Friday, 30 October 2015

Life drawing at The Wallace Collection

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a life drawing workshop at The Wallace Collection. This museum is described on its website 'as a national museum in a historic London town house'. It is actually much more like a stately home that happens to be in a London square and dominates the surrounding town houses.

This workshop was jointly organised by SMart Network, which was established in 2000 to empower socially marginalised people through creative activities, and The Wallace Collection. The workshop lasted for five hours which sounds like a long time but disappeared in a flash partly because of the way the workshop was organised.

Silla, the Roman
dictator
Our tutor briefly explained how art students were traditionally trained during the 18th and 19th centuries. Then he proceeded to give us, the participants, a brief experience of what that may have been like. Initially he had us making sketches from printed handouts to enhance our hand-eye co-ordination and we concentrated on hands, feet and heads. Then we tackled a drawing of a bust of Silla the Roman dictator.

Perseus and Andromeda
by Fran├žois Lemoyne
This was followed by an all too brief visit to the galleries upstairs where we continued with the hands, feet and heads theme and chose a detail from one of the paintings to try and copy. I chose Perseus and Andromeda by Fran├žois Lemoyne and you can see a reproduction of it here.

I tend to avoid life drawing because I find it so difficult and the last time I went on a course was nearly three years ago (you can see those efforts here). After lunch our life model arrived and further avoidance was useless. We packed in several two minute poses followed by some five minute poses finishing up with two 25 minute poses. You'll be glad to know the model was given regular breaks during the afternoon which we all took advantage of too.

This was my first visit to The Wallace Collection and I can't imagine how I've managed to live in London for 36 years and never paid this fascinating museum a visit. I will certainly be returning soon so I can take my time to roam around the galleries and enjoy the many exhibits.

Two minute poses
Five minute poses
First 25 minute pose
Final 25 minute pose

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Dalston Eastern Curve Garden

Sheltering from the rain under the Pavillion
We've been back home from Canada for a month now and since then I have largely taken a break from sketching.

Tuesday was my birthday in addition to it being the Battle of Britain Day. Usually I really enjoy my birthday but this year I didn't. I found the whole day to be emotional gruelling and a bit of a slog. This is because the next day, 16 September, was my mum's birthday and she died just over a year ago so I spent the day mourning her absence.

I decided not to spend the day moping around at home and went by bus to visit the Dalston Eastern Curve garden which I have visited before but not for a long time even though it was a rainy old day. This is a thriving community garden that has been formed from on the old Eastern Curve railway line and is a delightful spot to spend a few hours even when it's cold and wet.

I sheltered underneath the Pavillion which was designed and built by a French architectural collective called EXY2T in spring 2010 while I drank tea and ate cake. I took my usual collection of sketchbooks, water soluble pencils and ink pens with me and I chose to concentrate on the view above and I thought I was mostly concentrating on the foliage.

I realised while I was drawing the table that I had got the perspective wrong and this meant I couldn't include all of the table that I could actually see. What I didn't realise until I got home was that the table was dominating the entire composition. I would have preferred to have an equal balance of table and plants but I couldn't see that until I got away from the view. I feel quite critical of this sketch but am glad that I have restarted sketching and hope that my results are more successful when I visit Freightliner's farm in Islington with the Islington Art Society next week.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 20 (the grand finale)

Today is our last full day in Canada so we chose to stay close to where we are staying on the University of British Columbia campus and walked over to the Museum of Anthropology. This is one of BC's most popular museums and houses many thousand artefacts from the First Nations and is built on ancestral land belonging to the First Nations.

The size of some of the totems that were on display were staggering and the weaving of the baskets and fabric were very intricate. In the grounds outside some examples of family houses have been built and they are also very impressive. It would have been nice to be able to go inside them but they were locked but you could get some sense of the interiors if you could find a knot in the wood and then squint through it.

We left when the museum was getting very busy and began walking back to our apartment. Then we saw a signpost to Wreck Beach and took off down the path to find it. We enjoyed a stunning walk through the forest and then came across the beach which is clothing-optional. We opted to keep our clothes on because it was quite chilly and there were very few people on the beach. If we'd visited yesterday when the temperature was a lot higher it might have been a different story.




Friday, 14 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 19

I have finally got the right paper to work with my watercolour paints just days before we are due home! I made this sketch yesterday afternoon after we had got home from Granville Island in Downtown Vancouver. Granville Island is an arty district with fresh food markets, busking musicians and designer clothes. It is reminiscent of Covent Garden in London before it was ruined by Venture Capitalists.

