Growing through Life Drawing


Crone - Collage - Jenn White

Crone - Collage

During a recent discussion about the inception of Artists of the Valley, (occuring at a time prior to my move to the Western District) I discovered the birth of the group came from Life Drawing classes.  Ah yes, I remember well my initiation into drawing the human form.

No matter how old I get, there are still new experiences and old insecurities. With paper, pencils and a belly full of butterflies, I headed off to my first class. I had no idea what to expect – whether it was a structured teaching-learning environment, or just a group of artists intent on drawing the human form. Either way, there would be challenges.

My last experience in a formal drawing class had been at secondary school, too many years ago to remember all the details, though the criticism lingers as bruises on my psyche. I’d never been great at proportion. Objects were often top heavy, the subject’s eyes too round or too big. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle an instructor serving up harsh critiques like my old drawing teacher. On the other hand, if it was to be a group of artists honing their skills, I would be sadly out of place. Drawing people has never been my forte. That was the motivation behind taking the class. Practice.

Then, of course, there was the someone-being-naked part.

Shivering up a sweat while standing outside with two other women, waiting for someone with a key to let us in, I was relieved to learn that the model for the evening was female. We shared the same basic shape, even if our builds differed. On my first attempt, I hadn’t relished the embarrassment of drawing the boy bits, in proportion. One hurdle down, umpteen to go.

It was a relief to be inside near the heater, especially for the evening’s model. The regular organiser of the class was absent, busy finalising details for a show the following day – and if she’s like me, framing paintings while blowing on others to make them dry in time. No one seemed willing to step into her shoes by giving a newcomer even rudimentary direction.

I guess I looked as lost as I felt. One woman took pity on me, saying, “Just grab one of the easels.” Right. I hadn’t used one of them since the aforementioned school days. Still, I was game.

Folk drifted in and set up. Not a chatty bunch, this lot, but I guess we weren’t there for a social gathering. The model, stripped down to a singlet, wrapped a blanket around herself, waiting for others to arrive. I couldn’t help but admire her confidence. A woman in her late sixties, her body no longer exhibiting the firmness of youth, she shucked the singlet with grace and struck her first pose.

Class had begun.

Give a speech and two minutes are an eternity. The same amount of time to draw a human figure, and it’s a nanosecond. I’d hardly sketched her body and limbs, vaguely, never mind a face and hands. Flip the paper. Next pose.

Perfectionism can be such a pain. Working to the clock, there were two options. One, I could agonise over not getting detail, or, I could loosen up.

I loosened up and got into the flow of studying and sketching, without fretting how good, or not, the drawing. Five minute poses offered the chance of a better line, a bit more detail, but never from the same angle. Ten minutes, better still. Twenty minute poses offered a half-decent attempt at proportion.

Whether to alleviate the boredom for her or us, for one pose the model donned a scarlet beret and matching gloves, inspiring grins. It added interest to the pose and colour for those working with pastels.

All the while, I had no sense of being a voyeur. Yes, the model was flesh and blood. Yes, she was human and female. But, she was also a still life arrangement made up of bones, sinews and muscles, and the scars, sags and lines of living. She was a crone and proud of it, at ease in her body, the home of a valiant spirit.

I learnt much from my first class – how to loosen up, flick the critic off my shoulder and just immerse myself in the act of drawing. Staring at and sketching a naked body for two hours is not the least erotic. And, I have aspiration to obtain the grace and confidence I saw in a woman who is a role ‘model’.

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Clarice Beckett Honoured Again in 2014

Clarice Beckett Art Award 2014

Clarice Beckett Art Award 2014

The Artists of the Valley Inc. are gearing up for their annual Clarice Beckett Art Award for 2014.   The quality of last year’s entries gave the judge a challenge, and we expect no less again this year.  With the overall first prize award increased to $500, plus additional sections – to give more artists, including younger folk and artists who work in 3D, a chance to share their work – and prizes for each section, we’re looking forward to the event.

