Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.
“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas
Ballet Dancers, Edgar Degas
I love returning to the studio. Opening the door onto worn, wooden floors, an assortment of art equipment and an array of work at different stages of completion is like stepping back in time. It is almost like taking up position in one of Degas’ paintings of ballerinas; only fine artists rather than dancers surround you.
Ateliers, it turns out, date back to the Middle Ages. They were the mainstay of an artist’s training until the 19th century. Here, a clutch of aspiring artists would work alongside a master, learning through practice and the exchange of knowledge. These teams of craftsmen created some of the most celebrated paintings in Europe, as well as growing to be respected artists in their own right.
However, the tradition died out and with it part of the camaraderie of the artist’s life. Today an artist’s lot is perceived as a solitary one; but it need not be. In fact, arriving at Lavender Hill Studios for the first time you could be forgiven for doubting the myth of the lonely and impoverished artist. Though many still struggle to balance the books, the support and guidance offered by a spirited and like-minded peer group is priceless.
This week I set up my easel next to a student visiting from France. She is here for the week and keen to learn a different method to the one taught at her art school. Although much of our time is focused on the exercise in hand, it is nice to be able to swap notes with your neighbour.
I stumble through my French and pick up some useful jargon as I go. Soon we are pondering the question of proportion and gesture, puzzling over which are the weight bearing lines. I have had a great deal of difficulty in defining how the hips and shoulders tilt, it seems that my instinct is the opposite of what is anatomically possible. It is hugely frustrating, but made more bearable for being able to talk through the logic (or not) of the problem.
It is also a helpful reminder that there is no absolute. There is of course proportion, line and volume, but it is possible to find different interpretations within this framework and everyone at some stage struggles to find their way. Painting is not just about innate talent, as Ann says: the talent is walking through the door; and Scott corroborates: last man standing. Learning to draw and paint is about hard work, practice and perseverance and being part of a community makes it so much more enjoyable and instructive!