Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Kites: Aviary, Operations and Release

Saud operates on a black eared kite

Nadeem and Saud have invited me home to observe their days work at the kite rescue centre. The day starts on the roof, cleaning the open aviary. I barely have time to make a quick sketch before Nadeem hurries me downstairs past the rooms where Saud lives with his family and to the basement. The basement garage is also the heart of their family business, I greet a couple of men squat on the floor merrily constructing soap dispensers before Nadeem beckons me into his office. I find a space behind the door, and a chair below a white board displaying a chart of details for the latest inpatients. At a desk below a window looking onto the 'factory floor' sits the vet. He has come to carry out autopsies, but is presently writing in a large ledger that the brothers keep for recording all the birds that pass through their doors. As I wait, my attention is drawn to a soft mewing coming from a plastic lidded cat box. Opening it I find a black winged kite, half the size of it's black cousin. The office is cramped and when Saud and Nadeem enter the kite gets passed around to make more space. Once settled, I draw it, a juvenile brought in 10 days ago and needing regular feeds through a syringe. The autopsies begin, two kites and a brown fish owl, the former died from food toxicity. As Saud leads me out I notice another cage in the office, three kites, one has died over night Saud explains, as he removes the rigid paper light corpse.

After lunch with the family, we are up in the rooftop aviary again. Nadeem, Saud and cousin Salik are assessing the fitness of some kites they hope to release. Saud measures the birds and assesses general look of fitness, before Salik lets them fly from his hands. 4 flop to the ground after a limp flight, 3 make it with powerful flight to the end of the cage. Nadeem videos them, an important documentation of how treated kites recover their ability to fly. We drive three cardboard boxes, each containing a kite to their release site. A tranquil spot near a meandering river on a still evening with a pink blushed sky, music wafting from a nearby temple. The kites are one by one placed on the ground and fly up into the sunset. I thought this would be a fitting end to the days work, but was soon to discover Saud and Nadeem's work had barely begun.

Back at home, we are in the office again and Saud is preparing to operate on 6 kites and a barn owl rescued that day. He tells me this is a normal intake during this the slow off season time of year. 3 of the kites are euthanased another three have a good chance of recovery after operation. Over the years the brothers have struggled to find vets with the level of expertise to operate on bird wings, since there is little commercial call for such work. Instead the brothers have learnt to carry out operations themselves. Five years ago they made the decision that Saud should focus on this work, gaining the most experience to now do all the operations. Their expertise in operating on bird wings, is now greatly valued with professionals seeking their advice on best practice. It is 7pm when the first bird is anaesthetised and Saud begins work. Each bird has a wing injury caused by collision with manja kite thread and each operation takes about an hour of hard concentration. Saud describes the injury of the last bird to be operated on, a black eared kite. Tendons and one of its two biceps in the right wing have been severed entirely, the wound is about 12 days old and the bicep has dried up. Saud deftly stitches the severed bicep muscle, hopefully once recovered it will have enough power in the remaining bicep to fly. The wing is bandaged closed and numbered before the kite is placed in a small cage to recover. The days work complete at around 10pm, we head out to attend a family wedding ceremony near Jama Masjid. Saud stays home, to recover from an illness he has struggled with all day.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Ghazipur Kite Roost.

Returned to the fish market today with M. My main focus is the road outside the market entrance in the afternoon. Here the sheer number of kites crisscrossing the sky as they fly to and from roosts and feeding sites mirrors the buzz of activity around the road. There is an impromptu market of food stalls and livestock sellers drawing a busy crowd whilst rows of taxiwallas spill out onto the busy Delhi suburb commuter roads at this major junction. Painting draws a mammouth crowd and most of my work is done looking over heads and gaps between waves of fresh onlookers.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Kites of Ghazipur

Ridge of 200 foot rubbish tip in Ghazipur

Today I met Nadeem and Saud, two remarkable brothers who have dedicated their lives to rescuing and rehabilitating Delhi's injured black kites. They save many of the huge number of kites injured daily in Delhi, the majority from collisions with toy kites used in the hugely popular game of kite flying and fighting. In kite fighting, flyers have traditionally used manja, a thread coated in powdered glass which enables opponents to slice loose each others kites. This practice has proofed lethal to birds, especially kites, since they fly at low levels through the streets scavenging for food, making them especially prone to collision with the manja threads. Nadeem and Saud found their first injured kite as young boys. Overtime their compassion and determination has led them to grow a rescue centre caring for hundreds of injured birds within the 3 rooms and rooftop of their home, which also houses their small family business. The use of manja was outlawed in India two years ago after several people, including two toddlers were killed by loose threads. Its use however remains prevalent on the streets of Delhi. During the height of the summer kite flying season the brothers expect to house on average, 300 injured black kites in their rooftop aviary.