We enjoyed our lunch outside with hundreds of others and then took a 40 minute cruise around the harbour in a ferry run by False Creek Ferrries. These are tiny craft that seat about 12 passengers and look like bathtubs with roofs on. At $11 each it was a big improvement on the $200 each we could have paid to go on a Whale Watch tour.

Once we had regained our balance after we had got off the boat we visited the covered market again to buy some fish and vegetables for our evening meal which was quite a treat after not having cooked for ourselves for the last few weeks.

Postcards from Canada: 18

One small sketchbook completed and a slightly larger one begun

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 17

Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, Vancouver 
We walked around Stanley Park yesterday following the Seawall path. We took all afternoon to cover the 8.8 kilometres stopping frequently to have drinks, eat ice cream and watch the world go by. Cyclists and skateboarders have to use a different path from the pedestrians so you might have hoped we would be safe from lunatic skateboarders but sadly we nearly got run over by one of them.

I did this quick sketch of the bridge that runs north from the park when we stopped for a brief rest. It dominates the skyline and more-or-less marks the half way point on the walk. We saw a blue heron on the sea shore and some raccoons inside the park which was a first for me. We looked briefly at the totem park but didn't linger otherwise we wouldn't have completed the walk.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 16

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta 07.08.15
We enjoyed a walk through this memorial park a couple of days ago. It combined woodland, a rushing stream and spectacular views.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 15

It was cold and rainy yesterday so I made this sketch of the umbrella out on the deck from the safety of indoors.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 14

Pandora's Boox and Tea, Olds Alberta

The Botanical gardens at Olds Agricultural College

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 13

Pilot Pond in Hillsdale Slide, Alberta
We went on a family outing yesterday and our goal was to visit Moraine Lake which, we were informed, is quite beautiful. Once we'd reached the turn off for Lake Louise the traffic was nose to tail and moving at snail's pace. This was put down to the fact we were travelling in the middle of the August long weekend. So instead of turning left onto the highway we turned right to avoid the traffic congestion and changed our destination to Johnston Canyon.

The traffic was just as bad there so we pressed on looking for somewhere to stop and have lunch. We'd been sitting in the car for several hours by now and we're getting increasingly hungry and fed up. But then a lay by appeared and there was a notice board announcing that Pilot Pond in Hillsdale Slide was was just down the hill. So we slid down the hill and found a log to sit on and have our picnic. I made this sketch very quickly and added some notes to it and I might develop it into a painting when we get home.

The steep walk back up the hill made my heart work so hard I thought it was going to stop working by the side of the road. It soon recovered its equilibrium and I was able to enjoy the fantastic views of the Rockies as we made our way home.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 12

Kathy's watering system, 2 August 2015

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Postcards from Canada: 10

We've moved to Calgary and this is the current sitting room

Friday, 31 July 2015

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 8

A quick pen drawing of our hosts' sitting room

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 7

Southwood Green townhouses, Winnipeg Manitoba

Monday, 27 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 6

The unifying theme for this trip seems to be lakes. Yesterday our new hosts in Winnipeg took us up to their boat at Gimli for a sail on Lake Winnipeg. I'm no sailor so I was clear that I was just acting as ballast during our short voyage but I did manage to do a couple of sketches while on board.

I tried to depict a man on a skido who whizzed past us but he looks more like a hobbit in the sketch on the left hand page. I quite like the yacht I drew on the right hand page.




Saturday, 25 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 5

The chairs that we've spent a good deal of time lazing on
We're leaving Orillia today and heading for Winnipeg. The weather has been glorious while we've been here but thunder is forecast for later on today.

Yesterday we had lunch at a small restaurant in Washago called R Cottage which only opened very recently and on our way home had a brief drive round Fern Resort. It reminded me of an old fashioned version of Butlins and it opened back in 1895/6.

My final quick sketch yesterday was a pen drawing of the dining room seen from the sitting room. Then we helped our friend hang some artwork which proved to much more complex than we bargained for but we were all happy with results.


Friday, 24 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 4

We had a brief period of respite yesterday between lunch and returning to our temporary home so I knocked off this sketch without thinking about it too much. It was on the property of the Leacock Museum and very close to the gracious boathouse which overlooks Old Brewery Bay on Couchiching Lake, Orillia. This had been the home of Stephen Leacock who was both an economist and a humorist and became famous for his books 'Sunshine sketches of a Little Town' and 'Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich' while his textbook 'Elements of Political Science' sold well for many years.

