Friday, 17 April 2009

The Meaning of Life - Part One

© teresa kirkpatrick 2008

I should have been on an Art Course this week at Central St Martins, but it was cancelled. As it happens I’ve spent the week usefully and done loads of painting, so perhaps life is telling me that I don’t need to go on a course right now. But last year I had such fun when I finally plucked up the courage to do some Life Study there . . .

I started with a weekly Beginners Life Drawing course in the Annexe of the Charing Cross Road building - famous alumni include Johnny Rotten. Twelve of us, mainly amateurs. While we were introducing ourselves the model arrived, wearing a short, flowered, pleated skirt, boxy little jacket and knee socks. A soft-spoken Scot, he was in his early sixties (at a guess) and called G. It was quite a relief when he took his clothes off . . . we chose Benches or Easels (these are tall so I used a bench) and set up. Our lecturer asked us to do four small Line Drawings - five minutes each - with G (who was on a low table in the centre of the room) changing position each time - and then we turned our boards to face each other for a Crit. Because we were concentrating on Line most of the students drew the equivalent of crash test dummies and I got scolded for including G's hair . We got tips on Proportion, how to size up angles by squinting at a pencil (I always wanted to do that!) and Negative Space (the shape where the subject isn't). After a break, G remounted his table and held two more poses for twenty minutes each while we deformed him in charcoal again, including Tone by smuding the charcoal - which you can do with a Putty Rubber or your fingers - did I mention how grubby it is using charcoal?

For the second session, I equipped myself with a sturdy black plastic Tube in which to carry my sheets of A1. Unfortunately it resembled a rocket launcher so I got some pretty funny looks from my fellow passengers on the train . . . Our lecturer was off sick and the class was taken by T, an affable middle aged guy sporting an Earring. He promptly got us sketching against the clock. Our model was a lady in her early thirties. T asked her to strike four Poses of five minutes each (phew!), then eight two-minute Poses holding on to a chair - we were supposed to draw each Pose on top of the one before to produce an effect of movement. Having loosened us up, T asked our model to hold one Pose for the rest of the evening and we had to use Pencil - the intention being to convey a three dimensional effect using Line only. Tone and Shading Not Allowed! Again I got told off for including facial features ("it's not a portrait class . . . "). I didn't like to say that blank faces in drawings give me the creeps . . . . . T showed us how making a line darker (not heavier) brings it forward. I knew the model was my kind of girl when she said "students, take note - this model likes crisps and chocolate", but unfortunately we'd already had our break so she didn't get any. Once or twice she cracked up laughing at something so the atmosphere was less intense than before. Time for the Crit . T praised the good parts of everyone's drawings and pointed out that you don't learn unless you make mistakes . . .

© teresa kirkpatrick 2008

I arrived late for the third session and all the Benches were taken so I had to attempt an Easel. T was getting everyone to set up for the main event of the evening: a drawing of model J lying down on the low table. When he said "use Charcoal and I don't want any Lines – just Tone" an audible gasp of horror went round the class. I eventually got a shape on the paper closely resembling a trussed up chicken - because I was late to Class I'd got the worse possible viewpoint to draw from; J's head, back, bottom and a bit of one foot. By now I was getting the hang of using the Putty Rubber to do Highlights and Blurring. T was keen on us getting the right amount of Light on J's hair – I was quite proud of my efforts but he took the Putty Rubber and swept a whole wide line of Highlight through it !! At the Crit it was obvious that some students just could not let go of those Lines!! But at least their drawings looked like a Model lying on a platform rather than an oven-ready Turkey. T said some nice things about my use of the Putty Rubber , mainly praising the Highlights in the hair, apparently forgetting that he'd put them in himself . . . for week four G modelled again. I paid special attention to what he was wearing: white trainers, blue ankle socks, a thigh-length flared brown skirt, a patterned short-sleeved shirt & a sleeveless cricket sweater. A sheepskin-lined flying jacket and a white peaked sixties-style Liver Birds cap completed the outfit. . . .he looked like an advert for Miss Selfridge. T asked us to cover a sheet of paper with a 50 percent Charcoal Tint and reproduce G by creating highlights with the Putty Rubber and putting in Charcoal shadows. No Line Drawing Allowed! Boy, was it messy . . .

