Today I’ve been life drawing. And it was an unexpectedly joyous evening. I’m faintly embarrassed as I’m supposed to be a writer and yet I’m struggling to describe just how delightful it felt to be drawing in a room full of creative, experimental, passionate, supportive, and just super lovely people I’d never met.
So to put this into context, the last time I did any life drawing was when I was seventeen and I gaffer taped my then boyfriend’s wrists to the mantlepiece in a Jesus-on-the-cross pose and then watched as his fingers turned blue as a punishment for him trying it on with my best friend, Charlotte. It wasn’t that this put me off life drawing, but a month later I’d finished my Art A Level and went back to model making and sculpting and just sort of forgot about it.
But when it came to thinking about the different folkloric activities I could do during this year, life drawing made perfect sense. And even more so when I heard about this particular session: Hairy Tales, a life drawing class responding to dark folklore tales of transformation, disguise and hair.
When I arrived I was feeling a little tense. I’m not great around strangers, or new things, or activities I’m not very good at. And given I got a D in my Art A Level, it’s safe to say that my life drawing didn’t impress the examiners much. The studio was small with a little theatre-like proscenium arch, and the artists were positioned in a semicircle in front of it, some sitting at tables (like me), others standing with easels. In a panic, I’d picked two pencils at random, a rubber, and some charcoal and had been given some paper and a board to drawn on.
The class was introduced by Frankie, who is curating a whole series of hair themed drawing sessions, modelled by Ellie, in bright red lipstick dripping with blood and wearing 6” red heels, and Joe, with flowers twined around his toes, hands and hair and for the first part, carrying a basket to grandmother’s house, and narrated by Jake, who runs Draw, and who read Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves while we were working on the first several poses.
The first couple of set ups were for three minute only. Jake had suggested that to break the ice, my first drawing should be a continuous line drawing, one where you only look at the model and draw what you see without taking your pencil off the page. It wasn’t the hugest of success (the banner drawing). Personally, I blame the wicker basket.
I found the three minute poses quite stressful, I didn’t know what to do, which medium to use, how to make it look real, how to capture EVERYTHING. But once I began focussing on an area of the body, rather than trying to capture the whole, I calmed down. And for an anally retentive perfectionist that’s hard. Accepting that I wasn’t going to be good at this straight away, that I wasn’t some sort of undiscovered sketching savant was really difficult. Nevertheless, I soon started having opinions about my tools, I found that using a medium soft pencil was good, but I didn’t have enough control with charcoal, and a soft pencil felt crumbly.
The poses got longer, which I found much easier, and after the tea break, we did a 40 minute pose which I felt very relaxed about. Up until then, I’d not used my eraser because if felt like cheating, but for this one I did, and it felt a bit like writing. I started on an elbow and couldn’t get it right and couldn’t get it right, so I kept rubbing it all out. So, I abandoned the elbow and started on the ankle (I avoided feet and hands throughout, far too hard. I would have avoided the head in the final pose too but felt it was needed), and then it all sort of fell into place, like when you come at a sentence from a different angle and the paragraph suddenly shines.
And then it was all over. The last pose and the two hours had flown by, and rather than feel exhausted from all the concentrating, I felt elated. Not because my drawing was particularly good, it isn’t. But because the act of drawing had taken me back to when I was a teenager, tearing around, creating weird bits of art, and theatre, and stories, where I knew that anything was possible if I looked at it in the right way. Plus everyone in the class was lovely, so supportive, so generous, so fun. I talked with Ellie at the end while she was still holding the raspberry jelly covered in fake blood that had doubled for Joe’s ripped out heart in the last pose. And I was then invited to join everybody down the pub. And had I not needed to write this up, I would have gone like a shot.
Needless to say, I’ll be going back to Draw. And I would definitely recommend trying life drawing, or any kind of creative hand eye coordination activity. And if it has someone reading Angela Carter while you’re doing it, you’ve got it made!