Friday, 23 October 2009


We walked in on Thursday morning to find a bicycle set up with a backdrop of velvet curtains and sidelit by a pair of spotlights. Yikes! We have to paint that?
Yes. With ink, water, brush and stick, and white conteh. Working with tone again.
I sat and thought about it. Decided to focus on the velvet, how the light fell, where the folds were. Then I used a stick to roughly sketch a bike on top. Some bits worked ok, some bits didn't, so I started another. And a third. At the end of the session I was reasonably satisfied that I'd captured something and learned something. My paintings were praised by the tutor and a couple of the students. Wow.
Onto textiles and two techniques to cover in this class - silk paper and soldering. Soldering? Really? Yes, we get to fuse man-made fabric using a soldering iron. I was in the silk paper group first and really enjoyed the process, full of ideas as to how I could use it for my vessel project - embed words cut out of newspapers, mold it to a shape... We all felt rushed when we swapped tables, there was grumbling in the ranks about not enough time or resources (2 soldering irons and 2 sewing machines between us), but I mastered my wobbly moments when sat in front of the sewing machine making everything go wrong - old traumas from Secondary school days which have prevented me from sewing anything at all except by hand ever since.
Friday was the wonderful relaxation of ceramics again, further pot coiling, we had to make them big, with in and out bits, and when they've been biscuit-fired we'll have to smash them (in a controlled manner), decorate them, fire them again then glue them back together. Interesting. I've been playing with the clay I brought home, making a range of thumb-pots and engaging with my daughter across the kitchen table. She made a volcano model to take into school with bicarb of soda and vinegar...
And a new technique in life drawing, focusing on the curves, drawing a series of ovals from big to small, to end up with something like a Michelin man. I wasn't too good at that bit, but overall I think I'm improving at judging angles and relative sizes.
It all feels good. And I'm gutted that we have no classes this week or next, Inset days followed by half term. I was just starting to get the hang of things.

Monday, 12 October 2009

New Friends

Week three, and we're getting to know each other.
We're a very mixed bunch, ranging in age from 16 to retired, and in ability from very good to - well, me. We're from all different regions of the UK, assorted backgrounds and educational experience, but what we do seem to have in common is a desire to be friendly and supportive to each other. Excellent. I was delighted to discover that our latest recruit lives in my town so we can share travel costs. He's only been here a week - moving was one of the reasons he joined late - so I'm really interested to hear his impressions as a newcomer. So far so good.
Our painting tutor obviously decided that the cardboard coffee cup was not challenging enough last week, so we walked in on Thursday morning to find a large and complicated willow sculpture as our latest inspiration - we had to respond with tone. Aagh! But it's full of lines! We had a range of media to play with, all monochrome - pencils, willow and compressed charcoal, white chalk, conte and emulsion, and I suppose I learned something from my mistakes. It was a relief to head upstairs for the textiles in the afternoon though.
Felting techniques with a range of brightly-coloured dyed fleeces placed onto net and rolled in bubble-wrap. Great stuff. My first attempt was a coracle design with black and Jacobs wool on a white layered with green background. By the time it had shrunk and distorted it wasn't exactly recognisable, but it was another attempt to interpret 'vessel' to go in the sketchbook. I just had time to make a random colourful piece on black muslin before hometime.
The next morning it was straight back into coiling our pots in the ceramics session. Mine had gone too hard during the week and I was shown how to re-wet it, carefully, oops no it's broken... then I was shown how to rescue a broken pot, and by the end of the session I was being praised for having a good shape and thinness. The pot, not me. One of the ladies unveiled a shoe she'd fashioned from the clay we could take home, fittingly transported in a shoe box, and we all admired her skill. I thought of my clumsy and crumbling attempts at coracle maquettes and determined to try again. Eggshells, now - there's a thought. Vessels. Hmm. What happens to ground-up eggshell in a kiln? Can it be mixed with clay? I asked the tutor. 'Bring some in,' he said, 'and we'll try it.' I suspect he already knows and isn't telling, I have to experiment with it myself.
Friday afternoon and poor Alan, our model, was allowed to sit for our lifedrawing attempts this time. First a full-length figure to re-cap last week's measuring work, then a portrait study. I could see that I'd already improved. I had two legs and feet I was reasonably pleased with this time. My portrait was going OK, I thought (it looked like someone, if not Alan) until the tutor came round and showed me where the points of reference should have been. I have great trouble with the 3D-effect technique, drawing boxes for the jawline and forehead, planes and angles. In my practice this week I've been attempting to draw eggshells and a seashell, as well as another effort with the acorn and seedpods. I've no idea where to put shading to make it look 3D.
Lots to learn. Still enjoying the process, that's what matters. I have to say I like the textiles and ceramics work more at the moment though.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


I've been doing homework. Some of it easy, the stuff that comes naturally to me, and some of it not.
The easy stuff consists in reading art magazines from the LRC - this week back copies of a-n magazine and Ceramic Review. Also starting a 'sketchbook' and sticking photocopies of interesting things in it, along with thoughts and ideas and quotes and poetry. Sketches? Well ok, a couple.
The harder stuff was drawing practice and clay modeling. I don't draw. I don't even doodle, and haven't since I was a teenager. That's why I'm doing this course, really. I want to learn how to draw. Which means I have to actually DO IT rather than just read about it and watch other people...
Last Thursday's painting class was two hours of drawing/painting a disposable cardboard coffee cup. After my first attempt (a page of A1) in which I spent a lot of time putting in the background to my cup, badly, the tutor suggested simply drawing lots of coffee cups on the next page. Eventually I got something that seemed to have a resemblance to an empty cup. Then I was allowed to do another large 'painting' one.
The afternoon textiles session was postponed as that tutor was busy elsewhere - a shame as I'd been really looking forward to felting - so instead we had an introduction to print-making, monoprints on scraps of paper, paper towels, pieces of newsprint etc. We could use the morning's coffee cups as inspiration if we wanted, or simply scribble or draw whatever we wanted on the back of our paper and see what of the ink it picked up. I've watched the process many times but never tried it myself before now. My results weren't amazing. I suspect it takes a lot of time and practice.
Friday morning was ceramics again, back to coiling our pots, plus an old video of Ladi Kwali (name? Nigerian potter) which was most inspiring. We were given an 'assignment sheet' for the term with 3 options, but some of us had already decided to work out our own assignment. I showed the tutor my sketch-book-in-progress and explained the sort of idea I was reaching towards (I don't think he'd ever seen so much poetry in a sketch-book) and he was pleased - with my enthusiasm at least. So my modeling-in-clay homework has been a couple of attempts (maquettes) at making a coracle shape in clay. It's really not easy. Not for a total beginner, anyway.
And on Friday afternoon our life drawing session was with the other tutor, who had firm ideas as to how we should proceed. With careful measurement and plumb lines. It took ages - two drawings only in the whole session. I managed to get a foot and half a leg I was mildly pleased with, but the rest was way out. Now I know why half the participants apologise to me when I'm sitting as a model. I was surprised at how long legs are, and how big feet are, but pleased at least that I'd made some sort of progress.
We are supposed to practice drawing people, all the time, but I've decided to stick with easier objects for now. A small rounded bowl. Two mobile phones. A half-bottle of brandy, from various angles. And today, a couple of acorns, some curly oak galls and ripe seed pods filled with orange balls.
I'm nowhere near up to GCSE standard yet.