There has been a seismic shift in the life room, a velvet revolution and I can pinpoint the exact moment it arrived. Watching the SkyArts, ‘Portrait Artist of the Year Award’ one of the contestants silently slipped out their i-pad and began taking photographs, no word was spoken and then quite shockingly they placed the i-pad next to the canvas and quite simply began to copy the photograph, the live model was now all but redundant. I think there was an audible gasp across the country as artists nationwide witnessed this blatant breach of one of the fundamental pacts between artist and model. The pact can be summarised as, ‘I will remain very still and you will record me to the best of your abilities’. This elemental agreement forged through centuries of art making was now broken, the model had become merely a temporary vehicle, a convenience to be referred to now and again instead of the lodestone forged in the crucible of ferocious looking and passionate recording.
So now we have to think, what of the classics, the squinting and measuring, the thumb assiduously sliding up and down the beleaguered pencil like a deranged slide rule, the huffing and puffing as line after frustrating line was rubbed out to eventually create a glistening patina, a delicate palimpsest of fragile dots, dashes, scribbles and scuffs, marks plotting a unique journey of discovery. Knowledge hard won, the life room used to be the sacred space in which you joined that select club of those who could draw stretching back centuries. You were communing with the ancients, touching the hem of Rembrandt, grasping the sleeve of Michelangelo, walking hand in hand with Leonardo, quite literally in the footsteps of giants. The life room was one of the few places left where past practices barely unchanged for centuries informed the present. When Michelangelo picked up a piece of chalk and drew a reclining man in order study the alignment of muscle, bone and limbs so as to better understand his figure of the Libyan Sybil whilst painting the Sistine Chapel he was using life drawing to inform his practice. When Ingres was looking to inject authenticity into his sensuous tondo of the Turkish Bath he drew from the model incessantly having her twist and contort to realise the full extent of his erotic dreams. For generations the model / artist relationship has been sacrosanct but now there is an insidious interloper, the i-pad.
I feel something of a hypocrite, as the Americans say, I’m conflicted. I love technology, I accept shortcuts, I can see how for some the use of the i-pad has made a tremendous difference, giving confidence, allowing more time for detail, supporting failing eyes, I use binoculars for heaven’s sake, so what’s the difference I hear you say. I suppose it’s the shift in priority from working drawing to finished piece. I always thought the life room was a place of study, an experimental space but now it appears to be drifting towards a place of finished goods. The completed, resolved piece seems to be in the ascendency and I’m worried that experimentation, individuality and downright eccentricity will be downgraded, basically I’m worried we’ll stop learning and having the confidence to express ourselves as individuals.
Let’s hear some opinions on this issue, I want to hear your voice, i-pads in the life room, good or bad and more importantly why? Use the comments link below to share your views.
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Jane S, Jane, Judi, Sue, Tom, Tony and selected artist Hadyn.
With time and frequent practice I realise I am becoming more familiar and therefore a little less daunted by the various and often conflicting mental and emotional phases which occur in the development of a piece of art work.
I welcome the initial stages. I relish those early and then secondary steps of applying the ground, whether this is just a layer or two of paint or a more complex application of materials. This is when I become friends with the work and enter into a relationship with it. This is where, with any painting or construction, there is the opportunity to forget and not even think about the finished product but see this period as preparation and groundwork. This is the time where there is no pressure and I can be carefree and enjoy the process of stretching the imagination, be as outrageous, unconventional and as crazy as I wish. Pour and splatter it, collage and stick it, obliterate or graffiti it, this is where the subconscious can be liberated and ideas can be formed and articulated by images rather than dialogue. A talkability that can express itself without words.
The previous stage can take as long as I like except in the life drawing sessions which are limited by time yet it is still possible. Then there is an intermediate stage which continues to be relatively stress free. This is where I look at and find meaning in the marks already made and the colours and materials which have been applied and I respond as I would to a conversation or even a dance. This rudimentary piece can provoke many further actions and reactions leading me consequently on to a slowing down and to a steadying and contemplative juncture.