Museums back home in the UK tend to have barriers beyond which visitors must not stray. 'Do not touch' notices are everywhere along with scowling room warders. Here, we were able to stroll in and around without being herded along in a group. We were able to get a sense of what it was like to live in the house with its extensive rooms. There were framed photos of Mr Leacock in different locations and he seemed an affable sort of chap. The house felt very much the domain of a bachelor who liked to have his friends around. Although he had been married I didn't feel the presence of the lady of household although there was a portrait of a lady in the hallway who could have been his wife.

The museum also has a restaurant in a separate building where we were informed that this attraction "is Orillia's best kept secret". This was hard to believe given the number of people queuing for a table. We found ourselves sharing a table with two retired couples who were old friends. There was Barb and Dennis and Norman with his wife Helen who we were told is part witch (you'd never know it to look at her). We spent the better part of two hours in their genial company listening to what's important in their lives and them laughing at our English accents. By the time we parted company I was convinced that I'm not anywhere near ready for retirement.
I was using watercolour paint for this sketch but have realised it's the wrong
type of paper for this medium 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Postcards from Canada: 3

We visited Lakehead University yesterday and while my companions were in a meeting I took the opportunity to sketch this tree. The university is in a rural area and is surrounded by farms and this tree was surrounded by a community garden. Community gardens are flourishing across Canada and in this one they are growing corn, squash and beans following the tradition established by the First Nation farmers.

Postcards from Canada: 2

My sketch of the church during the recital
We enjoyed a Noon-Hour organ recital today at St James' Anglican Church in Orillia. We were entertained with half an hour of organ music based on folk tunes from 'Clog Dance' by H Hanson to 'In the hall of the Mountain King' by E Grieg played by Marilyn Reesor who was most accomplished.

Before that we went to the church's Wednesday Loonie's lunch of homemade soup with bread and if you were very lucky some conversation. Sadly though my neighbour wasn't in the mood for chatting. The good ladies of the church had laboured away all morning to give us a choice of chicken noodle soup or Italian Wedding soup or Butternut squash. This was the first time I'd had Italian Wedding soup and for those who don't know it has meatballs and pasta in it. I think if I make this sometime I'll go big on the meat and pasta but it was very tasty.

Postcards from Canada: 1

This is a view of Couchiching Lake from the bottom of our host's garden and my watercolour version of it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Nicholas Rena: after Matisse

I like the contrast between the simplicity of the pots
and the fussiness of the chandelier
The Holburne Museum in Bath is in the kind of grand building you can well imagine wealthy and socially well-connected people visiting during Bath's heyday as a spa town. Opportunities for swirling around the ballroom are a bit limited at the moment because there is a very interesting exhibition of ceramics currently on display until 17 May.

The Holburne Museum houses the collection of Sir William Holburne of which there are over 4000 objects. This was bequeathed to the people of Bath by his sister Mary Anne Barbara Holburne (1802-1882) with the intention of it forming the basis of a museum of art for Bath.

I must admit that I don't particularly share Sir William's passion for silver, porcelain, furniture, miniatures, books, coins and so on, although I'm always happy to spend some time with old-master paintings, so I was very glad to see there was some contemporary art on display.

Nicholas Rena has created this installation of new work specifically for this room and has made an interesting response to Henri Matisse's (1869-1954) still life paintings. He has evoked the colours and tone of Matisse's work but expressed them in a completely different medium. The sight of them in their imposing glass cabinet (known as a vitrine) creates a wonderful contrast to the items on display around the room.

From the front The Holburne Museum appears to be an entirely classical design but at the rear of the building a new, ambitious ceramic and glass extension was added in 2011 which was designed by Eric Parry Architects. This allows the museum to both look backwards to its classical roots and look forward by embracing contemporary art and architecture. Interestingly Nicholas Rena studied architecture with Eric Parry but has obviously found another way of expressing space and what you can do with three dimensions. This is the second of five contemporary interventions at the Holburne supported by Arts Council England.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Geese in Clissold Park

This post was originally published as 'Time for a wash and brush-up' on my blog Drawing my way round London blog on 26 November 2014.

