After a lot of discussion and faffing about with possible holiday locations Ben finally booked us a week in St Ives for September. We visited here in 2010 and loved it and so were both keen to return (Ben for a Blas Burger and me for the art). We soon found out that the week we chose coincided with the start of the St Ives September Festival where the town is transformed and celebrates all things arty and cultural. There are Open Studio events, exhibitions galore, music and open air theatre and poetry reading to name a few!
For me this was just a spectacular week to visit as both the St Ives School of Painting and St Ives Society of Artists were running workshops. To be fair to Ben, I controlled myself and just booked two – a mixed media workshop and a relief printing workshop.
I arrived early at the Porthmeor Studios and met our tutor Liz Luckwell who was setting up the studio ready for us. We were in the upstairs studio at the back which overlooks Porthmeor beach – a truly stunning and inspiring location. Being left handed I located myself at one of the easels by the window so as to be able to see the still life that we would be working from (with the bonus of being able to watch the surfers too).
Liz began by giving us a potted history of the school. It was established by Borlaise Smart and Leonard Fuller who made a pledge to each other during the war that if they survived the trenches they would start an art school in St Ives. The Porthmeor Studios that house the St Ives School of Painting are still in the process of being renovated as part of a £4miilion restoration project. You can read more about the history on the Art Schools website:
Once we had learnt how to set up an easel properly we set about producing a series of quick sketches of pots to ‘warm up’. The first with our dominant hand in pencil, the second off set and over the top with our non dominant hand with a graphite block (this was much better than my first one!) and a third sketch using willow charcoal which I haven’t used for years. This really set the scene for ‘speedy art’ and I surprised myself with being able to keep up!
Our next exercise was to use a view finder to choose a smaller section of the still life to draw in charcoal and then fill in the negative space with a compressed charcoal stick. I haven’t used one of these before and it gave a most fabulous dense black tone when rubbed and a few of us in the class transferred charcoal fingers to faces unbeknown . . .
We then moved on to learn a bit about colour mixing with acrylic paints (something else I haven’t used before) and drew out another still life of pots in row using charcoal ready to paint. Having not used acrylics before it was interesting to try different ways to apply the paint and to learn that you can add the darks and highlights at any stage which was quite liberating compared to watercolors that I favour. I have a large selection of acrylic paints at home that I have never used and this has encouraged me to break them out and have a proper play now. This was a really quick ‘painting’ exercise and unlike Diana, who was sitting next to me on the table, I was only able to complete a few of my pots in the time we had.
Our last ‘mixed media adventure’ of the morning involved collage. This was a bit different to the type of collage that I usually do and I have quite a bit more work to do to finish this piece when I get home.
The time went by so quickly and the workshop came to an end all too soon. It was really refreshing to do something completely different for a change and I thank Liz for devising this fast paced mixed media feast for us. I haven’t done a formal art class or workshop for many years as I always used to struggle to get things completed and over thought work rather than just jumping in and having a go. I was surprised that I was able to keep up with this class and can’t wait to get home to continue to try out new media and get back into the habit of drawing again.
There is so much history at the Porthmeor Studios and so many outstanding artists have worked (and continue to work) from here that it was a real privilege to step through the doors and feel part of it – even if just for a few hours. I’ll definitely visit St Ives for the September Festival again and this time will book a class for every day of my visit.