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Ten little indians in dispair

It started well enough.

An art workshop run by a chap with an impressive array of letters after his name, and three pages of notes informing us of his fabulous pedigree, and very detailed instructions as to what materials we should take with us to ensure a happy and prolific painting session with him. Far more than I usually see when I attend a workshop, and I’ve been to many enough over the years.

It boded very well. A proficient and respected artist, who knew what he was doing, and had limited the class to fifteen so that we could all receive personal concentrated attention from him.

How exciting, I thought…….

When I got there on Saturday, most people had set up their tables and easels, only twelve of us, so it would be even more fully concentrated  time spent with him, and I slotted happily in at the back, able to view the rest of the room, and soak up all that fabulous information coming our way.

We all went to the front of the room to sit and listen to his introductory chat, the one where the artist talks about their background, the work that they have done, the galleries they exhibit at, their methods of painting, their preferred choice of art materials (acrylics in this case), papers, mixing palette, sizes of brushes (hog hair, not sable for this chap). All stuff I’ve heard variations on before, but still listen to, to learn any extra tips that I’ve not heard of before. The problem was, it was still going on a full hour after we’d started. And we were only there for six hours, all valuable painting time. And I hadn’t learnt anything,  time was ticking on, and we hadn’t started painting at that point. He had asked us at the beginning how many of us had used acrylics before, and about 8 of us had confidently put our hands up, so why was he teaching us the basics? I started to get twitchy, I know the signs, I can feel the blood fizzing in me, and I can’t stand still.

He had got us all standing around watching him mixing paint by then, and I’ve mixed paint before so don’t, (really I don’t) need to be told. And then it reached the low point of that achingly slow, tedious, time. When he said “And this is how you mix greens, yellow and blue (roll of eyes from me, out of sight of him) and if you mix more yellow, like this, it makes it yellower (oh, give me strength!) and if you add two blues it makes it duller (yeh, I know) and if you want to make it paler (please don’t say it) you mix white into it (oh fuck, he did say it. More eye rolling from me). I knew that at the age of eight, if you mix white it makes a colour paler. I looked over to a blonde woman I know quite well and mouthed “I’m bored!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and she nodded back in agreement. Oh sod this, I thought, and left the group at the front of the class and went to my easel at the back, and looked at the photos I’d taken with me as source information – a twisted hawthorn tree by a lake, a country stile in a field, a sunset over dark mountains by a lake, a seascape, and a valley scene. Mmmm….. I chose the seascape one of Lands End in Cornwall, a favourite place of mine,  as I loved the teal blue of the sea, the heavy shadows of the cliffs, the windswept bleakness of the heather and rocks, that’s what I’ll paint. I certainly didn’t want to paint the image the tutor had given us of a meadow, with a cottage, and stone wall at the forefront. I had nothing against the image, it was just that he was intending to do a “step-by-step” workshop where we all follow him – he paints the sky, we paint the sky, he paints the trees, we paint the trees, and onwards, until we all end up with the same painting at the end. How boring. I want to paint MY picture, of what I want to paint. Now, I know that its a good way of learning painting for anyone who hasn’t painted before so that you can understand the techniques, but if you know what you’re doing, it is tedious beyond compare. Like being shown how to hold a knife and fork, when you want to eat the fabulous banquet infront of you.

I was quite happy to get on with my image, and let the tutor teach the others who needed more help.

A dark haired woman who I know slightly came up to me and said “Isn’t this boring?” I nodded at her and she added “He can’t teach, and I’m so disappointed, I’ve been waiting for this one for weeks, I think I’m going to go soon” . That was a shame I thought, but understood that there were people there who needed to learn the basics, but most of us didn’t. And because it was a step by step painting method, no-one knew what the finished painting should look like. He had brought some of his finished paintings with him, and I glanced at them, disappointed in them, knowing that I was a better painter than he seemed to be. This doesn’t bode well.

And then, it got worse.

The tutor came around the room, looking at what we were doing, and came up to me, and looked at the photo I was working from, I smiled at him, encouraging some interaction and respecting his thoughts. He looked at the photo and pointed at a part of the cliffs which were lighter than the rest, and said “That’s the focal point!” and I shook my head and said “No, it’s this bit”, pointing at the main dramatic outcrop of rocks just off the shore where the force of the waves has carved a hole where the sea could clearly be seen, dark and black against the bright teal blue “Or this part” I pointed at the dark shadows of the cliffs to the left of it, which made the picture look far more dramatic for its inclusion. Oh dear, we’re not doing very well here……

I painted my picture with no advice from him, and let him carry on his tuition as I mixed up pinks and blues and white for my sky.

But when I looked up the woman who had said she was leaving early had packed up and gone. Whoops, down to eleven.

And ten minutes after that one of my good friends there told me she was going to go as she had an aching shoulder and had slept badly that night, and knew she wasn’t going to enjoy the day. Ok, now we are ten…….

I joked to the depleted room “I hope there’s not going to be another leaving!” and one of the older ladies said that she was going too, as she had a birthday party to attend. Ok, down to nine of us, surely that would be it.

Half an hour later, a guy I know very well came up to me and said quietly “I’m going now, this isn’t for me, and I’ll be better off at home” and I nodded at him, as he packed up his stuff too……

Then there were eight……

 Agatha Christie would have loved it, murder in the art class. It felt a bit like murder, in places.

At the end, a woman who I’d not met before came to see my painting and said “I love that black!”, pointing at the dark shadows of my focal point. (Yep, as I thought, I was right). Someone else had come up earlier and said “Wow, I love that sky!” and another had said ” I love that strong colour in the sea” – so again, I felt justified with my colour choices and methods.

At the end, the ones of us who were still left, propped our work up against the long wall in the hall, and stood looking at what the others had painted. All the same picture, of the same subject, painted in the same way, except for one. Mine. At the end, shouting out loud at it not conforming with the others, different subject, different colours, different techniques, the rebel in the class…..

The tutor went along the wall, picking up each painting in turn, and I noticed that one of the paintings had three broken fence posts sticking up at the forefront of the picture, which is a technical trick to “point” at the focal point, except the main one in the middle was pointing in totally the opposite direction towards *nothing* which looked extremely weird and VERY amateurishly wrong for me. It was done by a woman who I know very vaguely, whose work I don’t respect at all. Not that I would tell her that of course, she’s just an amateur and we all have to learn. When it got to my turn, the tutor picked up my painting to talk about it, and I was looking forward to hearing his critique of it, and the woman who’d painted the crap picture started to talk AT me, telling me confidently what I could have done to improve on my picture, drowning out what the tutor was saying! I couldn’t believe she could be so crass and rude! I nodded curtly, to shut her up, and listened to what the tutor was saying, and was pleased that he hadn’t got a lot to criticise about it, although I was aware it wasn’t fully finished and certainly needed more work doing on it, particularly the pink of the heather in the foreground that mirrored the pink in the sky above. (I’m showing it to you here, along with the photo I was working from so that you can see what I’m referring to, but bear in mind, its not completed yet).

I drove away, shaking my head in dispair. What happened to the high expectations of the day?

And when I got home, some minutes later, my fella asked “ Did you have a good day?”. I hesitated, and said with a heavy sigh

“Let me have a mug of hot sweet tea, and a sit down,  and I’ll tell you about it……………….!”