Clarice Beckett was a Casterton-born artist who knew the trials and joys of making art.  It is in her honour the Award was inaugurated.

Details and Entry Forms are available from the Artists of the Valley Blog or here Clarice Beckett Award Entry Form 2014.

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On Flight – With or Without Wings

Monarch Reduction Linocut Print Jenn White

Monarch - Reduction Linocut Print

Each month, even each day, can bring mixed blessings and recent times have been no different.  My entry of ‘Monarch’ into the South East Art Society‘s Open Art Awards achieved a Highly Commended, which was certainly a buzz.  In the same awards, Collin Tenney, friend,  Sandford artist and fellow member of the Artists of the Valley, took out the prize of overall winner, an even bigger buzz for the group.  For a small group of Victorian artists, we did well with a collective Overall First, First in Section, and three Highly Commendeds, in a South Australian art award.  The Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier, South Australia, is hosting the exhibition of all entries until April.

There is always a story behind my art, as is the case for most artists.  There are times, when viewing a piece of art, that appears no more than splotches of paint or ink on canvas or paper, when I cannot decipher the story it depicts.  Even so, I have no doubt it’s there, in the artist’s mind, no matter how ephemeral.

I’ve always had an affinity with eagles, particularly our own Wedge-tailed Eagle.  I doubt there will ever be a more awe-inspiring moment in my life than when I held in my arms Cassie,  the ‘model’ for Monarch, a rescued wedgie.  Her spirit spoke to mine.  No one could ever convince me otherwise.  Ours was a meeting of synchronicity.  Purely by chance, we were both in the right place at the right time.

Rescued from a tree – which she had climbed, to achieve dubious safety – adjacent to a railway line in Central Victoria – by WRES wildlife rescuers, Neil Morgan and Jo Lyall, she was living proof of human cruelty.  With every one of her all-important flight feathers broken off, she had no hope of flying.  It was evident that a person or persons unknown had kept her in a cage not large enough for her to adequately spread her wings – her feathers sheared off by constant efforts to attain her freedom, or at the very least find a measure of comfort.  Raptors like Cassie held in captivity, for whatever reason, need an expert’s care.  Perhaps too much trouble for her captors, she had been let go to fend for herself.

Cassie was in care for almost two years, while she went through the long process of moulting.  She was finally released, back into her beloved environment.  Amongst the small gathering of folk who had watched over and helped care for her, there was not a dry eye when she took to the skies.

I recently had cause to relive that day, after the funeral of a dear friend.  Another synchronistic moment allowed me to say my farewells.  Not having spoken to him since before Christmas, I text messaged him a couple of weeks ago, to see how he was going.  The reply was a shock.  His daughter kindly replied to my message, telling me he had passed away the previous weekend.  The funeral service was the following week.  There was no question of my attendance, despite only ever having met one of his family, and only briefly, once.

I relived our friendship during the service, learning things I had never known and remembering others that had become lost over the years of our leading separate lives.  He had been a bit of a ‘wild child’, had accomplished much, lost a lot, had always yearned for wings, and often acted as if he did.  One of his favourite songs, played during the service, I recalled him playing for me, some years ago.  The chorus said it all:

He’s one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape.

Nearing home after what had been a long and emotional day, I was thinking about my friend.  There were regrets – aren’t there always, when somone we care about suddenly disappears from our lives?  There was anger over a life cut short, and events that kept us apart for long periods.  Eyes filling with tears, I rounded the bend to see a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring above the paddocks, heading my way.  I pulled over to watch as the eagle approached and flew directly overhead,  low in the sky, markings gloriously clear.

How could I be so selfishly sad?  Like the eagle, my friend, unhindered by the human condition, free from suffering and pain, was now fulfilling his deepest wish – to fly.

