Foundation Course Diary – Entry 1

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide

Mondrian Journal 1

I stand in front of the easel in studio101. The afternoon sun is streaming through the windows to my right. To my left, a configuration of small white boxes. I am wondering how I got to be here, in this place of beginning and unknowing. But before I am overwhelmed by this train of thought someone is at my shoulder breaking down the task into simple steps: stand back; see the whole; draw from the shoulder and do not be afraid. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so daunting.

The first lesson is that of proportion: start by seeing the block, of which the white boxes are just a part. If I can identify the outermost axis then I can pin down the ratio of size and distribution. This means that when Icome to drawing a figure, it will not have a head twice as big as the body – I hope.

I spend the next hour drawing lines – top and bottom horizontals first; then left and right verticals; finally the internal edges of the boxes. Then I move onto a wine bottle and cup. I continue to focus on the dominant lines, keeping them straight and the objects two-dimensional. I think I see echoes of cubism yet the technique dates back to Renaissance Europe.

Every so often a firm yet sensitive voice intervenes and poses two simple but fundamental questions: Too big or too small? Too wide or too narrow? I think for a moment, stand back and seeing things afresh, start again.

I am no prodigy but begin to discern a method. I realize that there is a journey of learning that everyone passes through, even the greatest artists. Above all I feel supported by the authoritative and sensitive intervention of my teacher.

Like nowhere else, Lavender Hill Studios has created a space in which I feel safe to expose my unknowing. The teachers are trained in house and supported to develop their practice. As a result they are best placed to coax novices through.

My first class over and I have learnt a parallel lesson: that of perspective. By standing back I see the whole better; by seeing the whole I understand its relationship to the parts. Perspective teaches me that genius is rare and hard work is better. Perspective, in painting as in life, allows me to loose sight of the shore.

Foundation Course Diary – Entry 2

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Robert H. Schuller.

Demoiselles Entry 2

My second lesson and I am quite literally back to the drawing board, armed with packing paper, charcoal and shamy leather. For a perfectionist I have grown remarkably comfortable with the idea of getting it wrong, rubbing it out and starting again. I have learnt not to be precious and above all not to be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, they are never mistakes just the art of learning. It is amazing how much you get out of a lesson at Lavender Hill Studios.

I pick my spot and resume my experiment in boxes. However, this is just a warm up as my teacher points me in the direction of a cast of three nudes, their arms interlaced, their backs facing the spectator. They look beautiful, like three vestal virgins.

I know I will not do them justice but nor was Rome built in a day. The exercise still lies in seeing the whole before the parts but now I am also adding strong diagonals. In my head I have come to identify these as lines of flight – where the latent power of the composition escapes and so gives it depth and meaning.

I begin to cut across the right angles with a few key strokes. I avoid curves and stick to straight lines. Soon, new shapes (and spaces) emerge from my block and the curvaceous bodies of the cast whisper across my page.

I haven’t got the proportion entirely right and I have given one of them larger hips than is flattering – may I be forgiven. But I am grasping the principle and can place the technique within a history of art. I am reminded of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and understand how indebted cubism is to its renaissance forefathers. Again, the context (or the whole) is helping me to refine my perception and hone my skills.

In retrospect I am amazed by my composure. I resolve that, yet again, it is testament to the teaching and preparation I have received. I have been given the confidence to try, and better to overshoot than to never try. With hindsight I know I was too ambitious but I have learnt so much more in the doing than if I had erred on the side of caution. It is OK.

Over the three hours I am never criticized only ever instructed. I stand beside more experienced students who have joined the school precisely because they have felt frustrated by the lack of rigour in their previous training. I feel fortunate to be learning so much without ever feeling the pain. I am looking forward to lesson 3.