Nadeem and Saud pick me up in Old Delhi and we make our way out of town, heading East in Saud's Golf. It's an exciting half hour drive for me as I look forward to visiting a place I've wanted to set foot in since my first tantalising glimpses of it from the highway, on first arriving in India. The most obvious landmark in this place is a rubbish dump which has grown into a staggering 200 feet high. A reasonable sized hill in a flat landscape, a Bass Rock built of rubbish. Directly to the North at the foot of the dump is Delhi's main fish market. A little further East, there is a meat market and processing site, the largest in India. With India remarkably being the largest exporter of beef in the world this site is huge. The whole area, unsurprisingly is a magnet for avian scavengers, especially black kites as well as most noticeably, Egyptian vulture and egret in far fewer numbers. Kites in their thousands powder off the distant ridges of the dump, playing with the thermals. A sight no different at distance to the majestic spectacle of a Celtic seabird colony in the height of the breeding season. Kites at a nearer distance swirl in shoals that tighten and dissipate, then reform again in an unfathomable yet fluid dance; an avian tribute to the silver bodies now lying in lifeless regimented formation on the market slabs below. On the ground, every space on every substrate, pylon to rooftop is taken up by the dark body of a black kite. All in all the number of kites visible is in the tens of thousands. This number is at its highest around now as migratory birds swell the local ranks, even so, Nadeem tells me this market complex built 10 years ago to replace the burgeoning markets of Old Delhi, is most likely a major factor in the boom of Delhi's kite population over the last 20 years (concurrently the resident vulture population has crashed).

Morning: Ghazipur Fish Market

We park the car in a far corner behind the main fish market, beneath the shadow of the vast landfill. The market compound is set lower than the surrounding area, concrete walls hold back the steeply rising dump beyond. The roughly tarmacked ground beyond the car is saturated with oily blood slick puddles, heaps of discarded fish waste glisten pink, silver and lime green. The floor slippery with a film of grainy fish oil as I step from the car. Inside the market men (it's all men) deftly clean and fillet fish on cleavers planted at right angles in the ground between their crouched knees. There service is apart from the sellers who are numerous, there wares spilling out onto the narrow single file walkway around this maze of aquatic bounty; huge rows of tuna, alien headed dolphin fish, glittering blue barracuda, pretty star shaped fish, milky white ones, piles of bait and barrels of riving catfish and the sad sight of limp foot long sharks amongst many more unidentifiable produce. I leave Nadeem and Saud searching for tonight's supper and fish for a recently rescued painting stork, to head back to the dumping site where we parked. Amongst the constantly replenished fish waste, scavengers, human and avian pick their opportunity to salvage what they can before diggers scrape the site clean. A teenage boy tears scraps of flesh from fish spines that others see no value in dealing with. He carries them away, perhaps to re-sell or simply for his own sustenance. A dozen kites swoop and dive between this activity, choosing morsels on the wing. Many more kites and a good number of egret languidly survey the gluttonous feast from perches along the wall and undulating market rooftop.

Afternoon: Ghazipur Landfill Summit.

We drive to the summit of Ghazipur's 200 foot dump, Saud's golf sliding on the hairpins as the tyres break the dry crust and slip on the decomposing rubbish. Two thirds of the way up we pass through a smog and dust cloud entering a new and strange environment, an apocalyptic wilderness with its own microclimate it seems. All along the barren moon scape ridges and craters of the summit, perch black kites and vultures, hundreds more soar along the updrafts. I paint a privileged areal view of Delhi in this throat clogging atmosphere, between rise and fall of dust clouds kicked up by passing dumpers. The truck drivers wear an expression of constant amazement and amusement, a reaction I think to the terrifying, dystopian world their work occupies. A monument to the madness of humanity.