I've decided that I've been treating this blog (Drawing my way round London) much like the cupboard under the stairs and have been ignoring it for far too long. So I've also decided that I am going to post random sketches that I have been doing in London over the last few months.

Here are two geese in Clissold Park where I met a few other artists at the inaugural outing of the Art in the Park sketching group back in April this year. I'm not used to attempting to draw wild life so this was a bit of a departure for me and I like the comical result.

Leamouth

Ornamental lake at East India Dock
 This post was originally published on my blog Drawing my way round London on 22 September 2013.

This weekend I was supposed to be selling my artwork at a gallery in Stoke Newington. I was very disappointed when the event was cancelled at the last minute and I found I was left with time on my hands and nowhere to go. So rather than mope around the house I decided I would jump on the 277 bus and stay on it until the last stop on the route.

I regularly use this bus route travelling north to Highbury and Islington and I have wondered for a long time where the bus goes, when travelling south, after Canary Wharf. And now I know.

The River Lea or Lee is London's second river after the Thames. It was very important for industry, hence all the docks, and became more-or-less redundant when we stopped being a manufacturing nation. The River Lea originates in the Chiltern Hills roughly north-west of London and Leamouth is the point where the River Lea joins the River Thames.

I think that my hope of getting off the bus at exactly where the two rivers meet was a bit ambitious but I was close to it. The bus route ends at East India Dock by an ornamental pond and the sketch above shows part of it. The only clue remaining of its original purpose is an impressive Victorian brick wall defining the perimeter of the docks. I imagine that this area was redeveloped in the early 1980's because the architecture within the dock area is looking very dated. There is one vast hotel and some shiny office blocks with strange detailing on the outside that are reminiscent of Tibetan temples. There was a fad for this kind of thing about 30 years ago.

Since it was the weekend I pretty much had the place to myself. While I was sitting on my bench drawing the view the silence was almost eerie especially as the dock is right next to a busy road with traffic thundering up and down it day and night. I did get to wondering what kind of businesses have their offices here. Whatever they do I expect their staff will be hunched over computer screens or having meetings in break-out areas in contrast to the manual labour of loading and unloading ships which arrived from ports in far flung places around the world. How times change.

Time for a bit of nostalgia

 This post was originally published on my blog Drawing my way round London on 9 March 2013.

I'm on a mission to fill my existing sketch books before I buy any more. I've got quite a way to go with this but today I completed one small book I inherited from my mum who made a couple of drawings in it before she lost interest. I thought, before I file it away with the other sketch books, I would look through it and of course I ended up remembering where I was and what I was doing when I made each drawing. So here are, for your amusement, a few moments of my life committed to paper.
At home, 14 October 2002
My mobile phone looks so old fashioned!
I like to pass the time sketching incognito
Life drawing class 16 January 2003

Dad died 13 February 2003. I didn't touch this book again until June 2010 when I got my job with the Liberal Democrat Party. The following drawing was completed at lunch time in Victoria Tower Gardens.
Trying out water soluble pencils
Woman on the train heading north
This drawing was made as the train was rattling along the east coast line before Christmas 2012 shortly after I had left my job with the Lib Dems. Sketch books are very like a diary and I don't normally show them to many people but you can, if you like, view a few other sketches from this book on my flickr page.

Painting from life

My restrained palette
This post was originally published on my Drawing my way round London blog on 21 January 2013.

Last Saturday I returned to art school for the day. I went on a painting from life course being run at Candid Arts in Islington, north London. I've always felt a bit nervous about life drawing because I find it very hard work and expect my efforts to go wrong. This reluctance stems from my first efforts at life drawing when I was a 16 year old student and I have felt like a beginner ever since. I decided it was time to 'get over myself' and spend a day under tuition learning how to mix paint and apply it.

Our teacher got us to start our study with a simple charcoal sketch where we laid down the building blocks for our painting. Now, using charcoal is something else I have a hang-up about. It's always too dark, I get it in the wrong place and everything all ends up a big mess. However when our teacher pointed out to me that the I needed to hold the charcoal stick from the end and not grip it half way down, allow the movement to come from my shoulder and not my wrist I discovered I could draw with it perfectly well. Later on in the day I found it was also important to use this approach when applying the paint. From this point of view the day felt like a long martial arts lesson in relaxation.

