Foundation Course Diary – Entry 5

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Kierkegaard

Foundation ME copy

It is not often that you have the opportunity to stop and evaluate the journey so as to make sure that the next step is better informed and more assured. Today was the fifth lesson of the term and possibly the most satisfying as I did just that.

Until now each session has focused on a specific aspect of drawing and seeing. Like an onion, I have layered knowledge on skill and found to my surprise that there is a discernible method to painting. Notwithstanding there have been moments of frustration, precisely when I have forgotten the importance of process and focused on the imperfection before me.

This week, however, I move swiftly and am taken to task, expertly. I settle in front of my cast and divide the page into four. Each quarter will build on the previous: encasement, next four lines, then another four and then, shadow shapes and seeing in mass. Who would have thought that reducing a subject to dark and light shapes could ultimately produce a work so delicate and subtle as to seem whispered rather than massed onto the paper.

I take to the challenge and begin to see the school’s philosophy literally sketched out before me – so organic, so logical. It is the grammar of language, and to this effect, the building blocks of communication. In the bottom right hand corner I push the work to its final stage: I identify and start to fill in the largest and most prominent areas of shadow with soft charcoal, massaging it into the paper over and over again. When I think the paper can take no more, I reapply the charcoal and push the darkness further.

It transpires that there is a spectrum from the darkest dark to the lightest light, and by identifying the two extremes you can then judge the shades of grey in between, and how this plays out in the drawing. Again it is about defining the scaffold to then support the structure.

This lesson is also an experiment in materials. Having spent much of the term working on packing paper I have now progressed to textured white paper, which will absorb or withstand the dense layering of charcoal. The packing paper is a great medium to start with, it releases you from the fear of making a mistake and allows you to be bold in your learning. The white paper symbolizes a ‘coming of age’ but also a lesson in valuing and understanding the tools of the trade. The arts store, located on site is an extension of this. It is a treasure chest of materials sourced from around the world by artists who are sensitive to the needs of their craft.

Learning is so much more that the marks on the page and there are moments when all the pieces fall together beautifully. This week was one such occasion and Lavender Hill Studios the best place for it.

Foundation Course Diary – Entry 4

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stoney. Viktor Shklovsky

Ashmolean Barocci Virgin

I rewind the term so far in my head – from boxes I have progressed to smooth, muscle inflected casts, beautifully lit against black curtains. I have a way to go before I do them justice but as I reflect on the weeks passed I am pleasantly surprised by the trajectory. I begin to see how knowledge and skills are layered to make the impossible achievable.

I also realise that there comes a point where practice, repetition and discipline must be the cradle of technique if I am to come close to mastery. That is the definition of passion and commitment and ultimately talent.

However, this week one of my greatest lessons lies beyond the studios, in exhibition halls. On the one hand it is about context; on the other hand it is about seeing.

Barocci, it transpires was meticulous in his preparation. His sumptuous depiction of religious scenes and beautiful portraits did not fall like manna from heaven but were the result of hours spent laying down the detail – the proportion, the line and volume, developing chiaroscuro sketches and finally beginning to apply colour. I see the Lavender Hill Studios mantra taking shape before me! I am encouraged.

But above all I am excited. After four weeks acquainting myself with the fundamentals of drawing from life, I have not only come away with a greater understanding of how to draw but also, and perhaps more importantly, of how to see. Standing in front of this magnificent collection I see the work with new eyes.

For the first time I discern with confidence the skeleton of the picture. I identify how the chiaroscuro and myriad sketches feed into the final work. I look at the oeuvre and am thrilled by its delicate and thoughtful beauty, but also by my enriched understanding of it: the shadow shapes in the fold of the fabric; the compliment of colour; the lines that encase the scene then carve life out of the block to ensure an accurate relationship of parts. It is ironic that one of my favourite pieces is that of a chiaroscuro study of the Virgin of the Rocks. Incidentally, it is one of the few works by Barocci held in a British collection.

And the real beauty has been that I have assimilated this knowledge without struggle or resistance, almost without realising. Simply through doing. I have been guided by articulate and incisive teachers and supported by a community of peers all eager to exchange and enhance the other’s experience.