21st December – Collages for Christmas. In most of my workshops we tend to veer away from the over literal and obvious, embracing more the unknown and experimental. The Wednesday morning Kitchen Table group had fun making these cards. The table was strewn with bits of old festive wrapping paper, pots of glue, inks, pastels and pencils. A couple had to leave early with their creations for Christmas dos but I managed to catch these with the camera before they were whisked away …..
19th December – Large, colourful collaborative painting. The Arts Lab Making Mondays group worked on a large collaborative floor piece in the round. Taking turns, each person was given the opportunity of deciding the theme for different stages of the piece. They came up with light, hope, energy, repeat, dark and water. Interestingly, the arts graduates found this most challenging. It seems the whole free expression thing, collaborative practice, and exploration through doing can be stamped out of creative spirits in higher ed. It’ll soon come back, no doubt.
Fully freed up and eased into working experimentally in mixed media, everyone went off and worked independently. A couple chose to work outside, the others inside continuing the abstract theme.
14th December – Playing with watercolour pencils. It was a day huddled around the fire today. Hot drinks, mince pies and Juliet’s birthday cake vying for space on the table with pots of water, new brushes and watercolour pencils. Thanks to the grant we got a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been purchasing some new materials to experiment with. Everyone loved the pencils, the colours and the range of marks possible with or without water.
10th December – Teenage Portraits. – A great morning at Coombeshead Academy, Newton Abbot, running a workshop on portraiture & collage with a class of 16 year olds. Through DAISI and funded in part by the Helen Foundation, we had a whole morning to merge a series of 2-minute portrait sketches with collage. Despite it being quite early in the day, the Yr 11s managed to conjure energy for some lovely pieces. Thank you Helen Foundation, again for your tremendous support of artists working with young people. …. And the Academy was a pleasure to visit; upbeat and positive staff, keen to roll their sleeves up and get down to the process of making rather than simply ticking boxes.
Say Helen Foundation’s Annie and Roger Kirk: “Coombeshead Year 11: what a star input from 17 GCSE level artists with Devon’s Sara Downham-Lotto the artist/creator guiding the 16 year-olds to create a large artwork influenced by MICHELLE CAPLAN, but with Sara working with them in her own style to produce something very individual and SO GOOD!
Helen Foundation funded the artist workshop, and supported it – the school then only has to pay around £70 towards the bill. Fellow organisation DAISI supports by finding the appropriate DBS-checked artist – and putting the contracts between THF and schools in place. Thank you to them, as well as to Sara Downham-Lotto and Coombeshead staff for making this happen.”
30th November – Back to Colour! The Wednesday morning Kitchen Table workshop group were thrilled to get news of community funding to keep it going a third year. …. So I ‘splashed out’ and bought some new brushes. We tried them out today and they were rubbish. (I clearly don’t know my brushes, having managed to survive off the quality ones I bought in bulk some thirty years ago on the black market in Poland – mmmm). But the group patiently stuck to the day’s task of exercising small brush and colour control. We looked at Kandinsky and Delaunay and some Picasso early Cubist paintings.
Making Mondays Landscape Sketches and Improvisations. The landscape sketching enjoyed by the Making Mondays group came as a welcome antidote to the almost excessive colour and freedom of the improvisations that kicked off the session. Working over the top of a collaborative mural from a previous workshop, students played with collage, stencilling, other mixed media and lots of colour. The results were some energetic pieces ready to be revisited at another session. The crisp, early winter sunshine beckoned, so I opened the double doors of the studio and let in the view for some gentle landscape sketches in charcoal.
23rd November – Homage to the Chair. I was thinking of broaching portraiture today, but on discussion with the group when they arrived, we ditched this idea. – Too technically challenging and personal too, baring souls and all that! So we got excited about drawing portraits of a chair without its sitter. Looking through my art books, it was fascinating to see how many depictions of chairs there were, admittedly more often than not inhabited by a sitter, but always an important part of the composition. Some placed full frontal in throne-like splendour, some with just a leg exposed and at an angle leading the eye into the picture, some clearly a solid supporting structure for the figure, others appearing as an arbitrary extra to give a sense of the everyday utilitarian. We compared chairs in paintings by everyone from Rembrandt and David to Gauguin, Degas and Bonnard. We could easily spend a whole week on this.
16th November – Completing the Picture. We tried out a new exercise today, which went down well. The starting point was a selection of postcards of artists’ work. Each card only revealed half the picture (the other half I’d taped over with blank paper). The task was first to draw what could be seen and then to draw how they imagined the other half to be, extending from the visible half of the picture. The participants were asked to look hard at the revealed parts of each image – guessing the artist, making note of the style and context, etc. – thus suggesting ways to approach completing the picture. For example, if the picture in front of you suggests a Cézanne what we know about this artist is that he loves to paint apples. All you are shown is a table top with a pot, bottle and half a basket of apples. This, to me, would suggest that the hidden half could well have more apples!
2nd & 9th November – Still life with White Lilies. In contrast to the colour and pattern improvisations of the last session, the group enjoyed the relative safety of a vase of white lilies dripping with grace and beauty. We set it against a backdrop of one of my large gold paintings à la Matisse. Dispensing with Matisse’s use of colour, however, we focussed instead on line and tonal contrasts. Working mainly in pencil and black ink, the shaft of Autumn light through the window created a good opportunity to see things in terms of light and dark.