My tentative efforts at painting
Now for the paint. I chose to use acrylic instead of oil because it dries quicker. I didn't realise though that we wouldn't be adding any liquid to thin it down. If I was at home I'd be hurling water at the paint. I also didn't realise how little paint you need to cover quite a lot of paper. When it comes to mixing pink skin tones you start with white, add a tiny amount of red and a tiny amount of yellow. If this ends up too jaundiced you add a tiny amount of blue to tone it down. And tiny really means tiny (I'm going to have to practise this because I was going way too pink, yellow and then green). If you are aiming for brown you mix red with yellow and then add some black.

During one of our regular breaks
As the day wore on we were all becoming more tired. This was because we were constantly making decisions about colour, form, light and shade - it was exhausting and the time seemed to pass so quickly. My completed painting is below. It's not a work of art but it is an interesting study and I am confident that what I learned from this will feed into other work I do in the future and I am happy for you to look at it.

I didn't throw it away!

One page left

This post was originally published on my Drawing my way round London blog on 2 December 2011.

Yesterday I spent a few hours invigilating at an art exhibition. Since we only had a couple of visitors all afternoon I had plenty of time to complete a sketch in a book I'm keen to finish. Once I'd finished it I began leafing through it, having not looked at the sketches for a very long time, and this is what I found.

Several pages at the front have been torn out. Then the first image, a view of a park, is dated 26 April 1991! That's more than 20 years ago. I was obviously experimenting with oil pastel then because most of the drawings are in that medium. The next drawing is another view of the same park followed by a pot plant and then fruit in a bowl.

The book remained untouched for a couple of years when I took it up again. There is a run of drawings I made while staying with friends in Farnham in Surrey in summer 1993. These included a child's toy, some flowers in a vase, an unfinished drawing of Malcolm playing a guitar.

Then it's off to a visit to my parents in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk during harvest time. The trees look like palm trees and the scene is so bright that the end result appears like something from the Caribbean. Then there are autumn leaves followed by a pair of scissors and so on and on. This series ends in Brixton on 31 May 1994.

And so the book remained unused until 28 July this year. After being ignored for 17 years I decided to work in water soluble pencils. Not surprisingly the subjects I've concentrated on are much the same as before. The first few are views of our local park, then a view of a shopping street near Waterloo and views of St James' Park at lunchtime.

Yesterday's effort was a pen view of a side room in Union Chapel. I have one page left and am wondering what I'll choose to depict.

Kennington Park: April 1991

Kennington Park, near where I lived in Brixton, South London
This post was originally published on my Drawing my way round London blog on 28 July 2011

I've been rummaging through my old sketch books and have found that quite a few of them have unused pages in them. So I have resolved to use these on new drawings before I buy any more books.

This is the first image in the sketch book I'm now planning to complete and here are the notes I made on the back of it when I got home:
View in Kennington Park, 26 April 1991. I had the choice of staying indoors and moping because I haven't got a job or going out in the sunshine to Kennington Park and drawing a picture. So that's what I did.

While I was drawing a young black guy stopped by, sat down and started to chat. We chatted and he watched me while I drew. From time to time I'd show him what I'd done. He'd compliment me. He told me that he lived in Brixton, not far from me. He worked at the post office from 6am - 2pm. He'd done this for three years and said initially it was difficult getting up for 6am.

At one time I showed him the drawing and said 'It doesn't look much like Kennington Park does it?' and he replied 'It's your view of the park, it's how you see it' and I found that very reassuring.'

It was nice to be reminded of that conversation and I would never have found it if I hadn't decided to fill the remaining pages up in this sketchbook.

The garden hose

I've decided to tidy up my Drawing my way round London blog so am copying some of the recent posts to Art on the Run. This was originally published on 17 July 2011.

It's been pouring with rain all day today so I made this sketch, using acrylic paint on paper, of our very wee garden. I left the french doors open and watched the rain bouncing off the roofs of the houses opposite and felt sorry for the festival goers just over the way in Victoria Park who'd paid good money to spend the weekend at the Lovebox festival.

I've signed up for the sketchbook 2012 project and it's been a few weeks since I did anything in my sketchbook so decided it was time to add another artistic effort. I have chosen the theme 'travel with me' and I am inviting the readers of my sketchbook to travel with me into a world of colour. I hope you enjoy it too.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

History is now: 7 artists take on Britain

Cold war Britain set against our contemporary London skyline
We finally got around to visiting this exhibition only three weeks before it closes having talked about going for what seems for ever. The effort of getting there was well rewarded with a very thought provoking series of exhibits curated by seven contemporary artists who between them have cast their eyes (and ears) over the British cultural landscape from the Cold War until the present day.

