes of it in a state of mystical trance listening to Tallis' Spem in Alium) I had the chance to admire how she'd used it. She'd captured all sorts of colours reflected on my skin too, nice.
The evening session was much the same - short warm-ups to the Brazilian music followed by long accessorised poses. I'd taken my own CD to play this time, called 'Kora So Far' by Ravi (not Ravi Shankar), and as it was their last session the artists used whatever materials they wanted - two worked in watercolour, one in pastels, one with acrylics (I think) and the other tried to stick to pencil drawing until the tutor gently urged him to experiment with some colour. He's one of the slow precise draftsman types, need a bit of loosening up. I had a chat with him during the break and at the end, mainly about books - we share an inability to get rid of books once read, leading to overloaded bookshelves in one's bedroom.
As it was their last session, they had the usual consignment of forms to fill in, and the tutor had to quiz them on their future plans, which was interesting to listen to. She'd brought all the biscuits that were left over from this morning's session too... perhaps she wants me to keep putting the weight on?
No more work for her until hopefully September, but I might invite her to my birthday bash - to play dressing up.
Wild roses in bloom now. A month early.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Busy Busy

This is my busiest week ever - five modelling jobs scattered around the county, three of them evening work, two of them cash in hand. The kids will be wanting a bonus this weekend.
Monday evening was the untutored village hall group, eight ladies from my age to happily retired. They're still getting the hang of organising themselves co-operatively.
They agreed on the format - two lots of ten minutes, a twenty minutes, a half-hour, then the break, followed by one long pose until 9 o'clock. One lady was delegated to keep the time, and I think she's the one who has worked as a model because she was very good at saying 'ten/five/two minutes to go...', which is extremely helpful to the one with aching muscles who can't see the clock.
Another of the artists told me how much she'd enjoyed my singing - she'd been at one of our choir events. They're all very friendly and pretty good artists too - a pleasure to work with. And every one of them managed to capture my features and 'essence'...
They especially liked my last, long, pose - curled up on a comfortable mattress. Yes, so did I, my back-ache had gone by the time I got up. Makes a nice change to feel better after modelling than before.
Drove home just after dusk accompanied by several bats.
Tuesday evening was an Adult Learning and Leisure group, and this week they were studying Euan Uglow, an artist new to me, so I learnt quite a bit. He was a figurative painter who taught at the Slade school (I met someone who'd studied there at one of last year's evening classes. The tutor seemed impressed so I assumed it was one of the best).
This Euan had a thing about geometry, always placing his subjects in a 'Golden Rectangle' or a square, and taking years to finish a painting. Our students had two hours to do the best they could, so after a few short poses they set me up on a stool for the remainder of the session. Their handout was of a model in a very awkward position with her arms at right angles behind her - there was no way I was doing that, so we plumped for a geometric pose against a corner of the room, feet flat on floor, bum half off stool, arms angled back a little at least - as if I was just getting up.
Didn't hurt too much. No, really.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Hats and gloves

No college work this Thursday. Instead, I have two weeks of the very cold village hall in the morning, and the Adult Learning and Leisure class with the same tutor in the evening. This is the one who plays music while we're working, she had a couple of ClassicFM compilations this week, but she has been known to play Penguin Cafe Orchestra too.
It was raining all day. I drove across the Levels with the windscreen wipers and heaters on thinking 'the gardens need the rain...' and observing how full the rivers were. The hall was as cold as ever. Even the artists were complaining. The little fan heater did a good job of warming my legs as long as I stood right in front of it.
We started with the usual sequence of ten minute warm-up poses while stragglers struggled in, laden with easels and art materials and raincoats. Then came the fun part - she'd brought a hat box full of nice accessories for me to play with. I helped bring in four padded chairs and drape them to suggest a chaise longue, then selected a wide-brimmed black summer hat with red rose, a red scarf and red leather gloves, and settled down to resemble a Lady Of Leisure being slightly naughty in her back garden. I think. Nice pictures anyway.
After coffee - and delicious biscuits - I did one long pose until almost the end, with a change of props but still lolling at my ease, except for the goose pimples which spread alarmingly across my arms and legs. The last ten minutes were an interesting experiment, she said. ('Note she didn't say an enjoyable experiment,' muttered one artist). They had to stare at me for two minutes or so, measuring my face, then draw me from memory while I went off to get changed.
I was even recognisable on some of them.
The evening session was not so much fun. Last week's model had cancelled at the last minute so they'd spent the evening drawing their own hands instead. So rather than the props I had to cover the work they'd been meant to do before - continuous movement. Oh no, not my favourite. 'A long sequence of very short poses please, maybe twenty seconds each?' I negotiated that up to a minute each, and kept an eye on the clock or counted my own breaths to time the changes. Seriously hard work for both the model (to keep thinking up new positions) and especially the students. I could see how good it was for them, though. It really frees up the line.
So that was basically it for two hours, with breathers and breaks. One of the sequences saw me perched on a high chair and moving only my arms - I expected to look a little like a Hindu Goddess by the end - another had my feet planted firmly and I twisted and moved the rest of me. Ah well, at least it was warm.
More rain coming home, more rain still today. My youngest returns from her school trip soon and will be disappointed that we haven't put her trampoline up. I've been trying to finish my own artistic attempts and clear up, but the second large piece lost a big chunk as I picked it up off the dining table... I made the filler too dry I think, it's crumbled. Most annoying. That was the one with the rusty nails embedded in filler at the bottom, covered with spray paint... anyone would thing I'd been influenced by Miro and Tapies or something.
Anyway, that's my little manic art binge done for a while. I'm back to thinking it's complete crap, after the creative high of thinking it's the most wonderful thing I've ever done. I'm used to it by now.
Better stick to poetry methinks.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Playing and Spraying