By week five it was clear that "Nudey Night", as my work colleagues had taken to calling it, would continue to be taken by T. J was our model again: not only was she pretty & curvy (a pleasure to draw) and smiley & pleasant - she was the only one of the Models we'd used so far to come back into the studio once she was dressed to take a look at the drawings. We focussed on Weight – ie where J was putting hers – so you could also call it Balance. The Main Event was an hour's Drawing with Pencil using Hatching & Cross Hatching to Convey Tone – T went round drawing what looked like little spider's webs and nets in the corner of everyone's paper to show them what he meant. At the break we wandered round looking at the other Drawings. One or two Students were looking quite desperate and I wasn't sure I'd got the hang of the Hatching & Cross-Hatching either. Some interesting results - I thought the Boy Who Can't Let Go Of Lines would be able to cope with Hatching – which is Lines, after all! but no – he didn’t seem able to draw at all except in his own style. Our retired exec had obviously been struggling but at least he'd managed to Hatch & Cross-Hatch a bit, so his subject looked solid. Unfortunately it resembled nothing more than a man’s private parts, because he'd got the bottom way out of proportion . . . There were a couple of Oven-Readies and a mesh Dressmaker's Dummy but the others were really good. T reminded me not to Scribble when I was supposed to Hatch. He liked my rendering of the Cloth they cover the Mattress with.

On Week Six the ladies of the class were delighted to find we had a drop-dead gorgeous young hunk of a Model, all flowing locks, tanned muscles and Latino attitude. When he walked in we couldn't believe our eyes – or our luck! And what were we drawing this week? The face. So he kept his kit on. We did start with four quick poses to loosen up. These were full-figure and I perked up a bit but T told the Hunk there was no need to get undressed so I unperked again. The latecomers to class were somewhat bemused to see a clothed Model, but when T announced we would spend the next two hours drawing his Face the reaction was not so much disappointment as horror. We could choose Line, Tone or Hatching & Cross-Hatching and the brief was not to do a portrait but to interpret the shapes we could see. City Lawyer Girl had arrived late and was setting up behind me with a good view of his face – as soon as T mentioned faces she claimed not to be able to see from that position and moved next to the door, where the only view was the back of the model’s head. At the Break the model left the room so we were able to look at each other's Attempts. "Poor Guy" one girl was heard to murmur as she wandered round. It was evident that Faces were not every Student's Cup of Tea. Most of the students looked quite despondent, including Retired Exec, who’d abandoned his Easel in favour of a Bench after last week’s Fiasco. At the Crit, T as usual found Good Things to say about all of them. The Boy Who Likes Lines had broken with tradition and used Tone, and produced a bit of a mess. Ironically City Lawyer Girl had made a good sketch of the back of the head – it had Volume and Highlights. Features of other drawings included Cartoon Lips and The Boy who looked like a Girl (T’s words!). Again T reminded me Not to Scribble and to Curve my Hatching to avoid the result looking Too Flat.

For session seven we were drawing Hands and Feet - J perched on a stool with these much in evidence, while we pulled our benches and easels up close so we could see (not close enough as it turned out in my case). The brief was to spend an hour on a Foot (or Hand) and then another hour on a Hand (or Foot), either both on one sheet of paper or filling a separate sheet with each, and using Charcoal. I struggled away on J’s Foot and was quite pleased with the toes until I realised I'd given her six of them. I looked furtively around - had anyone noticed? No ! and rubbed them out immediately. Of course I couldn't draw the second lot of toes anywhere near as good as the first. If I was dissatisfied with my efforts, on my right Retired Exec was totally despondent with his Hand and took it off the board as soon as he could. To make matters worse, the Fashion Student on my left had drawn a really good Hand (she doesn't come to every class, why did she have to come to this one and show us up????). I tried to cheer the Exec up by telling him about the Six Toes but he laughed so much I wished I hadn't bothered . . . By the next drawing, T was laughing a lot and had to come over and rectify my Hand with a few deft Lines. There was no need to refer to it as a Claw, though, was there? . . . in the end I cheated by drawing in some background. Once the Claw (sorry, I mean Hand) was in context it looked a bit better but as a Hand Drawing Exercise it was only marginally better than my Foot (which I didn't bother to put into the Crit at all). The Boy who Draws Lines was so fed up he hadn't put his efforts out but T made him show his Foot. The City Lawyer had drawn a sort of Tube which was supposed to be an Ankle. Everyone else including the bloody Fashion Student had drawn really nice Hands and Feet. I wished we could do Faces again . . .

