Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Busiest Week Part 2

OK, so the last post covered up to Thursday lunchtime - but the day was far from over. In fact I managed to spend one whole hour at home between 8.20 am and 10.15 pm...
From the college I go straight to choir practice, two hours every Thursday afternoon with our (alternative) community choir. I then had an extra sing-through of an old number we want to revive, just to make sure those of us who've been in it from the year dot (1993 I think) could remember our parts. And a rush over to the venue where I run my poetry courses to pay some rent money. And off to the secondary school to catch my youngest in her first ever hockey team game. I'm not a standing-on-sidelines mum, as a rule. Fortunately it was sunny and not too cold, and I could give encouraging feedback on her goalkeeping even though they'd lost quite dramatically to the other school.
So my hour at home was between 5.10 and 6.10, during which time of course I had to feed her and bundle the games kit into the washing machine. And off to work again...
7.00-9.30 in a delightful village hall near the A303. Getting there was a bit of a pain. My chosen route takes me along a very narrow lane to reach an underpass, the most direct route to the village concerned. And for the first time ever I met a vehicle coming the other way. It was dark. The headlights dazzled me. I'd just come round a bend and down a slope, so assumed the other driver would back into the nearest passing-point. We both waited. No-one moved.
Eventually I decided to try reversing. Well, someone had to or we'd be there all night. Did I mention my clutch is at the end of its adjustment and will need replacing fairly soon? So reversing uphill and back round a bend involved stalling at least twice and a fair amount of cursing. When I finally managed to pull into a gateway I noted that the other driver was a woman (I'm afraid) - in a 4x4. And she could have backed into the farmyard just past where we met, really easily. Nuff said.
This particular group of artists are unfailingly charming and proud of their little hall with its community breakfasts once a month. This week there were only two of them, which made me worry a little for their future - but I did hear the Treasurer mentioning the £140 in their bank account so no immediate likelihood of credit collapse. For such charming people, they seem to require quite difficult poses, slightly longer than I'd normally like to hold them. I've learnt this now and argue back - no, I'm not bending forward like that for fifteen minutes, no matter how much you want to imagine me bathing... After the tea-break with its chance for general chat, we did two longer poses of 'general abandonment' on a table dressed to resemble a bed. They were very pleased at how abandoned I could look.
Friday was another whole day at the college. One of those evocative Autumn mornings with the mist rising like steam from the river as I crossed it, and dew so thick it was almost frost. A heron stood sentinel by a rhyne, large and grey and hunched in the morning's chill. Reaching the town I drove past an easy parking space, then couldn't find another one and was stuck in the traffic queues for ten minutes until I could turn round and take it from the opposite direction. The room was cold for the first session, two poses. Charcoal and chalk on brown paper, followed by a close-up of one body section using cardboard 'viewfinders' - a rectangular hole to look through while held at arm's length. They're really coming on, this class. Some good results.
Off to the other campus and again, plenty of time sitting around reading my book and drinking coffee before the students wandered in from their break. They were all knackered after a day in London traipsing round galleries the day before. I was feeling similar so we agreed not to push ourselves too hard.
The tutor kept dropping in with promises of marks to come soon - she and their other tutor were in the staff room upstairs discussing their progress. Otherwise we were pretty much left to our own devices. They complained a little at the lack of tutorial content (the idea was that they should be self-directed by now), so in the end I took over a bit, suggesting poses and times and even towards the end, telling them to get out their sketch pads and work hard and fast with a few short poses. I've picked up a lot of tips over the years it seems. They finally got their previous assignment back as I changed ready to leave.
And so to the weekend, which should have been relaxing but was in fact spent in a state of high anxiety over the 'practice session'I had to lead for my Diploma course on Monday.
As this is now Tuesday, I can tell you that all the obsessive sleepless thinking paid off. But it was most uncomfortable at the time.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A full-on week, part 1