I took a day off work (my bookshop job) today as the youngest is away - and I spent the whole afternoon playing around with messy art stuff and creating interesting effects. Had a fab time. My inner six year old felt really happy to be back.
I'd initially only primed one large board - with interior paint left over from painting a room years ago - but once I'd discovered the joys of masking and spraying and dripping, I couldn't wait to move on. I brought in another of the large white boards and managed to cut it roughly in half, giving me two attempts at spreading filler around in big chunks and painting over it. The most annoying thing was waiting for stuff to dry before I could add the next layer.
The 'theme' is gloves/handprints. I took on board all the various tutors' comments over the last weeks on being experimental, trying out new techniques, and of course sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I'm very happy with the first one I did though, in yellow, black, white and 'rust'. In fact I was so happy with it I brought in yet another board and primed it yellow like the first. This one will probably incorporate rusty nails along with hands.
Unfortunately I can't do any more tonight, and tomorrow I've got 2 modelling jobs and a rehearsal in-between, plus the supermarket trip I promised my poor starving son... but it's all got to be finished and tidied up before Friday at 3pm.
I don't have to wait until I'm doing an Art Foundation course before I can play!
And nor do you. Just give yourself permission and go for it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Back Being Busy

I picked up a phone message on Friday evening from the lady who books me for Adult Learning and Leisure - but being a Bank holiday weekend I didn't get back to her until Monday. Oh good, she said. Can you work tomorrow?
I haven't been to this group for ages but I do like the tutor a lot. She was looking a bit forlorn in an empty room with lots of easels spread out, wondering where her students had got to. 'There were ten last week,' she affirmed, 'and I did tell them we had a female model again, after many weeks of an older man. Maybe they're all framing their pictures.' Apparently they have an exhibition starting this weekend, to which I was duly invited, but regrettably I can't make the private view due to daughter's dance classes.
Finally a few artists trickled in - only four altogether, and one of them had brought his frame with him - and I started work. They were studying back views, so I spent the first long pose perching on the edge of a table leaning back - again. The tutor is very thoughtful and brought over a couple of prints for me to look at so I didn't have to stare at black venetian blinds the whole time.
During the break we all helped choose which of several sketches to frame - not one of me this time - and I admired their work. They are good, this lot. Then on to a curved back pose. I sat on a stool with my feet up on a donkey and head down between my knees. 'Ooh, that's weird, great,' they said.
Yes. I can do weird. I'm getting to be quite an expert.
Afterwards I asked advice about spray paints. I'm playing with a collage on a large piece of white board, which I primed with standard interior paint this morning. My youngest is away on a school trip for three days, so I can be as messily creative as I want, all over the dining table.
Incidentally, I forgot to write about how busy I was last week. Several singing gigs, a poetry gig to read at and the monthly poetry group to run, attended my first ever slam, and discovered I'd won 2nd prize in a poetry competition - from last October. Only managed one gym visit though. Seems to be down to one a week now so I cancelled the direct debit in favour of pay per session, it works out cheaper.

A Hornets Nest

Collage at the college on Thursday morning. Earrings man handed out large sheets of white paper followed by sugar paper in black and beige, plus paper plates of glue and a chunk of cardboard to spread it with. Another nice messy technique for the fashion clones to get their heads round. In fact they are already showing signs of increasing individuality in their attire, an observation noted by talkative tutor last week. He's seen so many classes and groups, of course.
I was asked to do one long pose for the entire session - with break - perched on the edge of the table sort of half-standing and half-leaning. I used my dressing gown as padding, as usual. I had to point out the student who was holding his paper plate sideways as he concentrated on drawing my outline; I just couldn't bear to say nothing and watch his glue drip all over the floor.
There was an observer sitting in for the first part of the session, I'm assuming that earrings man is another tutor-in-training, and maybe that was why the group was so much quieter than normal. But strangely the absolute silence continued even after she'd left, and after the break. Serious concentration broken only by the sound of tearing sugar paper.
I have to say their drawing is improving. Perhaps it's because they all knew the initial sketch would be covered over so were looser and less fussy in its execution, but both I and the tutor were impressed at how much better they are now compared to where they started a few weeks ago. None of them managed to finish their collages in the time allotted, but they're going to continue working on them next week and the one after, when I won't be there. I'm booked for a village hall group instead.
Friday morning was one of those, a portrait class but featuring some of the same students that I'd previously met as a life model. I passed a dead deer on the side of the road as I drove across Somerset, quite a small one but the first I've seen outside Exmoor. It wasn't there on the way back though - probably on its way to someone's freezer.
It was a three hour class, entirely inhabited by women, a newly-formed group and late starting. I did three twenty-minute 'warm-up' poses (I suppose they're still called poses when it's for a portrait rather than full body?), and two hour-long ones, less the break-time. Coffee and chocolate digestives.
The difficult part of sitting for a portrait is keeping your eyes still. My gaze was darting around all over the place, prompting a call of exasperation from one of the artists, so I had to find a technique for staring fixedly at one spot. I used it as a meditation, rather like staring at a candle, and counted slow breaths. But then the first hornet was discovered...
There was a fair amount of distracted discussion as to what it actually was (a queen wasp, perhaps?) and how to remove it safely, accomplished by a down-to-earth woman with cup and sheet of cardboard, and they took a while to settle down again. About half an hour later the second one appeared in a different window. We came to the conclusion that there was a hornet's nest in the eaves, and they were falling in through cracks in the tongue-and-groove ceiling.
At the end of the session I heard the clicking of cameras, and wondered why no-one had asked me if I minded having my photo taken. Then I realised that I was fully clothed, for once, and it didn't matter.