Evening: Open Aviary

Saud and Nadeem invite me home. We sit in the family home as Saud's two year old presents Mark and I with a welcoming parade of his entire fleet of toy trucks and cars laid out on the mats in front of us. After coffee in the cool room, I am taken for my first look at the aviary on the roof. Around sixty black and black eared kites as well as half a dozen Egyptian vultures and a painted stork are in residence. The brothers clean the cage, water and feed the birds. The painted stork takes the fish, feeding for the first time since its arrival without assistance. As dusk falls a couple more kites fly into the aviary through its open roof. Once they can, the kites are free to fly in and out, eventually they are taken further afield to be released.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Delhi Kite Residency

I spent the first week of my eleven day residency in Delhi, exploring and locating places to work for a project documenting the natural history of urban black kites. In particular the unique bond between Delhi's kites and the multifaceted communities of this richly layered city. Painting in Delhi is a challenge in itself, magnified beyond anything I have previously dealt with by the intensity of the crowds, streets exhausted of all space, the unfailing curiosity and regular confusion or angst of the locals who happen upon me. These are however, elements of the overwhelming chaos that appeals. Every direction I look in this city I find another big subject crammed with information, not least the skies of wheeling kites in their hundreds even thousands. I arrived imaging large paintings and drawings, attempted several, some with success such as in the relatively peaceful space of Lodhi Gardens. Here a dead tree stands majestically filled with roosting kites, as spectacular and precious a relic in my eyes as the Moghul tombs that give this space its name. Other key locations, such as Jamal Masjid proofed harder, since large canvases create a spectacle, turning quiet observation into performance and expectation. I tried several strategies, at one point I located to a hotel roof where I thought I'd find peace, but became hostage to the manager who expected me to paint his mosque in beautiful detail for his website. I collected only a few sketches of tantalising street views and kites close enough to touch (some swiping my head expecting food) before escaping.Two significant developments came mid to me at this time, first when I made contact with two brothers who were to help me access incredible insights into the Delhi kites. The second came as a simple realisation to work small.

I set out today lighter than recent after making a decision last night to standardise the format of my drawings to an equal size, roughly A4. I thought this should proof more manageable on location and it also fits my new ideas for exhibiting the project. Keen to get out early, way before the served breakfast, I fortified myself with kettle boiled eggs and bread. Walking down the long tree lined drive, prepares me for the days onslaught. The traffic of course, as ever, was ceaseless when I reached MG road, though I have started to notice a few regulars around this time who brighten my dawn march down the dual carriageway to Arjangarh metro. The determined jogger in respiration mask pounding through the mist, he overtakes me around about the lonely furniture shop each morning, the bikes that travel the other way, so deeply laden with potted plants they appear rider less, steered by marigolds and powered by helaconia quivering on the back seat. Sometimes there is a Nighal (large antelope) or chital grazing behind the wall as I climb the metro station steps. That's the thing about these southern outskirts of Delhi; a few steps away from the clogged highway, conglomeration of hurriedly constructed buildings along it's way, shade of the Metro's looming concrete overhang and shroud of exhaust fumes, the urban decay gives way to large tracts of dry scrubby jungle and settlements resembling village like communities.  

9/12/17, Early Morning: Chatterpur. Painting from the raised Metro station.

A few stops down on the metro, the sun rises over Chatterpur. Black kites lift with the gradually warming air. Commuters emerge onto the street and the roads slowly fill as shadows retreat, noise levels increase. I pass this view every day I travel on the Metro into central Delhi. Invariably I see up to five kites circling this spot, maybe a roost nearby. This Southern area of Delhi, though busy and built up along the arterial road is deeply wooded between the concrete. From above, dry forests seem to stretch vast distances into near wilderness; scrubby trees and bare trees that kites seem to favour as roosts. The impressive temple is Adya Katyani Shakti Peeth, nearby a bright orange Hanuman statue rises above the trees, visible for miles around.

9/12/17, Midday: Meena Bazaar from Jama Masjid.