What a busy week I've had. So pleased to reach the weekend in one piece - but now I should be working on the session plans for next Monday and Tuesday. Oh well. Blog time instead.
On Tuesday this week I did six hours for an Adult Learning day-school. The tutor still wasn't sure if it was running until the day before, as only six people had signed up, but they decided it was silly to keep cancelling them or no-one would even bother to enrol any more, so it went ahead in the end. It was held in a new room in the adult learning centre, as the college were moving rooms around in the main building and the one allocated to 'us' was currently full of furniture. I've worked for this tutor many times before and we have an easy rapport. I was impressed at how much she managed to fit in during the day - short poses initially to assess their standard and needs, then a variety of techniques and media to stretch them and teach new methods of working. Drawing with pens on newspaper was a new one on me, too!
I spent my time during the longer poses musing on the sessions I have to teach - the poetry course, and a practice session with the whole group on my diploma course. Modelling is an excellent part-time job for poets! Not much time when I got home before I had to go out again to run the poetry course, then a short soak in the bath and I fell into bed.
Wednesday was gym day, as I couldn't do it on Tuesday due to the aforementioned work. I was also due to pick up a second-hand bed for my youngest, which meant co-ordinating a friend to arrive with his van after we'd dismantled it in another friend's teenager's bedroom. At least it made me feel better about the state of my own almost-teenager's bedroom... and then in the evening (with my hall full of metal bed frame and other parts of it littering various nooks downstairs)I was off to Morris Dance practice! Lots of leaping and cavorting aerobically, trying to fit the stick moves with the not-quite-mastered steps while following the required figures, oh, and there were words too. And we have to make our own costumes. And it's in two week's time. But it WILL be lots of fun. I know it will.
On Thursday and Friday I woke increasingly stiff and tired, but dragged myself off to the college both days for more modelling. In Thursday's session they were working with white and black ink over pencil sketches initially, although chalk, charcoal and coloured pastels were also available. They were studying Giacometti, a sculptor best known for his elongated figures, but they were supposed to emulate his oil sketches, especially of people, and of those set in his studio. Small figures, strong use of line, set in large spaces, with minimal use of colour, very muted. I read the book about him in the break and discovered that Sartre wrote an essay on his work, about how he paints fullness and emptiness.
The students struggled. Two poses in the first half, two more in the second half, this time focussing on head and shoulders, then a longish standing pose. The tutor left the room for a while, during which time my mobile went off in my jeans pocket in my bag. They giggled at the theme tune from the Pink Panther.
As I left to drive to choir practice two men were planting pansies in a raised bed, blocks of yellow, white and purple against the rich tawny of newly-turned compost. Driving home in sunshine I marvelled at the Autumn colours again, the tawny of the earth reflected in leaves, the deep purple of elderberries, the scarlet of rosehips and crimson of haws, the pale blue sky with silver-grey clouds, the first ploughed fields.
I decided that if I had another three lives I'd be an artist, a musician and a biologist/naturalist. I love these moments of intense happiness at just being me, here, now...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Matisse and Morris - no, not William

Thursday evening. I could, if I'd tried really, really hard, have made it to a poetry event at the Brewhouse (Taunton) for National Poetry Day. Instead I marked it by chatting to our local peripatetic poet and current Chaired Bard, who was attempting to sell his poetry scrolls on the High Street - oh, and signing up to an internet dating site... as in, actually subscribing rather than hovering on the sidelines as I've been doing for about a month now. Not expecting much, but you never know.
I won't bore you with yet more accounts of golden sunshine and thick white duvets of mist on my way to work today - it was a glorious morning though, and Ella Fitzgerald agreed. Although on my return I was feeling so bouncy I changed to Manu Chao.
I have to admit I was feeling decidedly stiff this morning, not only from a hard gym work-out on Tuesday but also - last night I went along to see what the local Crow Morris team was about, and ended up with a fierce aerobic workout while learning the very weird steps and the more conventional sets/changes of their repertoire. This is for an event in three week's time so I doubt I'll be up to scratch by then, we'll have to see how desperate they are to make up another eight (danced in teams of eight, in black rags with feathers and sticks).
The tutor (the quirky painterly one) apologised for the coldness of the room, and suggested that I might prefer to start off clothed, at which chance I jumped (gr.) especially as I'm currently experiencing one of my increasingly rare periods. (Before you ask, tampons. And last June.)
They were studying Matisse this week, and he spent quite a while trying to explain what he wanted - a 'flat, 2D graphic approach' like his later work, so an 'interesting, challenging' pose for me. He told me it was for the first part of the session, and they'd change after the tea-break, but I knew it wouldn't; he's said that before and I always end up having to hold it for the whole three hours. As was, indeed, the case again. So perched on a green-covered chair in my black trainers, blue jeans and olive-green jumper, one foot bent beneath me, a knee in front of my face and an elbow on it, head in hand, I prepared to while away the session by musing on my recent Poetry for Personal Growth session, the first in a course I've devised and am running in my home town.
In the break, the tutor told me that the plans for our contracts were coming along. And I told him that he wouldn't have me for Thursday mornings after half term because I've agreed to work at a local private school - four hours at ten pounds an hour every week being too good to miss, at least until Christmas.
I think the students were quite relieved to see me clothed this week, and it did help with the project too. Flat areas of colour, licence to move things around if they wanted to, or change colours from the original (one gave me a fetching plum sweater), and the results were laid out on the floor at the end for my perusal. Not bad at all.
Driving home, the clouds could have been painted by Utrillo.
(Think that's who I mean).