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Galloping into the New Year

Year of the Wood Horse card 2014 - Jenn White

Year of the Wood Horse card 2014 - Jenn White

Already, January has disappeared into a cloud of dust – literally, here, with the weather being dry, hot and very often windy – and we are fast approaching the middle of February.  Already, several projects have been completed and others are underway, with more deadlines fast approaching.  To celebrate the Chinese New Year, the Baren Forum (for woodblock printers) organised a New Year card swap.  I and Forty-plus other printmakers from all around the world signed up for the exchange.

With 2013 being less than auspicious in many ways, troubling in some, and lacklustre in other aspects, I decided I would like to bring some gayety and colour into 2014.  The above woodcut is my interpretation of the symbology of the Chinese astrological aspects for the year of the green, wood, horse.  This print had its challenges, but was fun to do, the colours lifting my spirits as I printed each in layers, using the reduction method of printmaking.

Out of 63 prints I ended up with enough for the exchange and a couple of extras.  The rest are just ‘okay’, but that’s one of the risks of the reduction method, in which there is no going back.  While pulling the prints, it doesn’t pay to allow your focus to wander – perhaps the first lesson for my personal New Year.  Registration (the method of lining up each consectutive layer with the previous layers of colour) can be tricky.  Also, by the time I was printing the final colour of dark blue, the block had been reduced to the point of having little support for the paper, the blue ink showing up on some of the prints where I didn’t really want it (especially in the signature space).

Print exchanges are a great way to see how others tackle the subject, in this case The Year of the Horse, as well as the different methods of printmaking.  It is also a thrill to check the mailbox and find a small work of art sent from the other side of the globe instead of the all-too-regular bills.

All in all, I’m pleased with my first printmaking foray into a bright new year.

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Always Something to Learn in Printmaking

Time for a Refill - three block linocut Jenn White

Time for a Refill - three block linocut Jenn White

Despite anticipation and excitement over learning something new at the September Grampians Brushes in Halls Gap, I experienced a good dollop of angst in the lead-up.  I’d enrolled to take David Frazer’s weekend workshop on multi-coloured linocuts and wood engraving.  Although I have attempted and achieved pleasing results with reduction method, coloured linocuts, I’d never attempted a muti-block coloured print, and wasn’t at all sure of the process.  Wood engraving was another matter.  That was exactly the reason for attending, I hear you say.  Certainly, but there’s something awe-inspiring and a little scary in meeting with an ‘expert’, even having met him previously in passing.

Faced with the prospect of a blank piece of lino my mind struggled to grasp an image.  Why is it that images and ideas come unbidden, often thick and fast while vaccuuming or in the shower, but to come up with something ‘on demand’ is so often impossible?  Sitting there, conscious of others already well into their designs, panic started to niggle.  At this rate, I would have nothing to show for a morning’s work.  Maybe a coffee would encourage the muse.  About to reach for my mug, I felt the muse’s tap on my noggin – the mug! Not the most inspiring of subjects, but it was there in front of me, waiting to be transformed.

Subjects don’t always have to knock your socks off to inspire art.  Everyday objects and scenes can serve as a memory-jogger of times in our lives.  It might be a momentous occasion, a special person  or, in this case, a very enjoyable weekend of learning some new tricks of the (printmaking) trade and experimenting.

The print turned out okay, despite me being unsure about what to cut away and what to leave on the two ‘coloured’ blocks.  I’d successfully learned a new-for-me process.

The Sunday brought another dose of angst, with being challenge to come up with two more subjects for wood engraving.  We were givin a block of wood with a hard rubber glued to one face, as a practice piece to get used to handling the engraving tools.  Unlike some of the workshoppers, I’d  had marginal experience, having had a couple of lessons some time ago, and basically had fun mark-making.  Then it was time to produce the real thing.

Having picked up a promotional magazine the previous afternoon, still in  my handbag, I flicked through it and chose a photo of a pooch.  Below is a print from the finished block.  All in all a wonderful weekend spent playing and learning from one of the experts in printmaking.  Highly recommended!

Her Pal - wood engraving Jenn White

Her Pal - wood engraving Jenn White

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