Sunday, 27 January 2013

Digging rather deep

When I retired last Easter I was given some wonderful departing gifts by my work colleagues. One was a gift voucher for Leith School of Art.  This is a little gem of an art school in Edinburgh - well, Leith actually.  It is a place which is very close to my heart so I may have mentioned it before but make no apology for that!  It has been very much a part of our family life since we moved to Scotland and I hope it always will be.  

My gift voucher has enabled me to attend a number of weekend workshops. The first was on the use of charcoal which I love to draw with.  I much prefer drawing to painting. The second was a two day course on lino cutting.  On the first day we had to dream up an image rather than use a still life and as I have a bit of a thing for Traprain Law, a volcanic hill in the middle of the East Lothian landscape, I decided to try and conjure up something from my memory.  Traprain Law is quite a distinctive shape and I see it every day so it shouldn't have been too much of a challenge! The trickiest bit was gouging out the sky area.  I had to dig down quite deep to make an impression and it was really quite hard work!  The most difficult bit though was to try and think in reverse!  It required real concentration and forethought before committing the cutting tool to the lino.


Adding colour and lining up the image with the plate as it went through the press again was tricky and the result, for me, wasn't as crisp as the first impression, but it was an interesting process.  I hadn't done any lino cutting since I was at school so it was fun to give it a whirl again!

Lino cutting required physical deep digging but the second workshop I attended, yesterday, required a very different kind of digging, into the mind.  It was entitled Drawing as Meditation.  I have wanted to learn to meditate for a long time.  I have had some introduction in the past but nothing formal.  I thought this workshop had a very inviting title so I enrolled.

The session started with an awareness exercise to try and bring the group into the present moment.  I think it is true that any group activity can generate a much more powerful energy than doing things on your own.  This is my personal experience anyway and others in the group yesterday also voiced this feeling.  Then we were given an exercise where the aim was to give attention to the point at which a line was being created rather than where it was going and what it was going to look like.  On the in breathe we lifted our right arm and graphite crayon to the top of an A2 sheet of paper pinned to an easel and as we breathed out we drew a line downwards for the duration of the breathe.  It was an exercise in doing rather than making.  We also did this using our left hand which revealed an interesting response throughout the group (we were all right handed), that it was a much more liberating experience to draw with the left hand as we would have no expectation of producing something good!

The slide show introduced us to three artists who work in a meditative way, Linda Karshan, Brice Marden and Cy Twombly.  We then had to go and try and put all this into practice for ourselves! That was difficult.  We had to let go of all previously learnt ways of creating an image.  There was nothing to visually observe and translate on to paper in our own particular style.  A very interesting exercise!
We also had to do some mark making and erasing exercises to the rhythm of our heartbeat. We used charcoal on a primed greyboard.  Some students found it to be an irritating exercise and got quite frustrated with it.  I quite enjoyed it.  
These two sheets were made using black ink and a stick.  I love drawing like this but here it was an exercise to just be present and I have to say that just going round and round with the ink covered withy was rather wonderful and quite therapeutic!



Our last task of the day was an hour long session where we had to produce a piece of work which was not pre-conceived, in as much as it was not meant to be pictorial.  As you can see from the photo below I failed rather miserably in this!  I knew it was going to be a wood - I've been looking out at the wood around our house and enjoying all the triangular shapes made by the bare branches as they criss cross each other.  My fellow students took one look at my piece of work and said "It's a wood" so the game was up, but it was an enjoyable one and, in mitigation, I was very mindful of every line I drew, as I drew it.  Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
When I got home I felt completely drained but in a nice way!  I had had a productive day and there is a lot to be thinking about.  Also I feel much of what I learnt I can try and apply to the creative writing I am just beginning to study.  It is an exciting new challenge for me so I am really glad I did this particular workshop - it was great.

Ah ... 2013 - there's so much to be looking forward to and so much to achieve!  Bring it on! However, before I can have a crack at all that there is Australia and the wee princess to visit again!  She will be one at the end of March so we will be there for her first birthday party!  Also her parents became engaged at Christmas so there will be their wedding this year - possibly two, they may get married in Australia and over here which will be wonderful.  In the meantime we are off to Melbourne again in a couple of weeks and I will be posting some new photos etc before too long! Can't wait.


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