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


I thought I'd start the day with a little light blogging - over breakfast, and after an hour at the gym. I pushed myself this morning, adding extra time and effort to my cardio regime. Exercise is good for anxiety...
Why am I anxious? I have a tendency to do everything-at-once, or nothing-at-all, and I've entered an everything-at-once phase. I knew it was coming; I've been relaxing hard, preparing myself for it. And it began with my extra hours at the college.
So far this term I've been doing five hours a week there, three on Thursday mornings and two on Friday mornings. I now have a block booking for five weeks of five hours at the other campus with the Foundation degree group. On Friday, straight after the other one. Last Friday I left the house at 8.15 am (leaving the Youngest in bed as she had an Inset day - she probably stayed in bed all day, on her laptop chatting to friends on MSN or having babies on Sims2) with a banana and my dressing gown, and I returned at 5.00 pm after 7 hours straight modelling. To wash up, cook dinner and go out to cover the box office for an amateur play at our Arts Centre.
It wasn't as bad as I'd been expecting. The work that is, not the play. When the tutor phoned me to arrange this she'd said I could have half an hour for lunch and a short break in the afternoon too and I got the impression she was some sort of slave-driving dragon with a bunch of hyper-keen students who'd push me to the limits. Of course they were all very laid back.
I deliberately wore a loose two-piece skirt suit (green velvet, if you want to know) so I could do a quick change and sprint to the car to drive over to the other campus in time. But when I arrived (confusing the Receptionist, who'd thought I was a visiting tutor and tried to send me to pick up the registers for the day) they were all on their coffee break, and by the time the tutor had faffed around re-arranging the furniture and draping old ragged sheets to her satisfaction we were twenty minutes into the session anyway.
She seemed most concerned that it was cold in the room, and had two heaters pointed in my direction, although at the end of their flexes they were still several yards away. I assured her that I'd known that particular room much colder - for some reason the life drawing/art room is in the basement at the far end of the long two-level building, and the heating wasn't on for the winter yet. Institutional rules. Anyway after three or four shortish 'warm-up' standing and squatting poses she suggested that I drape my dressing gown over my shoulders for the longer sitting pose.
The students were all 'women of a certain age' (conversation over lunch was mainly about children leaving home), very friendly and a cohesive group in their second year of the course. One was in a wheelchair, but I only saw her for the morning session because she had a fall at the start of the lunchbreak and went home. It seems that in order to get to the disabled toilet, she has to go out of the back door (a fire exit), get into her car and drive round to the front of the building, on a higher level, because there was no lift. She'd slipped getting into her car. The afternoon session started late due to a heated discussion led by the tutor as to whether it was allowed to help her once she'd fallen. Health and Safety regulations stipulate that it was not the responsibility of staff or students, and that she was supposed to have a 'helper', who was still in the pipeline, having being caught up in red tape and bureaucratic fuddle.
Once it had started, the exercises turned out to be fun - for me to watch. The students had five minutes to start an 'interpretation' of me, then had to move anticlockwise with their materials (own choice of media here) and continue for four minutes on their neighbour's, then move again and work for three minutes... Mayhem, laughter, complaints. The complaints being largely that it was impossible to follow someone working with ink and wide brush when you're working with a fine-line pen, or charcoal, or cont'e, or whatever.
They discussed the results, then moved onto the next exercise - clockwise this time, and leaving the media with the picture so they had to get used to working with unfamiliar materials. Some very interesting results, but nothing you'd want to hang on your wall (although I was rather taken with the one which had me looking like a Borg from Deep Space Nine, with a distinct monocle). I look forward to further sessions with this group.
As to being paid for all this - it's still in the pipeline too. I phoned the Arts Administrator this week, who suggested I call back and speak to the Head of Art, who told me he was waiting for the year's assessment of hours from the tutors...
OK, back to the real work of the day - finalising my lesson plan for the first session of the poetry course I'm running - starting tonight. And printing out ten copies of the poems and quotes we'll be using. And reviewing yesterday's Diploma course session and journalling it and reading all the hand-outs and putting them in the right place in my files and... waiting for the rain to stop to go into town too.
At least the Children's Book Group event I'd organised at our local library on Saturday morning went well, as did the presentation I was involved in at my first meeting of a professional association on Saturday afternoon, in Bristol. And my first live interview on local radio was postponed until next week. By which time I'll be worrying about the session I have to lead for the Diploma course... Why do I do this to myself?