Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drawing workshop

On Saturday 21st I tutored a drawing for beginners workshop organised by Mandy Leivers of The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project (AGDWP). Everyone who had booked turned up so we had a full room of 17 people, which gave me a really nice group to work with. There was a mix of abilities from beginners to the much more competent, which makes for an interesting class.
After the necessary teas and coffee to start, Mandy did a brief introduction and then I quickly ran through some drawing techniques. I just had a short time to do this so that they could get onto the practicalities of drawing as soon as possible.
When I do a workshop with AGDWP the aim is to highlight the wonderful area and wildlife of the Gorge and Downs; which is just a few minutes walk from the zoo, where the AGDWP is based and where we also hold the workshops. Usually a workshop is divided into time spent walking or sitting up on the Downs or viewing the Gorge to get inspiration and time spent indoors doing the art activity. But today with the focus on wildlife, although there is plenty of wildlife there, it cannot be guaranteed to be on view long enough or close enough. So today we were staying in the classroom with the option in the afternoon of going out into the zoo to sketch either the native species that can be seen around the grounds or the exotics of the zoo’s collection. We had the use of a number of stuffed mammal and bird specimens that were kindly on loan to AGDWP for the workshop by the city’s museum. Mandy had specifically chosen the species to reflect what can be seen around the Gorge and Downs; so we had a badger, fox, hedgehog, squirrel, barn owl, jay, green woodpeckers to name a few. In the morning we practised our drawing skills on them and to help prepare them for life sketching in the afternoon I gave them the challenge of speed drawing exercises, which really makes you focus and if done regularly can hone your eye and hand to looking for and drawing only the important and necessary lines for form.
After lunch most opted to go out in the zoo grounds, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, to sketch and draw. Several stayed in the room, with me, to continue practising on the ‘non-moving’ subjects. By 3pm everyone was back for a refreshing cup of tea and piece of cake whilst we had a ‘viewing’ of what everyone had done that day. As I walked around looking at their work I was pleased to see stronger more confident drawings and hope that they all went away from the day having learned something, however small, that will help them with their drawing and sketching in future.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cruise Trip on MV Oriana

It’s been about two weeks since I got back from my cruise trip. I had hoped to post a couple of entries during my trip, but obviously that didn’t happen. So I shall attempt a run down now. Um… it’s a long one, so I hope you are sitting comfortably!

As I mentioned before I am one of P&O’s art tutors that they engage on short-term contracts. I work at the zoo for 9 months of the year enabling me to take a cruise contract between the beginning of January and the end of March. I have done this for the last two years. Last year I went on my own but this year I took a friend and fellow artist, Marion, as my assistant.

This year I was contracted for a 5-week trip starting from San Francisco and ending up in Hong Kong.
Our first Port of Call (PoC) was in effect San Francisco, but after being awake for over 24 hours for our journey from the UK, by the time Marion and I were clear to leave the ship (after safety drills, paperwork etc) we were way too tired and could only muster the energy to sink into our beds. So we didn’t get to see the city or us sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge around midnight!

So then we had 4 days at sea, starting my art class on the first one. This year I had one class every sea day and it was later in the afternoon, which meant that for most days Marion and I could relax and enjoy being on the ship.

I started the class off on drawing. There are many different ways of approaching drawing and I showed them a couple of techniques that I use and have found beneficial to students, particularly those who are unconfident with or new to drawing. These are drawing with shapes (I have covered this a few times in my posts on here), using negative space to place, more easily, protruding features like limbs and heads, and alignment lines to check the positioning of different aspects of the drawing.

Honolulu was our next stop and Marion and I went scuba diving. I had never been before but had always wanted to do it. Unfortunately things didn’t go well for me and I was unable to do a dive. A childhood fear resurfaced to such a degree that I panicked and couldn’t control my breathing to be able to go under. This is something I will conquer another time. My friend Marion did a dive but suffered badly from being unable to equalise the pressure in her ears. So, not a terribly successful day for us; but I wouldn’t have missed it, as it was still quite an experience.