History is now is on at the Hayward Gallery and has been staged during the run-up to the General Election on 7 May. Many of the pieces of artwork are responses to the politics of the time in which they were made and often make for disturbing viewing as memories are re-awakened and then re-examined. The seven artists are John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson and I think they curated roughly a decade each.

The rocket above, on the sculpture terrace, was the only item we could photograph and I noticed in the accompanying notes that it was built between 1955-56 which was the same time I was in utero so you could say this exhibition covers my entire lifetime. On entering the exhibition you find yourself more-or-less in present day Britain and as you work your way through the galleries you travel back through the decades until you reach the 1950s.

I found I had conflicting feelings towards many of the items that I looked at during this visit. For example I found the rocket, which is a piece of military hardware and a weapon of destruction, oddly positioned on a sculpture terrace. I imagined visitors at the Private View politely circling it with glasses of champagne in their hands.

Earlier on in the exhibition I was intrigued by the costume designed by Consolata Boyle for Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, 2011. The Iron Lady in question was our Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. As I looked into the case containing this outfit I was reminded of the time I visited Grantham Museum after the 'great' lady had died and gazed in a similar way at her Prime Ministerial blue, silk suit that was displayed on a mannequin. I noted that she was rather taller than me and bulkier too but she was well proportioned so it didn't show and the silk was a beautiful blue. I remember being surprised that I could admire anything about Mrs Thatcher since I could never be described as supporter of the Conservative party or her values in particular.

Elsewhere in another gallery I was again taken back in time to 1982 when I looked at the photos of women protesting at Greenham Common against the government's decision to allow American cruise missiles to be based there. I remembered going there on a day trip by coach, at the behest of one of my colleagues, to join in the Embrace the base event where 30,000 women joined hands around the base, sang songs and lit candles. At the end of the day I went back to my life in London and some of the women resolutely stayed on in the camp continuing their protest.

And finally, I took in the galleries devoted to the BSE epidemic also known as Mad Cow Disease (1989-1990) and the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 which caused a serious crisis in tourism and agriculture. We began with examples of scrapie in sheep which is a fatal, degenerative disease of the central nervous system and is caused by a prion and related to BSE. There is film footage of a young Damien Hurst talking about his fascination with animals which began with visits to the Natural History Museum and a couple of exhibits of his work which make me feel squeamish. At this point in the proceedings I thought I would be very lucky indeed to avoid developing some ghastly disease and consoled myself with thoughts of coffee and cake.

If you'd like to put yourself through an emotional wringer and see how Britain has changed over the years the exhibition runs until Sunday 26 April 2015.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Still life drawing at the Estorick

The outside gate to the Estorick on Canonbury Road
Yesterday found me at a still life workshop at the Estorick Collection of modern Italian art. I love looking at still life painting and occasionally try doing some but I don't really feel that I know what I am doing so I hoped this workshop would shed some light on its mysteries.

This workshop, which was the first of two free workshops, was organised by the Stuart Low Trust in partnership with the Estorick. There is no charge and anyone can join in. The Stuart Low Trust (SLT) is a health promotion charity based in Islington, north London. There were about 14 of us all told: some people were clearly old friends and others were there for the first time. The Stuart Low Trust regularly run all sorts of social events from gardening to days out and a philosophy forum.

Before we put pencil to paper we were treated to a tour of the current exhibition of Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life. He lived from 1911-1987 and is one of Italy's most widely respected modern painters and I have to admit in my ignorance this was the first time I had ever heard of him. We were told that during Mussolini's rule, which lasted for more than 20 years, artists were very constrained in what they were allowed to depict.

Guttuso, who was Sicilian, railed against these constraints and chose instead to chronicle the deprivations of the ordinary Italian citizen in paintings full of symbolism that if you take the time to read carefully are very revealing. We spent some time studying one painting with an upturned and empty bird cage, a candle holder with no candle, a light bulb that wasn't on, a wicker basket with no food in it and an animal skull. This all implied austerity that had been endured for a long time.

Now it was our turn to assemble a still life and I ended up in a small group who worked from the same set of objects and, hey presto, it included an animal skull. I present here one of my initial drawings in graphite where we 'took a line for a walk'. Now I've worked on this I hope I will have the courage to complete an unfinished still life of a rose and some fruit on a plate.