Looking down and across Meena Bazaar from the steps of Jama Masjid. Food sellers push and park their carts, salesmen spread out their wares on blankets, beckoning crowds. The steps plunge deeper into the permanent market, leading to packed alleyways covered overhead with plastic sheeting that tints the bright sunlight hues of blue, red, yellow, green as it floods the stalls of shoes, clothes, cooking utensils and household products. Beyond these claustrophobic meanderings that sink several levels, cooks line the busy streets leading to the mosques four gateways selling Moguli treats; kebabs of perfectly cubed mutton, biriyanis stirring in huge steel karahis, more mobile sellers hawk sweets, popcorn, kolfi and chai.
Black kites circle above, several hundred strong. They congregate here, since it is where people come to feed them at semi-random locations around the mosque as well as from private rooftops throughout the surroundings of this predominately Muslim area of Old Delhi.

9/12/17, Evening: Lodi Gardens. Sheesh Gumbad Tomb

Black kites lift out of a dead tree to join thousands more flying out of urban areas to roost in Delhi's green spaces. This mass exodus, happens every evening at the moment dusk switches to night, which at this latitude is a clear transition, instantaneous as a blink.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Indian River

I have been spending the last few weekend mornings at the upper Ganges canal. There is a temple and small ghats where the delhi road crosses the 30 metre or so span of the river, just a short rickshaw ride from Modinagar. The ceremonial bathing happens early in the morning, we saw it once from a taxi, the crowd on the shore up to their waists in the milky water, floating torsos in the smoggy morning atmosphere. I have arrived most days after this ceremony. Priests are in a screened section of the ghats performing small rituals around a fire and scattered incense, flowers and silver bowls of food. Offerings drift by on the current, flotillas of orange marigolds amongst the ubiquitous plastic, crisp packets and polystyrene thali trays. Young boys wade waist deep against the strong undertow, trawling heavy weights somewhere down there through the aquatic soup of silt and debris. The weights are heavy magnets some from old speakers, cone still attached, used this way for collecting coins thrown to the sacred river. The boys return to check their haul on a scrappy spit off the ghats, which is also scattered with clay vessels and figurines. A man in a black shirt watches over the boys, taking anything they find.

I notice this hold on people another time, when drawing a place outside a temple where there is a loose gathering of street children, women and, mixed in with the elderly huddle, some Sahdus: religious ascetics who have renounced the worldly life. Several cars pull up in the time I am there, people get out and serve up dahl from takeaway containers and pedestrians too, hand out notes and coins as they leave the ghats. There is a man from the temple, whose orders these dependants obey. He is mid forties; tall, thin, wearing neatly cropped hair, crisp white pyjamas, a single dot of colour on his brow, always stands upright and straight although he clasps his hands so tightly when he talks that he makes them bent and twisted. Everyone in the ragged gathering does this man's bidding and he is their agent, seemingly ready to sell what ever he thinks they have to offer in service. In his presence is a young woman holding a new born who had previously been laughing at my drawing, at me, the children and all the jokes I will never understand. Now with this man, her natural laughter is replaced with a fake complicity as she is offered up to the rich westerner for sex. The holy man inserts his fore finger into the O of his pinched thumb and index to make clear his proposition.
Oblivious perhaps, to the future around them, the children at the top of the ghats are full of joy and excitement about being drawn. Occasionally they are scattered by a muttering old woman, a real character with a chunky stick and glasses pinched to the end of her nose, but always they sneak back giggling. The smallest one with the biggest grin will put both his thumbs up in a positive question directed at me; is it all clear? The grouch has fallen back to sleep. His quick wit beyond his age reminds me of F back at home; starting primary school, living care free in a present tense world explored with a sharp and enquiring mind. This grinning boy bare foot on the riverside, understands that same joyful existence. For this precious moment they are in common, a brief moment, their lives already moving on very different trajectories.

In uptown Modinagar, there is a small river so clogged with waste that much of it has silted up and overgrown. On the left of the road bridge there is a pipe big enough to crawl through, discharging black water with the stench of sewage. Just below is a floating mat of plastic waste stretching from bank to bank, backed up against the silted over riverbed. Upstream the damned water forms a pool; still and black in colour but cloudy like milk. The greasy surface reflects ochre and red, the reverent colours of a Hindu temple on the opposite bank. An unnatural iridescent sheen glistens purple along the shallow fringes. Swimming pigs bulldoze through the plastic raft, lost in a hearty enthusiasm for their work. Their dedication looks absurd, their movement jerky and possessed like puppetry, snout tossing shoes and tennis balls and plastic hats up from the discarded depths. Egrets balance on the hog's backs and a dancing procession of these avian stilt-walkers follows each ones wake, ready to pounce on smaller prey in a flurry. Yesterday, six boys put the egrets up in a cloud of white powder as they clambered onto the rotting mat. Reaching the waterline the boys stripped bare, sunk themselves in and began to rummage in the fowl water for any residue of value left discarded.