Then, after my art piece and I have travelled so far, comes the really scary bit. I hit the wall. I do not know what direction to take next or what marks to make and the piece is stonewalling me, the relationship is on the rocks. My confidence is seeping away, depression looms and I wonder whatever made me think I could make this work. Previous encounters with this stage really floored me but now I recognise it when it appears. It still affects me but I know it is something to be gone through however long that might take and I have to stick with it. This is a point where after struggling I may need another experienced eye to help make decisions or I may need to make drastic and bold changes under my own steam.
After the wall is conquered the last decision has to be made. When is the work finished? Well I need time and distance for this last.
On Thursday as I strolled around the life drawing session at half time I saw some lovely marks and colours in the partly completed works. Looking at the life drawing gallery this week I wish there were photos at the half time point so that we could each take our time to decide which of our own works had more potential, the half finished or the more finished works.
by Sandra Cowper
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Dick, Haydn, Jane, Mati, Roger (plus finished drawing), Sandra, Sue, Sumi, Tom, Tony and featured artist Alex
Yesterday I arrived at Redbrick dog tired from days of concentrated activity, ticking off urgent items from a seemingly endless list; family, housekeeping, business and artistic demands, no different in nature to everyone else’s agenda for a typical week, but I forget too easily the advancing years and the medical repair work which require careful husbanding of my resources. I had also, against my best intentions, attended Redbrick on Friday for printing, and the lengthy journeys, to and from the east coast, are, in themselves quite tiring. They are also currently infuriating, as the promise of Spring growth is soured by the depressing indictment of litter, from Batley to Snainton. The comic self- aggrandisement of we Yorkshire folk throughout last Summer’s cycling frenzy does not appear to include either the spreading of, or the collection of litter from our trunk road verges. You may be able to assess my mood from the above, and understand why I was happy to find a quiet corner in the life room, hidden behind Tom’s substantial canvas, but it cannot excuse my intemperate reaction to Dick’s innocent lunchtime observation that eating food in a cinema is a legitimate activity in a civilised society. I do not withdraw my remarks, but regret having been quite so beastly to Dick, and offer my sincere apology.
I tell you this, not to salve my conscience, but to illustrate that part of life drawing which struck me most forcibly yesterday; there are numerous influences on a lfe session, many of which can be anticipated and engineered for best results, and many more over which we have no control. The latter influences were weighing heavily as Kay belatedly took her position, and my prospects for a productive day were minimal. The initial pose provided no more than a rear, three quarter view which seemed appropriate to my dark mood, but no, wait a minute. Kay was not comfortable, shifting her position to offer a typical, uplifted profile, whilst draping right shoulder and arm over her chair back. What a transformation; whilst I did not skip around the studio in excitement, I was shocked to find that I had the sort of model, pose, lighting, and proximity which I always envy when viewing great paintings in galleries. If only I had that degree of control, my work would be so much better.
Well, my acrylic and charcoal painting does not quite prove this theory, but, considering the negative portents which had to be overcome, I am surprised to have made a painting which I did not expect at the start. Of course, it isn’t a painting in the sense of Tom’s work and was made too quickly to acquire any intellectual weight, nor did this change in fortune prevent my immoderate outburst at lunch, but the physical tiredness could not be erased, and so I am content, this time, with the “sketch” quality of this piece.
For the most part, the ten paintings produced were typically of the Saturday timescale; well-composed and resolved, although strangely dark considering the bright Spring sunshine which moved the shadows around so that one constantly felt to have misjudged the modelling. Sandra, Jackie and Gerry made the loosest, most expressive images, with Gerry showing again that he is making serious progress in parts. Sue appears to have felt as tired as me but had not had my location advantage and had not really got into her painting, whilst Hadyn transports us to another continent with his enigmatic ladyboy in chiffon colours; an odd view of Kay but a strangely satisfying image. Tony made another intricate and precise pattern of colour and tone, pinning those fleeting shadows across Kay’s features like a CGI still, whilst Dick and Isi made powerful, painterly portraits of the same tough broad from a Damon Runyon novel. Tom complained that he was struggling with gender all afternoon, but his incessant nattering about football and power tools appeared to place him firmly on the boys’ side of the studio. Anyway, tolerance is my new watchword.