© teresa kirkpatrick 2008

Only ten students turned up for week eight – possibly daunted by T’s declared intention of getting us to reproduce our Model using only Circles, Squares and Triangles. Sometimes it's better not to publicise these things ahead of time . . . ovals and Rectangles were also Allowed. I decided to use Charcoal and sat there while I decided How to Approach the Subject. I wasn't the only one who was Stumped. The girl who normally sat on my left was staring at her paper with a glazed expression. To my right the Exec had started, but was sighing heavily already - not a good sign!! Eventually I began with J’s Cheeks, which are quite Round, and her Nose (a Triangle, obviously). The drawing took on an Abstract air as I continued. She was sitting on the platform with a Sheet draped behind and below her, and two upright Fan Heaters in front at each side, so I added them as well. T came by and said "Wow!! I love that!!" and encouraged me to colour in some of the Shapes, until I had to stop as I was in danger of Drawing Too Much. At the Crit, T was beside himself with Joy - everyone had excelled themselves. The Exec had gone Off Brief a bit by using Other Shapes but had produced a really interesting picture. T referred to mine as "Nefertiti with Ghetto Blasters" but I think he meant that as a compliment - he'd already enthused about the almost African style I'd managed (quite unintentionally) to create, and the fan heaters were exceptionally large . . . of course, the Boy who Uses Lines hadn't followed the Brief at all but he'd produced his best drawing yet. The Girl on my Left had produced a brilliant three-dimensional work!

As requested, we arrived at the Annexe for week nine carrying a copy of The Guardian, some Glue, & a Household Paintbrush. I set up on an extremely wobbly Bench; these are also known as Donkeys - mine was obviously due to go to the Retired Donkeys' Home any time soon. Unfortunately J was lying on the platform with her head to the wall and my Donkey was at the foot of the bed, as it were, so my view of her was Not Good. Still, I could see Shapes so I set to tearing up my Newspaper. I concentrated on Lights and Darks and started sticking pieces to the background paper almost immediately; some of the others did a lot of Tearing (Scissors were Not Allowed) before doing any Sticking at all. We were Not Allowed to use Coloured newsprint and I hadn't realised how much Colour print there is in The Guardian! T had specifically chosen it because of the range of light and dark Tones in the printing, most of which were coming off on my fingers. I spent a lot of time Tearing pieces to the exact Shape I wanted – unfortunately because I was re-creating what I could see, I forgot to work from back to front, which meant even more Tearing as I couldn't Overlap pieces like you should in Collage. We spent the break looking at each other’s work. Some didn't seem to make sense at all, although one or two were quite promising. We carried on and I decided to put in some Background but T thought I shouldn't have, so I attempted to Remove it. The result was a Sticky Mess of half torn bits of paper on the Top Left of my Collage only rivalled by the Sticky Mess of half torn bits of paper all over the Studio floor . . . eventually T took pity on us and announced the Crit. The Exec got a special mention for attempting to portray the Reflections in the Mirror, and one or two other Students had created interesting Collages – some had made the paper into pleats to get an almost Origami effect. I did get a Very Well Done but was not happy with mine. The Girl on my Left got praise but she didn't like hers either. The City Lawyer had produced a horrid mess all over her Collage so I felt a bit better. The Boy who likes Lines had managed to go right off the backing paper and had a sort of newspaper tail on his Collage.

Ten of us managed to struggle through the howling winds and driving rain to the Annexe for the final class – this time using Ink and Brushes. It was the first time any of us had used Ink – several Students immediately asked for advice & T suggested we dilute it a little – then off we went. I LOVED IT!! Applying it with a brush meant it worked in a similar way to Watercolour, apart from the fact that you can't correct mistakes (I think it was the Exec who described it as "a totally unforgiving medium"). So as we worked we had to live with everything we'd committed to paper!! T wandered around the class encouraging us to "Loosen Up and Let It Flow". To my surprise several Students came over to admire my efforts and T was also complimentary. I think I found Ink & Brush easier than most of the class because I use Watercolour. T put J in a Pose she was to hold for an hour . I was quite pleased with my sketch but it was still rather tight and I'd only used forty minutes of the allotted time. Others had also finished theirs quickly, and swapped places to do another sketch from a different Angle. I didn't want to move – but I remembered I'd packed a large brush and I had a spare sheet of A1 in my Tube – so on impulse I set up again and just Went For It using much bolder Lines, a bit of Shadow and a lot of Loosening Up and Flowing. This one took only ten minutes and was quite a lot easier because I already knew how J was sitting so avoided making the same Mistakes. T was Thrilled with the result – he said it was the best thing I'd done! At the Crit the ten of us displayed completely different styles – some Students had tried to use Ink like Charcoal or Pencil whereas the Boy Who Likes Lines and I had used it like Paint. His picture was terrific and T praised mine also. Everyone had got to grips with the new Medium – one girl had used Diluted and Undiluted Ink to get a proper range of greys. For the final part of the evening, T had asked us to bring in the sketch we Least Enjoyed Doing and the one we Learnt Most From. I cheated and brought in only one but most of the others had two. He did a sort of overall Crit for each of us in terms of development etc. To my delight the Exec had brought in the Sketch which made J look like Rude Bits and actually said "I won't tell you what it reminds me of" . . . It was Really Interesting hearing each Student's comments, what they liked and disliked, what they felt they'd learned. T said we should All Be Proud of Ourselves.

