Art classes I have known

charcoal 1

By the time my studio was up and running in the new apartment, I was too; anxious to get back to my art, and my writing. I was introduced to my first Life Drawing class at fourteen. I loved that first class, and I continue to love drawing the human form. I looked through my art folders and images of the figurative work I had exhibited, or sold, executed mostly in graphite and charcoal; a medium I like a lot. That was a while back. I have just joined an art class, where I wish to try out new mediums and techniques; open myself to find new ways of working. I hope it works out.

Week One: Still Life. Coloured pencils were the call for the day. Not too taxing; most of the illustrating I did was in this medium. I kept the lines loose. By extending the hand, lifting the arm slightly (just letting the lead touch the paper) and moving the whole arm. That’s the kind of thing I would tell my students, and I was making sure I followed my own advice. Not that happy with the large teapot and strewn flowers. It just didn’t excite me. Oh well. Better luck next time.

Week Two: That’s more like it; a life model! Yikes, we were given small pieces of paper for the first rough sketches. Those went in the bin – and taken out again when the tutor demanded a look. I sounded like a petulant kid when I told her I’d never combined chalk pastel and water before. A quick splash of white medium, and a shove of a line, (executed by the tutor), who announced – ‘see, it can be saved!’ Although I knew the awful sketches would be rubbish when I got home. I felt somewhat sorry for myself, but more so for the very good model, who during our coffee and chocolate biscuit break (lucky us), took a look at our work.


After the break we were given large sheets of paper and continued with the chalk pastel and water. I was happier with the large paper, feeling freedom with each stroke. By the last sketch I was getting the hang of combining the mediums; practically a success! Only six classes to go.

This led me to thinking of other Life classes I have known, especially the ones I tutored when I lived in Palmerston North. The classes were enjoyable, and often amusing (although I never let on). For instance, one student used plumb bobs for alignment, another a golf cap (for shade?), and many refused to move seats when poses changed. Though I remember the class collapsing with laughter, (or it may have been embarrassment) when I, trying to encourage the group to move about, swanned from behind the model to the front, announcing with a flourish that the view was great here too. And all heads focussed on where my eyes were now turned, on the full-frontal male nude. Everyone laughed along at my expense (including the model).

It was from this potpourri of experience which led me to writing The Small Tattoo —  an excerpt below:

‘… James went back to his easel and pinned on an A2 sheet. He pulled out a pencil, scribbled at the top corner, found a couple of pastels, tried those out too. 

“Thought we would get a bit theatrical,” Vanessa said, sweeping her arms wide. “Found a nice costume for a pose or two. Okay, okay, you lot. There are a couple of first timers here. Some velvet will offset the form nicely,” she said, looking daggers at an elderly woman who’d groaned. 

Vanessa stood between James and Giselle and he missed the transition entirely. But when he saw her sitting on the chair, her back straight, knees together, she looked amazing. Then he saw it; a small tattoo on her ankle, a delicate vine twisting right around. Once he’d got the whole figure sketched, he would focus on the legs and feet.  He took his time, outlining in HB and using softer graphite for the shading. 

“Pose over.” The tutor announced. “Stretch Giselle. And class; move around. It’s not compulsory to stay in the same spot you know?”

James stayed put and so did Giselle, flicking him a smile. He kept drawing.

“The model needs her break,” Vanessa snapped. 

“Sorry. Sure,” he said ,and went to flip his paper over. Long lean fingers flipped it back.

“Well. Well. Mr Mechanic.”

“I never said I was a mechanic,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Whatever you are, you can draw. Good work.”

After the break, Giselle relaxed back in the armchair; holding the cape closed. He sketched quickly, looking up, down, side to side; marking out the proportions. The softer 6B moved easily across the paper and was perfect for the hair and deep shadows. He switched to red pastel for the cape, using bold strokes for the outlines and smudging for movement in the cloth. Five minutes left. Switch back to pencil; finish the tattoo. But no. 

“Class over.” Vanessa said, clapping her hands. “Thanks Giselle, thanks everyone.” 

James hung back hoping to catch Giselle; he waited twenty-five minutes before slouching home, thinking of the model and the small tattoo …


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