It’s chilly out this morning. Across the river, the grass is a very pale blue-ish green with its coating of frost. The bare treetrunks are dark umber browns, with a surprising cast of purple around the haze of twigs at the ends of their branches. The deep browny purple is lifted by the golden ochre colour of the grasses nearby. Behind, the soft, indistinct masses of hedgerows and trees are the stubtlest hues of blues and purples.
I’m surveying my selection of coloured pencils, tuning in to find the ones which will enable me to create the right hues for the landscape I’m in, how they look to me at this point in the day, in these conditions of light and cold. This red-violet, this ochre, this turqouise blue… how will they work together? I’m absorbed, and even though I’ve seen this view many times a week over the last ten years, I haven’t seen this version of it before.
That’s one of the things drawing does for me; gives me a way to be present, to really look, and look again. It stops me assuming I know what things are, prevents me from getting stale and becoming bored by my surroundings – and how important has that been, since our lives have been circumscribed by the pandemic and kept close to home? What a gift, to have a way to see the familiar afresh.
It’s also a tactile process. I love to focus on the feel of soft, creamy pencils or paint sticks; the sudden burst of colour as water brings a solid paint block to life; the feel of a paint-loaded brush moving across the sandy texture of a heavy watercolour paper. Do I like how the paint sits on this paper, or that paper? Do I prefer the feel of this pencil, as it leaves a trace of pigment from the stroke I make, or that one? Finding materials which feel right is part of the process, grounding and comforting, connecting me with my own tastes in a small but crucial way.
Since March 2020 drawing has become a mainstay, and I am lucky to have been able to share it with my students. Real-life classes which I taught before the lockdowns became virtual, and instead of constricting my world, running them live online has enabled me to connect with others across the country and the world. I’ve had students from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Brussels, Germany, and Russia join me and share their drawing journey together, many through the classes I teach at the Royal School of Needlework, and some from classes I run. I learn as much from students as they from me, and we have had moments of realisation, empowerment, joy, and laughter as we try things out, explore basic principles, find out what we like and don’t like, discover what we want to express, and how to encourage ourselves in the cradle of a supportive group.
I love to share what drawing gives to me, and to hear what it does for others, so I’m running another class for total beginners live online, starting on Janury 19th. It runs over three weeks on a Wednesday evening, via Zoom, and will be a small and supportive group. There will be plenty of opportunity to share and ask questions, but also no requirement to share if you don’t want to – after all, participants are at home and one of the benefits of that is that you can control your privacy. There wil be some suggestions of things to try between the sessions, and the chance to join one free Thursday evening or Monday morning drop-in session for free after the course, should you wish to. More information is available below on the learning page, and a link to book.