Paintings and drawings by Dick, Gerry, Hadyn, Isi, Jackie, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Tom, Tony and featured artist Russell.
Roger H has spent many years taking photographs and his skills and knowledge in that field extend back to a pre-digital age, a time when you could spend many hours in the eerie red light of a wet darkroom delicately developing and printing black and white photographs. The skill at that time was to be able to judge tones accurately, a skill not easy to acquire in the subdued light of the darkroom, but gradually eyes adjusted and even within that strange environment you became adept at noticing even the most subtle of changes. With the advent of digital photography those hard won skills were redundant, darkrooms the length and breadth of the country all but disappeared overnight and with them went the skills. Wet Photography became the home of the artisan photographer and that ability to adjust and assess tones became the role of the computer, Photoshop in particular.
Roger has dug deep and revived those skills, I'm sure his ability to assess tones so accurately began in the darkroom hunched over a tray of developer, squinting at those emerging tones. I can see him coaxing those darks (bright white when the negative clamped into the enlarger was projected) and protecting those subtle but all important whites so the print retained contrast. In his drawing the same process is used, the tones are separated and each is delicately shifted and calibrated on a notional scale from light to dark with the overall purpose to accurately capture the form and ultimately create a credible likeness of the model. When done well, this jigsaw puzzle method of drawing is highly effective but to mangle a well known saying, the devil is both in the detail and the whole, one dependent on the other. You can have a lovely little detail but if it's not in it's correct position the accuracy of the drawing collapses.
So in theory you start big looking at the overall structure and end up small looking at details. But Roger works across both big and small trusting in his initial sketch to hold the ship on course and more often than not it does. Roger is onto something and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops. Finally a quick mention of t'other Roger, Roger S, I suppose most of us have become blase about Roger's watercolours, they appear most weeks and are uniformly good so we stop really looking, I think I'm talking about myself here. But like the Prodigal Son, I'm returning to the fold of Roger admirers, the man is one heck of a watercolourist, have a good look at the latest head and shoulders, it's really, really good.
So finally, I say,'All hail the Two Rogers, the Twin Peaks of Redbrick Mill', ( by that I don't mean weird and compelling but heights of achievement ).
Paintings and drawings by Alex, Catherine, Dick, Ivan, Jane, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Sue, Tom and Tony.
This weekend we were a very small group practicing our skills with our special model Fiona and our customary dedication. There have been so many searching blogs which review the outcomes of these sessions that it is hard to find new things to say - I think I can safely leave the works to speak for themselves. So perhaps I might consider my own recurring question about Redbrick sessions - 'why do I keep doing this demanding and costly business time and time again with all its strains and stresses.?' I mean at my age I could so easily say - 'enough is enough - been there - done that…' as I have done with other activities that were central to my life. To be blunt I spend days struggling to produce my somewhat clumsy images of a naked person which no-one would dream of putting up on their living room wall. I am coming to the conclusion that Redbrick must be for me some form of addiction therapy group - AA (Artists Anonymous.)
So what do I get out of being part of the Redbrick clan? It's MAD !
MOTIVATION? yes - being elderly and habitually deterred from making sustained efforts I need to be pushed. I observe the sustained effort which all members of the group demonstrate and try my best to match it. I watch others in the same boat struggling to resolve their own and similar problems and coming out triumphant. The friendly and un-challenging comments offered by other members as a routine component of the sessions is invaluable in sharpening my own perceptions of my work. The creative environment of Redbrick is so much more conducive of artwork than an adapted bedroom - and no domestic distractions. In particular Redbrick gave me a chance to exhibit a review of a lifetime's work in art which enormously boosted my self-respect as an artist.
ASPIRATION? yes - that is a fundamental value. I want my efforts to seem worthwhile to me and receive confirmation from others who's views I respect. I want to be able to transmit successfully to others the quality of response I get from my encounter with the model. I get inspiration from artists like Sandra, Patrick and Russell for example who have such a dynamic and expressive relationship with the model and I look forward to their coming Exhibition.
