Wednesday, December 2, 2015


I said I'd post about a lovely painting (long) weekend that I took some time out from my big job for. It was a three day workshop by favourite teacher/artist Hermine Spies Coleman whose lessons and workshops I've attended on and off for 25 years or more (my husband asks if I haven't yet qualified every time I sign up for another one!) 
They are always sure to engender fresh thinking, new methods or as in this case, renewal or revival of the ancient process of connecting. With all the ways we have of communicating nowadays, you'd think we'd have it taped, but the connections seem ever more fleeting, tenuous and shallow the more channels we have to do it in. So it was with a feeling of increasing release from the tension of frantic drawing and internet FOMO that I entered into the gentle rhythm of the exercises briefly described here. 

On day one we started by 'conversing' in drawings, doodles or paintings with another anonymous workshop participant. The interactions were quite amazing, some harmonic and sensitive, others fairly combative  - most of the latter turned out in the discussions afterwards to be misunderstandings of what one or other artist meant, and were usually not criticisms at all as was sometimes perceived. How touchy we can be without reason, all in our own heads! In the top one, I did the first and third small paintings, Judy responded with the second and fourth, in the other one I replied to Paula's beginning and so on.

That afternoon we were each to view a chosen image, or the room in front of us as I did, through a glass of water and paint or draw it, keeping in mind an artist that we'd looked up and researched beforehand. Mine was Diebenkorn, not that you'd know that by looking at my painting, but it certainly helped me to simplify shapes, choose colours and add slivers of hues between shapes. 

The second day was my favourite. We took whichever drawing or painting tools we wanted out into the garden or through the back gate of our hostess Bev's home where there was a river and a fairly wild area - in the middle of built up Hyde Park! We were simply to sit there, feel, look, listen and absorb nature, and if we felt like it, allow our pencils or brushes to make marks or move across the paper in response. Once I'd found my spot, it felt supremely calming to feel no pressure to perform, or render the scenes around me accurately, or at all. I started noticing the twigs, leaves, feathers and other ephemera around my feet and they seemed almost to be messages or strange writings that might be deciphered. I started drawing them in pencil but found outlining them too cumbersome, so switched to a big brush and followed their shapes in watercolour. Presently the shadows falling on my paper seemed to nudge for my attention and I picked up some blue wash and followed those around for a while - looked up and saw some tiny lanterns draped around my head (gooseberry cases? delicately dried in random trails). I eventually became aware that I was about the only one still out there and reluctantly packed up to join the others.

We carried on painting inside, rounding up or finishing off, with a suggestion that we add something of ourselves into our work. I only did this a few days later after I'd thought and wondered what trace of myself I may have left behind on that landscape, deciding that it was probably strands of my very fine wispy hair - usually a cause of some distress! I dropped a few collected from my comb into a puddle of watercolour and let it dry... I don't know if this is a 'result', or a painting even worth showing, but it was a deeply grounding experience with the world, nature and dare I say, myself...

That afternoon we watched an engrossing, enchanting video of an artist who totally immerses himself in the landscape and his responses to it. If you haven't come across Land artist Andy Goldsworthy, do take six minutes or three hours to meet him and his beautiful work.

On the third and last day, we started where we were supposed to begin but didn't - by introducing ourselves and a short summing up of our art/history. I think because of the previous two days of deep work, much more came bubbling forth than would otherwise have done, and it turned out to be quite a moving exchange. Our final paintings were addressed to a particular person from our past or present - I rather disappointingly reverted to being quite literal (my family will know who I'm talking to here) - it isn't finished but I think I'll attempt this again. As Hermine quotes from Marc Chagall: "If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing." 

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