Then we had another 4 days at sea and in the classes we progressed our drawing, it was amazing how quickly most of them improved in their application and confidence. Did a few speed drawing exercises with them, which they seemed to enjoy. Then just before the next PoC I demonstrated painting with gouache. Most of them hadn’t used the medium before, some had never heard of it. But once they had seen how versatile a medium it was I think they were keen to have a go with it.

Then we were in Tutuila, American Samoa which seems to be referred to a lot by the main town on the island… Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) By now the temp had gone up to the mid 30’sC and around 90-95% humidity. Very toasty. Marion and I had a fantastic day with a taxi driver called Vasco; who despite his car conking out on the steep hillsides in the bid to get us to see a seabird colony and fruit bats gave us a wonderful day with his humour, friendliness and interesting info on his people and the island. We saw bats - just not in the original place we intended, had a lovely scenic drive along the coast (once his car had recovered from overheating), saw a fab little beach and cove with no-one else around but a female tropicbird feeding her chick and a kingfisher. Great day… lovely people the Samoans.

Then 1 day at sea. It should have been 2 really by the calendar, but as we crossed the international date line from east to west, we ‘lost’ a whole day. So for us, the 8th of February just didn’t happen, we went from midnight on the 7th straight to the 9th! The class got started on a painting of a landscape in American Samoa on that one sea day. I was taking them through it stage by stage; painting and explaining consistency and colour mixes as I went. And so that there was no hurry, I had planned that this project would take about 3 classes.

The following day we were in Fiji. Marion and I had paid to go on a passenger tour to ‘Beachcomber Island’ It was about an hours journey by catamaran to the island and it was beautifully idyllic. Like we had arrived in paradise. For Marion and myself the day was spent snorkelling in the warm shallow clear waters around the island. We saw heaps of fish, starfish, sea cucumbers, a coral reef and 3 foot long reef sharks that swam round us, checking us out. Such a fantastic day!

After Fiji there were 2 days at sea where we continued with the landscape in art class. Some are finding it difficult to overcome the watercolourists’ habit of using the paint very thinly or washy. Which is how watercolour should be used, but gouache can be used thick so that it is opaque and you get its best qualities then.

Then for the next two days were were in New Zealand – Tauranga and Auckland consecutively. These days were spent mostly shopping as the ship hadn’t got any stock of gouache on board and I was fast running out of the small supply I had taken. So the search was on to find some gouache… easier said than done! But we got a few tubes in the end in Auckland. Hopefully the ship was able to get some ordered for us. So, Tauranga - we wandered the shops and harbour area along the sea front to a small park and Auckland we did the shop run in the morning and in the afternoon headed out to the gannet colony which is on the mainland! We had met a tour operator/guide called Paul and he was just great. We had another fantastic day with him, such a great chap. The gannets were awesome and I can’t begin to tell you how many photo’s were took of them between us!

After Auckland we had 2 days at sea where the class started another paint along project.. this time to try fur techniques. So I got them painting a portrait of a New Zealand Huntaway dog. Again this was to be worked over several classes.

Then we were in Sydney and we had such a full day here. First we went to The Rocks to do some shopping, then we went for a half hour ride on the chauffeur ridden Harleys (www.easyrider.com.au)… Sooo much fun and thrilling! Then the afternoon was spent in the Botanical gardens getting a heaped dose of our wildlife fix with the birds and fruit bats (flying foxes) there. As evening drew in (the ship was here til midnight) we went for a meal in an Italian restaurant before going back to the ship and collapsing happy and tired in our beds.

The next day was at sea and they finished the dog off in class. By now there are just a few still not in the habit of using the paint thickly.. and some were already starting to really get the feel for the paint and were doing some lovely work with it.

Then we were in Brisbane. Marion and I took the sea-cat ferry along the river into town from where the ship was moored. We walked through the Botanical Gardens there, such a beautiful place and then over the Goodwill footbridge to the South bank where we walked along to the next bridge that took us across to Queen Street. A fabulous meal in a Chinese restaurant sated our huge appetite after our 3 hour walk and then, restored, we did a little shopping.

