Friday 31 March 2017

…trains, planes and automobiles...

OK - as much as I'd like to - I can't actually fit any of
those items into the Downham Market Methodist Church. 
Not even the main hall. Well, maybe automobiles... 

 So it's going to have to be the sequel.

For my third art workshop with the Downham Market Stroke Association 
I'm thinking Still Life - Flowers, Coffee pots and Whiskey bottles!  

I realise I can't just turn up and expect people to take on that 
dreaded blank piece of paper without any help. I often find it a 
challenge myself, but using the 'skin of my teeth' method 
as I often do, I was running out of time.

 I quickly designed a few 'How to Draw' guidance sheets, 
hoping they'd make sense. If not I was on hand to help...

I find when it comes to drawing most people say they can't draw. 
Or haven't drawn anything since who knows when! 

There's a great misunderstanding I think (for me too), that drawing 
means producing something of photographic accuracy - which can 
certainly be extremely daunting, if not stop you in your tracks entirely. 
I make it clear that if we wanted a photo we'd use a camera. 

When drawing we want to capture the spirit of the subject or object. 
We all know what a bottle or a vase of flowers looks like so we just 
need a suggestion or an indication - and we all see things differently. 
As viewers we can participate by filling in the blanks as it were 
- thereby completing the picture as we see it.

As it turned out, most people didn't need my help after all, but just got 
on with it. The results you can see are excellent. Strong command of line 
and shape, and also confident use of colour and contrast.

I feel the most important aspect of this and any creative exercise is 
that, regardless of how the end result is perceived - enjoy yourself!

It's true I didn't come up with a 'How to Draw' guide for the flowers 
- because I didn't quite know where to start. With manufactured objects 
you can invoke laws of construction using basic shapes such as cubes 
and cylinders - and symmetry! When drawing natural objects you 
have to adopt a looser, less rigid, more free approach. 

Fortunately everyone got along fine with the 'looser/free approach', 
so much so that the flowers they portrayed were more inspired by the 
still life than a copy of it, and had very much an individual charm 
and beauty of their own!

If neither flowers or bottles caught their fancy, I placed the greek 
coffee pots here and there so people could handle them and get a feel 
for what they were drawing. The pots were a variety of shapes, material 
and age. The squarish pot was aluminium and probably from England, 
the ornate engraved pot was shiny brass and a gift from Turkey, 
and the copper pot that flutes outwards at the base was my dad's 
from Cyprus and must 30 to 40 years old I think. 

These coffee pot studies were all drawn with a great eye 
for detail, form and shape, and character.

I made pastels, colouring pencils and acrylic paints available to use, 
which allowed people to experiment with different media, and to see 
what is best for their own abilities, and also to produce a variety 
of contrasting pictures.

While I was talking to Dennis about his drawings of greek coffee 
pots, he mentioned that when serving as a young man in Cyprus in 
the 1950s, one of his jobs was to ensure all of the island's eighteen 
ambulances were in peak roadworthy condition. Which fortunately 
required him to drive all around the unspoilt island to 
carry out his inspections. 

While not having returned to Cyprus since then, I assured Dennis that 
the greek  roads, contrary to how rugged and rustic they would have been
in those days,are now of an excellent - almost english - standard.

Dennis recalled that a local greek came around each week to collect 
the laundry for washing - I'm not sure if Dennis said he gave him five 
pieces of laundry or five pieces of silver. I also neglected to ask if he 
had indeed enjoyed a greek or turkish coffee back then. 

Taking part in the Hilgay Village Art & Craft Fair some years ago, 
I met local artist - Austin Pearce - who when also stationed in Cyprus 
in the mid-fifties, spent a good deal of his free time travelling around 
Cyprus drawing and painting the Cypriot coast and landscape. 
(Which if I recall correctly he sold on to fellow soldiers and locals).

Occasionally what is most surprising about a piece of work is 
what is on the back of a drawing or painting, such as the two bottle 
sketches above. Artists will sometimes use the back of a piece of 
paper to sketch and warm up for the main drawing. Others will 
start a piece, but with a change of heart turn over for 
another preferable subject. 

Or...just getting value for money.

I persuaded Irene, who was reluctant to draw at first, to have a go. 
Not sure if it's a sign or not - the first thing she drew was a marvellous 
bottle of whiskey, followed by a striking striped vase. 

Having produced an excellent vase of flowers first, this gentleman 
proceeded to create something entirely different and unexpected. 
A series of consecutive angular panels presenting alternating themes 
of dynamic strokes of colour. 

Since I am a big comic fan this reminded me of artist Gene Colan's 
work on Dr Strange - sorry - had to get comics in there somewhere…

I'm good with numbers, not so good with names, so a big thank 
you to one and all for taking part - Dennis, Muriel, Irene, Paddy - 
and apologies to those whose work I remember but not their names. 
I'll try harder, and still forget, probably.  

Finally - trains, planes and automobiles notwithstanding 
- we managed to travel a little down memory lane after all, 
while staying in the same place. 

The following week Mary mentioned that her six year old grandson, 
having seen her flower drawing promptly disappeared, and returned 
short time later with his drawing pad and his own picture of 
bottle with a sunflower!

There's inspiration for you.