I was so sorry it was over I booked myself onto another Life Study course almost immediately . . . of which, more to follow!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Lands of Enchantment

Had another Grand Day Out on Saturday at the Lands of Enchantment exhibition at Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire. This is an annual art exhibition organised by Andy Compton of ADC Books, who acts as the sole worldwide agent for the Tolkien-inspired art of Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Jef Murray and Peter Pracownik. It takes place at the Redesdale Hall in the centre of Moreton, which is decked out in banners for the occasion:

The lobby and staircase at the Redesdale Hall
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

It was great to see familiar faces at the Exhibition; everyone welcomed us like old friends and we had several chats (and a cup of tea) before we ever got near any pictures. The two paintings of Ruth Lacon’s which I really liked were The Inescapable Wave - a Japanese style painting reminiscent of Tolkien’s recurring Atlantis dream, and which someone else liked enough to buy during the day - and Bilbo Finds Himself East of the Misty Mountains, which was full of air and space and had a real sense of distance.

As well as all the paintings, we were captivated by the appearance of a pygmy owl in the exhibiton hall. She came courtesy of the Cotswold Falconry Centre and didn’t seem at all fazed by the attention she was getting (which was considerable).

Pygmy Owl Close Up
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

I hadn’t expected to like Peter Pracownik’s paintings (I’d caught a glimpse of a couple somewhere else and thought them a bit too Fantasy-based for my liking) but they absolutely blew me away when I had a chance to study them properly. I particularly liked The Way is Closed (based on Tolkien’s design for the entrance of Moria) and Middle Earth, which had a definite feel of a 1960’s album cover (King Crimson springs to mind) and Peter agreed; he was a musician for many years - in his heyday he played the Roundhouse in Camden with Hawkwind - as it happens, I was there!! Eventually he decided he could make a better living as an artist, although he still plays in a band now. Peter and his partner Nicola (also an artist) run a gallery in Tintagel, Cornwall, which you can find out about at He had a stall in the dealer’s hall where I bought some postcards and a fridge magnet (I can never resist a fridge magnet. This one has the Green Man on it).

Peter Pracownik at his stall in the dealer’s hall
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

Ted Nasmith had a wide variety of paintings and prints on show - some large, some small. My other half would have happily taken several home with us - and so would I, but we would have chosen different ones! My favourite was Boromir’s Last Stand, although Luthien runs it a close second. Ted was exhibiting some tiny paintings, too - a sensible move in these days of recession. I was tempted by one of Frodo praying to Elbereth . . .

By now the hall was filling up with visitors. Becky Carter-Hitchin arrived with a wonderful design based on the emblems of the Noldor . It was absolutely fabulous and several of us - including Ruth - crowded round making admiring coo-ing noises over it. She had laid it on the floor for us to see and it looked like a sumptuous rug . . . we were so engrossed that when Angela Gardiner’s talk was announced we realised all the seats were taken. Still, standing at the back we had a good view!

Thanks to Chris Tolkien (Hilary’s grandson) a whole heap ( several heaps) of Hilary’s unpublished papers have been made available to Angela and she is in the process of writing his autobiography as she feels she would like to give Hilary his due place in JRR Tolkien’s life. The brothers were very close. Black & White Ogre Country is a lovely little book of Hilary’s reminiscences, which has been published as a kind of preview to the full biography. I was particularly struck by this extract: “We used to live a big part of the summer up trees, particularly a certain sycamore . . .” Angela showed us a Christmas card drawn by the boys’ grandfather, John Suffield (Mabel Tolkien’s father). He used to make one every year, and this sample had trees recognisably in the same style as Tolkien used to draw; and a tiny rendering of the Lord’s Prayer in a little circle. So that’s where JRRT got the idea of the Father Christmas Letters from! Interestingly, the book contains a small painting by Hilary in a similar style and apparently Tim Tolkien (I can’t remember where he fits in) also draws and paints in the Tolkien - or should I say Suffield - style.