Trawling for coins

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Birds of Modinagar

Week 8 November
The infrared swirl straddles central India on the map, twisting through dark red and purple towards two black boils at its epicentre sitting over Delhi and including Modinagar. Through the window there is no visible sign of this storm, the air is deadly still, but the authorities advise people to stay indoors to avoid harm, schools are closed and events cancelled. Ministers in Delhi blame the silent storm on crops being burnt in neighbouring states, the same practice carried out for many thousands of years. Either way, the region is in a state of emergency; that deep red static tornado on the satellite map signifying air quality declares a reading of 999 micrograms of pollutant per cubic metre (the scale does not go above 999, true levels have at times reached 1300). This is toxic air that can clog arteries and cause premature death on a mass scale. To put it into perspective, London when it has broken the EU regulated maximum pollutant levels by several fold has never exceeded 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Outside the window each morning I can make out the metal work of the balcony and just beyond a slight silhouette of the huge ficus that normally dominates the view and that's it; total white out, Jack the ripper type smog. Stay indoors; I have often opened my bedroom door this week to find a hazy cloud hanging menacingly in the hall. I leave the compound, I need to explore, draw.

Sometimes I go out early, pass over the threshold cut out of the compound gate, salute the guard as I go and step into a world of saturated grey tones and wispy spectres. Car's horns blare as they emerge with a rush and disintegrate again into the mist. I move freely, my own whiteness bleached out in the smog makes me almost incognito; Westerners don't usually have reason to visit Modinagar, so our presence on the street always draws considerable attention. I enjoy these quiet mornings, lingering. By 7 o'clock the road is already clogging with vehicles, often stuck behind the lumbering carts off to Modi Mills, laden with sugar cane. This main street is the only route between Delhi and the city of Meerut. M5 level traffic skims fruit sellers and food stalls, and pedestrians and motor bikes all jostling for space on the narrow, ambiguous fringes squeezed between heavy traffic and the toxic verge of open drains that run beneath the houses. Down there, open flumes run purple black drain water, steam rising where domestic waste mingles with run off from the Sugar mill. A syrypy sweet mildew smell permeates the sharp tang of exhaust fumes and thickens the soup in my lungs.

When I first arrived here, I quickly accepted that I was not going to be making work about wildlife in this crowded concrete strip. It was a surprise then on one of these smoggy mornings, to find myself drawing several Indian Hornbills clearly outlined on the branches of a dead tree in Modi Mander park a few metres from the main street. They were directly overhead circled by the simple silhouettes of tropical foliage, spade shaped leaves that taper to a long crimped thread, long frond leaves and fine showers of bamboo all staggered into shades of mist. The heavy beaked, long tailed hornbills grounded at roost by the dense smog turned this corner of a polluted park into a jungle scene of my imagination.

On one of my free days this week, I walked to the fields around Junta. As if I were ten again, I took the long route balancing on leats and ducking behind bushes to avoid some children I knew would sweetly harass me to breaking point and ruin any chances of drawing. My aim was to reach the raised platform around a solitary banyan tree under which was a small domed shrine. When I got there I found a new field had been flooded that throughout the day, drew down more and more birds until the whole 200 metre square was jammed with avian activity. Numerous bright egrets sparkling in the wet mud, white against yellowing smog, black drongos with their long quilled tails quivering as they spin a flight back and forth from the bushes catching insects on the wing, a ridiculously heavy billed kingfisher loudly zigzags from perch to perch. Pond herons stalk more stealthily between the erratic dance of the egrets, yellow wagtails and other small passerines dip in and out the flooded furrows, two red naped ibis, unmistakable long curved bills, scream out their intended approach from the tip of a near by pylon. The Ibis arrive at the field edge wearily probing their way around the periphery, red wattles lapwing enter in force and more boldly. They are the first to be spooked though, taking flight occasionally, after some unknown threat sending the skittish egret up in a wheeling raucous flock along with other previously unseen sandpipers and a single dotterel. The stealthy, cryptic pond herons stay still as statues, cool and calm. I try to draw the whole scene but need to zoom in on the birds. I work in my sketchbook for a while using binoculars. Its nice to just relax and strangely for me use a pencil to work things out. I build up a few studies then draw an entire composition in front of me before return with watercolour, lightly moving around the picture as birds fall into position, reflections and light into place. The key is good composition and rhythmic brushstrokes. I think this approach will work for more complicated field paintings than I have been making.