26th October – More pattern play! Keeping everyone happy, once in a while we work more on stuff of the imagination, away from observational drawing. It’s interesting how intimidated a number of folk feel at the thought of having nothing but the materials in front of them and their imaginations. But my Wednesday morning group is increasingly comfortable diverting their gaze away from external objects, focussing entirely on the dynamics of the picture in front of them. Considerations in composition and contrasts in colour, tone, line and mark-making – all of this is still very relevant. The work of the imagination is a chance to let rip self expression and experimentation, unhampered by preconceptions of what the end result is going to look like. To get people in the mood, we looked at how pattern has been used in some of the art history albums on my shelves – some intended simply as designs for fashion or the home, some as integrated ‘decoration’ to paintings or sculptures. You’ll spot reference to Klimt and Charles R. Mackintosh in these lovely designs …. and even Corot (leaves and trees).
19th October – Encounter with a Ballan Wrasse fish. Anne arrived at the workshop today out of breath with excitement: “There’s a beautiful fish on display at the fishmonger’s van just around the corner. Wouldn’t it be great of we could draw it!” So I popped the kettle on and nipped out to see what I could do. The fishmonger, when I asked if I could borrow the centrepiece of his stall for a couple of hours said “sure”, so here we have it!
12th October – Kitchen’s Back. Building work finally done and everything back in place, the Wednesday morning group enjoyed drawing from where they sat, cosied up by the fire. Each position looked towards an existing still life – perfect material for explorations in composition and perspective.
5th October – More stunning Still-lives from the Wednesday morning group. The kitchen table was unusable today. Solving the problem of a wet wall in the most popular room of the house has turned it into a building site. So the seven of us moved into the sitting room. Surrounded by the kitchen overspill of lamps, candles, bowls of fruit and vases of flowers, there was lots of drawing material.
21st & 28th September – Words & Music. Over two sessions, the Wednesday morning mental health group worked on these collages using pen, ink, newspaper and sheet music.
8th September – Spacey Spoons
31st August – We were eight today, spread between the kitchen table and the sitting room floor. Pattern and colour to combat the grey and drizzle outside – loads of it (colour and pattern, I mean).
24th August – Summer holidays so a smaller class than usual. We did some still life pieces à la Matisse with patterned backgrounds showing the flattening of space.
3rd August – ‘Not so bog standard’. I’ve been tearing around trying to get the house ready for AirB&B and my trip up to Scotland tomorrow, so left with little time to prepare for this morning’s workshop. But the pile of loo rolls in the hall waiting to be put away had a use. The Wednesday morning group enjoyed drawing these do-nut forms and then gave the series an apt title.
13th July – the Wednesday morning group worked on some wonderful improvisations today. The starting point was a chosen section of cut up collaborative mural collage they created a fortnight ago. True to the house style, has been this successful outcome from recycling and reworking, responding intuitively to a previous piece.
6th July – a rare opportunity this grumpy summer when the sun was allowed to shine enough for us to work outside. With all the rain, the shrubs and flowers were just bursting – a chance to really look at texture and the endless range of forms. Ed’s detailed charcoal drawing prompted comparisons with Adrian Berg’s pieces from the 1980s.
15th June – Angela Hewitt’s Bach fugues played throughout today’s session at the kitchen table. I found some old pocket scores in the studio – symphonies of Mozart and Haydn – over which the group did these fabulous still lives in mixed media of an array of jugs.
8th June – a sizzling hot day so there was no question about basing ourselves outside. It’s a small garden, but with enough variety for the Wednesday morning regulars – texture, colour, light and shade. Two hours wasn’t really long enough, so immersed was everyone in the summery, creative flow.
25th May – the last couple of Wednesday mornings the group’s been busy drawing the dusty French Horn untouched on top of the piano for months. I subjected everyone to my favourite horn music which went down surprisingly well. The lure of kitchen table flowers and a garden bursting with newness of spring growth won everyone over, thwarting my plans to do more abstract work. The last image shows detail of a collaborative drawing, this part being worked on by four members of the group.
4th May – First day of glorious sunshine in ages so the Wednesday morning group enjoyed working outside in the garden. My washing line and the neighbour’s over the wall made for some great drawing.
23rd April – Someone came into Arts Lab this week considerately donating sheets of corrugated cardboard used to package a new sofa. Big on making the most of recycling and cheap, close-to-hand materials, I put this to immediate use. Splicing up quantities of palm-sized, rectangular cards, I now had a good starting point for this week’s art sessions.
13th April – Lovely pieces here made by the Wednesday morning group. Spring sunshine shows it’s welcome today with sunny watercolour and pen renditions of the garden both from outside and in.
1st April – Kilve education centre was a challenge on Wednesday: I misread the information and prepared for 15 students, only to find I had 80! But all turned out well, thanks to all the space and fine weather. The Yr9s all from St Peter’s in Portishead proved to be a lovely, enthusiastic bunch.
March 16th – The Wednesday morning mental health group have been making art at my kitchen table now for over a year, and the work gets stronger and stronger. These fabulous pieces are evidence of confidence with colour, composition, use of different materials and simply an expert eye. Everyone has become altogether freer and more expressive to the extent that many of my ideas for workshops now come from them!