Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” Anaïs Nin
As I return to the studio for my third lesson, I run through the principles I have learnt so far: stand back, draw from the shoulder, light markings on the paper and, most importantly, see the box and then the lines of flight. Not forgetting my mantra of course: rub out and start again.
It all seems very simple, but I am prepared for a step back – perhaps one figure instead of three; frequent and slight rotations of the cast so that I can focus on the technique rather than the end product. I centre my attention on the slender, milk white nude to my left. She gives the impression of having gently nudged her contours into space. I love her tranquil gaze and the brazen nudity of her form.
Unfortunately my translation does not do her justice and my frustration rises in equal measure to her quiet. On the page she is wider, her features blunt and her proportions, disproportionate. How I can get it so wrong! Softly but with perfect timing and incredible insight a teacher’s voice shifts my focus back to the lines and the fundamentals of process vs product. A change of pose and pace; a fresh pair of eyes and few, sharp questions set me on course once more.
This is the first time that the subject I am drawing is necessarily smaller on the paper than in reality. I define the top horizontal, trace the bottom horizontal, mark my left vertical, then the right. Finally, but critically, I score in the major dividing lines – shoulders, hips, knees. Once the distribution is there, then I can think about chiselling the outlines of her limbs, but always in straight lines and sparingly.
I stand back and reflect. I compare the drawing and the cast. In a world dominated by product it is easy to forget that the process is as important. I am reminded of something I read recently: when you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.
With the same stroke I realise that for as long as a language, whether spoken, visual or other, has a grammar then whoever the teacher is, is secondary. I had been disconcerted by the presence of a new facilitator but the beauty of Lavender Hill Studios is that all the teachers are artists, sharing in that grammar. I understand suddenly that change stimulates learning, it keeps the student agile and focussed on the process.
Finally, a demonstration by one of the founders confirms my theory and raises my spirits. Demonstrations are invaluable in showing how the grammar comes together. They are spontaneous but determined, at once rigorous and relaxed. Ultimately they show that mastery comes in practice, not in a flash of lightening.
It has been a frustrating week, but also an illuminating one. I have come away empowered to work through the challenges and remain alive to them. I know I can gain nothing if I stop. I must push through.