Worn out on Friday I procrastinate about leaving the house, the street, the market, the mill, the back-roads, the fields; all are possibilities all relentless. I look out my window for the 100th time across the unkempt lawn, ficus rustling with the business of Macaques foraging, towards the red slabbed walls of anther crumbling wing of the house curving around a disjointed patio with its swimming pool centre piece, a foot of half silted turquoise grey water at the bottom. A dumpy silhouette on the corner of a rusted, twisted anti-macaque cage catches my eye, another on a vertical drainpipe; too small and upright to be the ubiquitous pigeon. A quick look through the binoculars confirms two Smyrna kingfisher, double the size of our European kingfisher, but the same iridescent blue blaze on its back, a rich chestnut brown head and flank and white breast. Its red bill is proportionately longer and much thicker, the upper mandible chevroned and lower one downwardly curved and heavy giving it a near shoe bill shaped appearance. The kingfisher remain for near enough two hours, allowing me to make several brush studies.

More recently, I have discovered a river uptown attracting birds for all the wrong reasons, as it runs black with raw sewage and clogged so completely with rubbish it turns to a mire where pigs wade accompanied by an egret entourage, black kites as well as the pond herons and other water birds I found previously in the fields. The main street crosses this swampy travesty, temples line its banks, and people live all around in the fowl stench. It's corrupted, fowled, distressing, wild, precious and sacred.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

IIFA Teaching Week 3 and 4: Figure in Space, Pattern and Colour

We started the week tutoring the painters. Our focus was to get the students concentrated on drawing space in proportion. Starting in the studio, we set up a simple subject of 2 pieces of A1 paper, one on the floor and one on the wall in the corner of the room for the students to draw. Before starting the students made schematic drawings of the room, the A1 sheets, themselves and the space between them and the paper. We had interesting results varying from areal views, maps and plans made of energetic lines of trajectory, which hopefully helped the class better understand the proportions of the space they were drawing. Drawing the paper in the room produced some good results, students enjoying it more than they expected, with some pleasing drawings that included the artist as well as subject and room. Next we introduced a model seated on the papers. Before making a sustained drawing we showed examples of artists drawing interior spaces such as Hockney and Martin Shortis, discussing, proportions, scale, composition techniques such as cropping, peripheral vision and foreground space for example. We then asked the students to make thumbnail sketches, encouraging them to move around to explore different compositions. This is something they very rarely do and we had noticed previously that they have had a tendency to launch into a large drawing starting with one detail and working outwards hoping for the best. Many of the thumbnails were more successful than the main drawings and some students used the session to make a whole series. Three students based their main drawing on a thumbnail composition and came up with interesting interpretations of the figure in space using imaginative view points, grounded figure, devices to lead the eye and sense of the artist's position in relation to figure. All strong compositions that considered the importance of tying the design to the edges of the page.

For the afternoon we hang A1 sheets around the campus which is built out of the old Modi cloth factory buildings. We pin the paper amongst the derelict cloth factory sheds, tumbled down chimneys uncoiling to the ground, down alleys stacked with old vents, in a boiler room, on the bonnet of a rusted old Buick and on the tarmac lane cracked and broken under the strain of weeds pushing up the soil. The students found a sheet to draw using it as a reference point for scale, proportion and composition to focus their landscapes and especially examine the breadth of space in their view points. They began with thumbnails and then more ambitious large charcoal drawings.

