An Artist Tamed

  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |

I am an artist of the spoilt brat variety. Self taught and revelling in learning what I want to learn, how and when I want to learn it; accepting the artistic challenges I am free to choose, when I feel ready. Heady stuff. Some of the guilt, which comes with this exciting joyride, was assuaged when I watched the Francis Bacon video at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin recently. Bacon's opinion on being a self taught artist was that he wanted to learn the techniques of painting in his own unique way, untainted by preconceived ideas and methods. Go Francis!

And then I went on a sketching trip in the Abruzzo province of Italy.

The first lesson, in the shade of the medieval ruined castle in the deserted hilltop town of Rocca Calascio, was very scary. Not only was it my first lesson, ever, in sketching (after more than ten years of being a professional artist) but also the view stretched for endless miles - hot, hazy and distant mountains. Too intimidated at this stage to use charcoal, I grabbed a pencil and tried desperately to find a bit of that scene on which to focus my sketch. My personal style is to take a close-up view of the subject and to work with that.

Finally, a few exercises into the lesson I realised that to capture the corner of the castle tower in my sketch gave me both the close-up I relate to as well as the distant hills we were being asked to portray. By the end of that lesson, having been put through a number of challenging sketching exercises too numerous and intricate to describe here, and being encouraged to look at the endless view with a different slant, I felt humbled but good. I had learnt to have confidence that my individual style will always win through no matter what the circumstances and that it will always be there, like an old and trusted friend.

That evening we were driven to Camp Imperatore, the Emperor's fields, a high altitude plateau surrounded by mountains and populated with hundreds of wild horses. On the way to the plateau, we stopped off in the valley known for the filming of spaghetti westerns, and made stone sculptures in the dry riverbed. We laid stones out in patterns and built them up as beacons, giving us light-hearted artistic relief before the last sketching lesson of the day.

This time we were allowed to use paints if we wished. "Yippee!" I thought. "This is my comfort zone." Oh dear. In my eagerness, I made such a mess of my painting. I totally over-worked it and was about to hide it, and start again, when the lesson ended. If I was back in my studio, it would not have seen the light of day and no-one would have been any the wiser ... but, the mess that was my painting, was whipped away from me and joined the pile of art to be analysed after dinner. I needn't have worried. Most of the group felt the same and the tutors were kind and gentle, using very constructive criticism to nudge us all along the way.

Morning dawned fresh and hot and we were whisked off to the Masciarelli wine estate for a tour and another art lesson. After a huge lunch of delicious local foods we settled in the garden of the restored baron's mansion on the estate, amongst ancient vines being nurtured for future experiments, and were set free amongst the pencils, paints, charcoals and inks. It was here that Miro's ghost whispered in my ear and I produced my "Barbed Wire Abstract". It wasn't exactly a masterpiece, to put it mildly, but a wonderful release of my feelings of inadequacy, which had been building up. I was quite happy to be left messing with paints, giving a mere nod to the charcoal challenge which I was avoiding, by depicting just a corner of the mansion using charcoal. Big deal - I charcoaled in a window, some outlined bricks and roof, and a sweeping pathway. Did I really think I was getting into the charcoal thing?

Another scorching day and we found ourselves perching on rocks in the shade of a tree amongst the roman ruins of Juvanum where I finally had to face "The Challenge of the Charcoal." No choice. We were given five minutes to make a strong charcoal sketch of whatever we chose to focus on, and then pass it on to someone else in the group. Each person had to rub away the sketch drawn by the person they had received it from, and produce a new sketch on top of that. We did this four or five times until our hands and the boards were black with soot. It was heart-breaking rubbing away someone's masterpiece and yet wonderfully exhilarating to make a sketch, try out new techniques, feel free to make mistakes in the name of progress, and know that you were getting better each time you did it. I became quite fond of the haystacks I was drawing and was only sad that what I felt was my best sketch had had to be rubbed out.

Later that day we walked up into the old town ruins of Gessopalena, an area famous for its chalk quarries and where the name of the substance used to prime art supports (gesso) comes from. This was to be our last art lesson. I faced my challenge head-on and picked up the charcoal. I didn't manage to finish the large sketch, probably because I was trying to be too precious about it. It ended up pretty messy and undefined, but I felt I had conquered my fear of working with charcoal.

I've bought myself a few sticks to continue the challenge at home.

I am a South African-born writer and artist, living in Connemara in the West of Ireland.

My personal website : www.lyndacookson.com

My networking profile : www.ecademy.com/user/lyndacookson

Rate this Article:
  • Article Word Count: 965
  • |
  • Total Views: 304
  • |
  • permalink
  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |
Popular Articles by Lynda Cookson
>