Jef Murray had a huge amount of paintings on show - my favourite The Eagle of Manwe was there, along with a similar one Mearas - and his illustrations for Black & White Ogre Country went down very well - several had sold. I was chuffed when he said he remembered me liking The Eagle of Manwe - apparently he often recalls people by the paintings they prefer!

(Some of) Jef Murray’s display
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

We nearly missed out on seats again for Ted Nasmith’s talk because by then we’d bumped into the major book collector Alan Reynolds, whose lecture we’d gone to at Oxonmoot. Amongst lots of other interesting stuff he told us how even today Tolkien’s views on language are being vindicated: for years Tolkien argued with “experts” that the Roman name for the town of Bath - Aquae Sulis - meant “waters of Sul” rather than “waters of Sulis” because - as every Latin scholar knows - “Sulis” means “of Sul”. All the experts pooh-poohed his idea. Then some relics were excavated in Bath clearly dedicated to the Goddess Sul. They really should have listened to the Professor in the first place . . .

Back to Ted’s talk. He told us that he likes to paint something beautiful in a picture even when the overall subject is grim - I think he likes the contrast, such as the horror of the Kinslaying in such a lovely setting. He talked about the dangers of overpainting (which struck a chord with at least one fledgling artist in the audience) and I was greatly cheered when he said that some of his ideas for pictures have come to fruition over many years. Hope for me yet then . . . Ted discussed the pleasures and pitfalls of being commissioned to do illustrations for The Silmarillion; for example, Christopher Tolkien objected to Ted putting trees and agricultural scenery around Gondolin because JRR Tolkien had described it as standing on a featureless plain; but logic dictates that the inhabitants would have had to grow food etc somehow. I think the discussions Ted had with CT must have been quite lively!

The Bell Inn, Moreton in Marsh
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

By now we were starving, and headed to The Bell for lunch. There’s a strong suggestion that the exterior of The Prancing Pony at Bree is based on The Bell, similarities include the three storeys of the pub building (those little rooms at the top would be ideal lodgings for hobbits!) and its entrance via a courtyard, which you can just see to the right of my photo. I assume that it’s an old coaching inn. After lunch we wandered back to the Redesdale Hall, pausing only to admire the local bookshop’s window display. Full marks to them for noticing there was a Tolkien Art Show in town - that‘s what I call using your initiative!

Books on Art and Tolkien in the shop window
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

Of course, once we entered the Dealers Room back at the Redesdale Hall I lost both the others immediately - my other half is particularly susceptible to random book-buying and by the time I managed to retrieve him, he had bagged a first edition of Owen Barfield on CS Lewis and a copy of Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce. Upstairs we were thrilled to find that the eagle - billed as Gwaihir - had arrived. I took loads of photos because you never know when you might want a reference so you can put an eagle in a painting, do you? Here’s the best one:

© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

We still hadn’t had time to get round all the paintings so we took the opportunity to do so before Ruth’s talk. On stage Ted Nasmith, Alex Lewis and Madeline Anderson were reprising the songs they had sung at the last Oxonmoot Ents and it made for a very pleasant atmosphere. Ruth’s talk was the last of the day. She’s now using more and more acrylic - she finds that she can get even more textural results than with oil paints and finds it good for introducing emotion into a painting. Sometimes she will try out a subject in gouache and do another version in acrylic. The reason she generally puts borders on her paintings is that they represent a safety line between our world and the sometimes strange and terrifying world in the picture. All her paintings are carefully researched - meticulously based on Tolkien’s texts, but also in other ways; for example the one of Beorn dancing with the bears has several distinct varieties of bears in it. She told us that she was careful to represent Wargs rather than grey wolves in her picture Fifteen Birds in Five Fir Trees because she was trying to get away from the idea of a Western European grey wolf. Although her paintings are not photo-realistic they are based on reality - hence the need for careful research.

By the time we drove out of Moreton past the Hall the doors were firmly shut for the night. Artists and organisers had all departed for an evening of beer and song at The Bell. And why not? They deserved it!