DEVELOPMENT? yes - I want to practice my own skills and learn new tricks from my fellow members in the group whom I respect. I want, even at this late stage, to see my work developing to avoid that repetitious and enervating production line which is beginning to dry up. I'd like to not be afraid to lose what I've done in a painting by pushing it forward in a fresh direction even at the risk of destroying it. It is an extraordinary privilege to watch Tom performing his magical trick of transmutation of image - now you see it - then look again and it has become something else. I can't wait to see his forthcoming major retrospective and be able to say "I saw him do that…"
Finally, with retirement denying me the active role that art afforded me throughout my working life Redbrick lets me still feel part of the scene - however small that role may be. Thank you Redbrick.
Paintings and drawings by Cathy (Day One and Two), David, Gerry, Ian, Jane (One Day), Sue, Tom and Tony.
I recently watched the video (circulated by Tom) of the Perceptual Painters from Pennsylvania for the third time and I want to use the blog this week to try and explain – at least to myself – why they have such appeal for me.
Painting is silent poetry. Apparently these are the words of Plutarch, but I didn’t know about this ancient link between poetry and painting. One of the perceptual painters talks about ‘the search for poetry in a direct and unmediated experience of looking’ and it struck me as an insight worthy of more thought. The artist also described the group’s shared preoccupation with painting from direct observation which I am now increasingly drawn to.
I am sceptical about the value of using photographs to inform painting. I recognize that they can enhance observation along with drawings, sketches, and memories but in my experience they are more likely to get in the way. The state of mind where we can make fullest use of our intellect, emotions, sub conscious and imagination is elusive and precious. The haiku poets would describe it as an almost meditative state.
The Pennsylvanian painters talk about painting as a journey towards a meaning that is not known in advance. They describe the creative process as an encounter. The artist is excited about what she is looking at and the response starts there, in that moment of time, rather than being dominated by a predetermined intention. Because the encounter is a dynamic in ‘real time’ the excitement is always accompanied by risk and therefore requires courage.
It didn't mention in the video whether these artists also use spatulas (see Tom’s last blog) but what they do have is a joyfulness about the way they use paint. And that pure pleasure in discovering what paint can do permeates their work. They come across as a refreshingly unpretentious bunch and seem happy to let their work speak for itself.
What light can these perceptual painters shed on our representations of Jaz?. In one life group recently, Jaz strolled around the room playing his guitar and singing. He is a talented and aspiring musician with very few opportunities in the current economic climate to fulfil his dreams and I always admire his professionalism, good humour and dignity. I love painting Jaz. Our collective representations indicate that many of us do. And consequently I think many of our paintings and drawings have a ‘realism’ and immediacy that irrespective of actual likeness communicate a convincing symbolic shared humanity. That’s where I begin to glimpse the poetry. In this vein, I particularly like Sandra’s sensitive and powerful drawing and the way Roger H has captured Jaz’s compelling combination of delicacy and strength. But then I also like Alex’s Jaz who appears to be hewn from stone and the electrical charges coming from Beatrice’s Jaz; and then Catherine’s use of colour reflects a multitude of moods. I will now forego the temptation to make a spatula joke and simply say I think Tom has caught the most complex and fleeting look of amusement in the moment, with the most luxurious and joyful use of paint – unpretentious poetry indeed.
by Jane Storr
Paintings and drawings by Alex, Barry, Beatrix, Catherine, Cathy, Charlotte, Dick, Hadyn, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Jane.
Here's an updated life drawing diary for the coming weeks. Please note there are still a few places available for the 2-day session on 21st & 22nd Feb. If you would like to join us please e-mail or book online at the Online Calendar. There may be an opportunity to join us for just one of the days, but please remember that numbers for these sessions are limited. If you would be interested in one of the days please let me know so that we can manage the numbers. Thank you.
Booking is also open for our first Portrait Day of the year on 21st March. Again, numbers are restricted to 10 for this session, so please book online or e-mail if you are interested.