My favourite class so far was on Tuesday with foundation, section A. We had planned to work outside but the smog in the morning reduced visibility so much it would have been impossible. Instead we set up what we were going to do at one end of the classroom were there was a large wall sculpture of a tree filling the whole wall, a nice backdrop for our rather theatrical lesson. Our class was on figure in space, leading on from last weeks introduction to drawing the figure and would draw on classes I had learnt whilst training at Whitechapel with Becki. Arranging the class was a military operation with three tiers crammed into the small space, sitting on floor stools upturned as board rests, sitting on stools and standing at the back behind the wonderful sloped, teak stained Victorian type school desks filling the classroom. We gavr the class tiny A5 sheets, asking them to draw the class room, really explaining that they need to include walls on bothside, the floor, ceiling and foreground which is as important above us as below. We took this further explaining that those on the sides of the room would have to draw behind them to get the walls in. We did another small drawing asking them to this time put themselves/their position in the drawing so they were really exploring their entire field of view before starting with the main piece.

We stopped for a crit to look at the small drawings, which allowed us to see and discuss how differently we all perceive space, evident in the brilliant little felt tip drawings scattered at our feet in the middle of the circle. We then got into our huddle to look at images on my tablet, as I showed examples of different ways artists have interpreted space in art from Duccio and Massacio to Nadal Chand through to Hopper, Hockney, then Van Gogh, Bonnard and Tim Hyman drawings.
Before getting back to work we reiterated how important planning in this way is; many students helpfully shared their experiences of having to redraw the space several times after incorrectly estimating the proportions of the room. Using the small drawings as a guide, we asked the students to make larger drawings of the room and also introduced colours for them to use: two pastels one cold and one warm colour as well as a choice of black or white paper (this was to introduce a new element for variety but also were running out of materials after being so liberal in the first two weeks). After 5 minutes drawing the space we introduced a model. After 10 we moved the model to a different position in the room for the students to add to their drawing. We repeated this and as the model moved around more and more students were struggling to place the figure. To resolve this we extended their drawings by adding more paper, so the work got bigger and bigger. The scene became quite theatrical and it was exciting to see the strange drawings that were being produced, not least because of the mind bogglingly wonderful way some dealt with the space and all in striking colour tones.

We repeated the class for Section B&C, this time in the park but with less success due to various issues. Probably to do with the classes mood that day as well as the difference of being outside both for their ability to focus and also because the task was more difficult in an open space. A couple of student made some of the best drawings in this session however.

Matisse with Fashion Design and Textiles on Wednesday. Our first time with these groups and they were great, they also have by far the best studio; light, airy, open planned top floor with a glass exterior wall opening out onto a lawn terrace. We made a set for them with draped patterned fabric, rugs, flowers and fruit for them to draw from. We introduced Matisse to them for the first time ever and talked about using pattern shape and colour to draw something. We took this further discussing how the space in Matisse work is on one often flat plane, how this turns things into pattern and how we would like to challenge the class to do the same with the set in front of them. We worked on thumbnails and felt tips to begin with, which worked well. The sustained drawings were harder as there was a tendency to over work and fixate on detailed rendering of forms instead of simplifying and focusing on compositional edits/decisions, especially when we added a model.

We repeated this class with foundation on Tuesday 12 November. Rosy was back with us and since this was really her area she took the lead and the students produced some fantastic work. We had tweaked the class slightly so, for example,  we worked on coloured paper. This group seemed to take very naturally to the idea of making patterned, rhythmic colour compositions by flattening the space they were drawing. The work produced certainly showed inspiration from the Matisse and Vuillard work we looked at but also the patterns, design and feel of Indian miniature painting in some. 

For fashion this week we worked outdoors using ink, exploring pattern and mark-making again, leading on from the Matisse inspired class last week. We set up a scene against the large studio windows for a more sustained ink and brush drawing. Some of the work produced was very illustrative and really well thought out compositionally. Some used thick and thin lines with pattern and a variety of marks to create rhythm and balance in the work. Others used the single black tone and white of the paper to capture a sense of light and dark in and out the room. We moved on to colour using oil pastels on colour paper with ink. This introduced using limited colour with black and also new texture and mark making combining wet and dry materials and resist marks.

for painting we had prepared a lesson on sketchbook work. Making sketchbooks and working on the busy streets to gather source material for a studio drawing/painting later on. Due to various other commitments most of the class were absent so we postponed and instead went on a sketch crawl with the four students present. We explored a very interesting area around the school, which is the opposite end to where we live and definitely more down town. From blacksmith families in their tents on the roadside to the blue black toxic river damned with rubbish where pigs and egrets feast, this is a rough, gritty sometimes repulsive but vibrant place to explore and draw.