Another day at sea followed Brisbane and a new project for the class. This time, using the gouache wet into wet and then using a different brush technique for doing grasses.

The day after we were supposed to go to Hamilton Island in the Whit Sunday Island group on the Barrier Reef. But apparently they didn’t want a big ship in that day, so we went to Airlie Beach on the Australian mainland instead. At Airlie Beach the ship was anchored off shore and we were ferried in on catamarans, from the PoC. Marion and I walked from the wharf where the catamaran dropped us along the Bicentennial Walkway to the Lagoon. This was an artificial pool area made so that you can swim safely at this time of year when the waters along the coast are rife with not so friendly jellyfish. We spent the day just sitting back and relaxing here. We’d had a few busy PoC’s and felt the need to basically do nothing much. However there was plenty of interest there as the place was buzzing with birds – friarbirds, white-breasted wood swallows and figbirds to name just a few.

Overnight we sailed north and the next morning we were at anchor again, this time off of Yorkie’s Knob. From there Marion and I split up for the day. She went white water rafting on a trip organised by the ship and I went into Cairns on the shuttle bus service provided and ended up at t Cairn’s Wildlife Dome. This was a glass dome at the top of a building housing a casino. In the dome it was planted out with tropical rainforest plants and had various bird, reptile, mammal and insect species from the Australian rainforests. Got some lovely reference shots of birds we had seen so far in Australia.

The next day we were at sea again for just one day and the class finished the painting of the long grasses, some added the serval that was in my original painting. They are by now coming on leaps and bounds with the paint. Some are still persevering and unsure about it but there are also some definite converts.

The following day we were in Rabaul in New Britain, which is a long thin island off of the east coast of Papua New Guinea. This was an awesome day too… the volcano was putting on a very dramatic show of smoking and was extremely impressive. However, once on land the reality of the consequences of such a spectacular sight are brought firmly home as you witness how the locals have to live with it. They were lovely cheery people seemingly abandoned by their government whose long held promise to evacuate them still hadn’t happened since the volcano’s last eruption in 94. Asthma was rife amongst the people, especially the children and it wasn’t hard to understand why as the fine ash from the smoking volcano fell constantly and covered everything around. Dry ash as fine as talc powder was lifted into the air with each footstep and vehicle that drove by. The vegetation and trees looked yellowish and ‘sickly’ and though the market had lots of food, we were told that has to be brought in as it was as good as impossible to grow any crops around the town of Port Simpson, which was where we were.

Then the last 5 days were at sea and in class I had given them free rein to paint what they liked. There’s nothing more inspiring than painting what you like to paint. So now that they had grasped the fundamentals and were running with it, it was time for them to go it alone. Marion and I were on hand walking round the class helping and advising when needed. This is the most rewarding time for me, as I can see the improvements individuals have made. Their enthusiasm for what they are doing is great and I feel really proud that those who had not been very confident, were more so now. And it’s all down to them and their willingness to give it a try and persevere.

Then we were in Hong Kong and were flown homewards, only glimpsing this city from the decks of the ship and through the cars windows as we were taken to the airport.

Marion did a great job as my assistant, it was her first time on ship and she suffered a few days from motion-sickness when the seas got a little choppy. Other than that she had a great time, I think.

What a fabulous trip we had. We had some amazing times in our Ports of Call; unforgettable times both ashore and on the ship. There were some crew and passengers that I had met before on the ship and it was really lovely to see them again. The ship herself was, as ever, a beautiful place to spend 5 weeks and I hope one day to go back. At the moment I don’t know when that will be, if ever, as some things have changed beyond my control. So sadly that might have been my last teaching cruise. It’s not quite my last time on a P&O ship as my friend Julie and her fiancĂ© Hans are getting married in July and are taking a few close family and friends on a short cruise at the beginning of July on Artemis. So I am looking forward to that in many ways.