16 Apr 2009

I had not been to school for over thirty years...

... and, more to the point, I hadn’t entered a new one for even longer. But that strange feeling, caused by walking into a new classroom at a new school, came upon me in its reliable old way. It was heightened by the fact that I had never really had a proper drawing lesson in my life, certainly not one suited to me. My abiding memory from those old school days was of crushing criticism, leaving me with a feeling that I couldn’t. I did not know it, but I was entering a very different school now.

The rough sea of easels seemed to swirl before me. From a scattering of unknown faces, a kindly soul spotted my unease and led me to board, paper and tape.

He then guided me into a position to observe and draw the model for our Life Class, which was a one day pose.

Soon we were underway and, as our model stood before me, Charlotte Verity (our teacher) gave a brief talk also, greatly to my relief, saying that we were to ask her advice when we needed it. The next ordeal started as we were told to sketch five quick poses within about 30-40 minutes. It is difficult to describe to you the sensation attributable to this challenge, which was deepened, and you may imagine to what extent, by being told we were to tape up our efforts on the studio wall for all to see. This shocking exercise was, in fact, highly educational and, as in most endeavours of life, the resulting friendly discussion with fellow students was most educational.

This weekly challenge, through which Charlotte led me via verticals, horizontals and proportions, was enlightened by a series of good books left out for our breaks, illustrating work from Ingres to Eastern European contemporaries. On hearing that I admired John, a book of his works magically appeared. My own poor efforts were raised up beyond their merits with the encouraging phrase “charmingly tentative”.

Charlotte was succeeded by Thomas Newbolt. His start to the day with ten quick poses in 40 minutes (perhaps the London drawing master’s equivalent of a waking plunge in the Serpentine) and an essential restoring six minutes for tea or coffee, were followed by a superb discourse and illuminating dialogue. I felt I was sitting at the feet of Gamaliel or in a group with Socrates, as we were alerted to the trees of Lorraine, the multiple vanishing points of Canaletto, the background gloom of Goya, the space of Rembrandt, the harmony of Breugel, the ethereal portraits of Kathe Kollwitz (nee Schmidt), Domier’s wash drawings and torso, Giotto’s great Sienese contemporary Ducio and the greatness of the unified humanity by colour and light of Bomberg exemplified in his painting of Lillian, his wife.

Tempo changed with activity as his time was neatly divided and given to each of us (15-20) in turn during every 45 minute session of our one day pose. The mind which illuminated the output of Goya so expertly then did the same to my amateur marks on a very different level. Fortunately there was no time for self pity, as I was spurred on with encouragement to, perhaps, greater heights!

These very high quality lessons from Charlotte and Thomas were interspersed each week with Francis Hoyland’s individual approach to teaching drawing, once again with a one day pose. This was through sitting where each of us had sat and demonstrating in front of us just how each of us might have directed our own efforts. His enthusiastic exclamations resounded boldly across the studio: Bonnard said “don’t lose your first impression”; I want to draw that line next, bum, boom bom....do you see a rhythm there?; Sensation is a chord; Cezanne was interested in sensation, in the arabesque in a rectangle; a man who wants to gain his life must lose it; Tintoretto: Christ washing his disciples’ feet – draw it – every day for a month. And so, as each of us were called by our individual names and in turn infused with a spiritual uplifting from the great masters, the room filled with the sheer enjoyment of drawing.

David Jones, Public Programme student