Drawing in lockdown and beyond

Wildflowers in Shalford

Drawing practice has always been sustaining for me, but in recent months it has often felt like the most grounded, steadying and real thing I’ve been doing.

The reduction of stimulation which happened straight away on the implementation of lockdown restrictions made those things which were left feel very important. My sense of time changed, and what mattered to be done changed. It became easier to spend time scrutinising the structure of a flower, or watch the flight of an insect, and it also felt important in a way it hasn’t before. It has become very clear to me that people have relied on the arts and culture to occupy them and give their lives meaning, and as a teacher of arts it has re-affirmed my commitment to that. The value of culture and art to our society beyond simply the amount of money it brings in as a industry has become much clearer.

I know for some this time has been perceived as a reduction in opportunities. I’m very aware of having been lucky so far, having blessedly stayed well, and those around me have stayed well, and their jobs have been safe. People’s desire for the arts, for learning and for finding meaning has brought me new students, through online teaching. I’m really enjoying having students from Canada, America, Australia and elsewhere in the UK in my classes now. I can think and prepare demonstrations, make video recordings and have found ways to help me share their own images with me and each other for comment.

There’s a real sense in each class of choosing to focus on something with meaning and find ways to keep doing it, keep looking, keep seeing the beauty and keep sharing, no matter what obstacles lie in the way.

On Drawing: Why it Matters.

‘I feel like I have new eyes – when I’m out for a run I keep stopping to look at shapes and colours I didn’t see before’. ‘I hadn’t realised just how intricate that shell is and how many colours there are in it.’ ‘I really have to concentrate, to look’…. just a few of the things students have said to me in drawing classes over the last few years.

My sister Sarah and I have been running drawing classes for about 3 years at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court, Surrey. Sarah had initially designed the course for embroiderers who wanted more confidence to design their stitched pieces; we offered it at Hampton Court with great success, succeeding in giving students confidence, tools and the courage to experiment and believe in their own vision.

In the teaching I’ve bcome more aware find drawing has a great value for itself, for centring my focus, calming me and above all helping me to really pay attention: to the moment I’m in, to what’s in front of me right now, and following my observation down a path of curiosity and discovery.

The three-day classes are an intense blast of information and activity, and both students and ourselves as teachers are often exhausted by the end of it. It’s great fun but intense! I wondered what it would be like to run a class where we have time to relax into drawing, that anyone, whatever their background in art, can enjoy.

Now I’ve started running a class once a week in Godalming, for two hours of drawing in a very relaxed and supportive environment. There’s no aim other than this: to observe, to draw, to play with materials, to explore colour. There’s certainly no pressure to produce finished works. It matter because for me observational drawing is about connecting with the world, by trying to see as truthfully as possible what is in front of us and attempting to capture this. We normally see so little of what’s around us, being inundated with demands on our attention. Taking the time to pay close attention has really enriched my life; taking up some colours grounds me in times of stress and helps me to stay present in myself.

I also wonder if taking the time to be present, to overome visual assumptions about what the world looks like and to check in with our own response is connected to being able to ‘see’ more clearly in other ways as well. It’s a practise of gaining clarity, and can often show me something about what I’m thinking and feeling that nothing else can.

NEW! Drawing, once a week, Mondays 10-12 in Godalming. £27 a session, pay on the door. Please contact me if you’d like to come! it’s a small class.

Drawing and Design for Embroidery Course

A student’s reaction to our recent embroidery class, taught with Sarah Homfray. I’m glad to see the Thinking Environment additions of ‘what’s going well?’ were a valued part of the course. Thanks, Marlous.

The Stitching sheep

Last weekend I was back at the Royal School of Needlework. Not to continue with the next module of my certificate course but to attend a 3-day class on drawing and design for embroidery. This class was offered as one of the RSN-day classes but was specifically aimed at certificate & diploma students but anyone could attend.

The tutors for the 3 days were sisters Sarah and Caroline Homfray. As they are sisters they immediately created a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom with jokes and comments about each other. Both tutors have lots of experience in embroidery and art and they had brought lots of their own sketchbooks, art books and art materials with them for us to have a look at. They even decorated the central table with lots of different items (jars, masks, feathers, leaves etc.) that we could draw or be inspired by throughout the course. On…

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Harbingers of joy…. or dilapidated musical instruments

A weekend in Oxford: Blake at the Ashmolean, a sampling of the culinary delights of the covered market and then the architectural heights of Oxford’s colleges, followed by a trip to see the infamous shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum. https://www.flickr.com/photos/brett-tully/3824170054/

This last is the polar opposite of the first, which features carefully-grouped objects and award-winning interpretations. The Pitt Rivers is ordered chaos, closely-packed cases crammed with objects grouped by theme. This results in surprising juxtapositions, quite apart from some of the themes themselves being unexpected. ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’ features not only the infamous shrunken heads, which are about the size of a golf ball, but also skulls caged in woven wicker and carefully removed and tanned skins re-stretched over bone. Compare and contrast with ‘Treatment of Relatives’ nearby. in ‘Stringed instruments’, an Hawaiian ukulele can be found back to back with a fantastically creative Burmese interpretation of the European violin, presumably copied from a sailor’s fiddle. It looks (roughly) the right shape, with four corners instead of two, topped by fantastically ornate Burmese ‘scroll’. But possibly heavy and unresponsive…

‘To know what is enough one must know more than enough’. William Blake, works on display in the Ashmolean. His vision was so personal I wondered if one can understand it without having had one’s own mystical experiences. Certainly, the inadequacy of reason as a tool in understanding his work seems to have unsettled many. I experienced moments of direct response, and found joy in a small relief etching from ‘Europe: A Prophecy’ of two dynamc human figures, male and female, buoyed up on flowing lines, blowing fantastical trumpets.