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I’m finally going to visit the place I have felt instinctively drawn to since a child. A country with more vast chasms of inequality than I have ever experienced in my life. Where many children live in slums, collecting rubbish from landfill sites in order to earn enough to eat and survive. A place of extremes, where around the corner from these heartbreaking scenes bustling cities thrive and a country on its way to commanding immense international power drives forward technologically and financially. A place with a deep cultural and spiritual history comparable with nowhere else on earth. A country where colour and light and life assault the senses in the most intense and beautiful ways.

So I’ve heard.

I’ve never actually been to India, but after being accepted onto an artist residency with the Kalanirvana International Art Centre, I’m due to fly out on 1st Feb 2019 for two weeks in their shared studio/artist accommodation in Bhubaneswar. The setting looks more perfect than I could have imagined. Bhubaneswar is said to be the birthplace of Bhuddism, a belief structure I have come closer to being able to accept than any other throughout my life. The area looks inherently ‘local’, not untouched by tourism, but not its captive either. A place so steeped in history, culture and spirituality I can’t imagine I’ll want to leave at the end of it.

Aside from the amazing location, I will be allowed access to a 24hr shared studio in which to create and to explore the responses my journey illicits in me. The organisation will introduce me to local residents and guide me around the most pertinent spots to visit while I’m there. I couldn’t be more excited!

Even better is the chance to work alongside and to meet, other international artists who will be staying in the residence. Almost all of my art production until now, and particularly recently, has been very much a private practice. Undertaken in my bedroom at home, in familiar surroundings. A literal comfort blanket. I’m excited to see what effect such an extreme change in circumstances and setting has on my artwork.

I have ideas already, thinking of sketching from life when on tour and then extending delicate pencil drawings of sculptures and temples into abstract designs in pen back at the studio, perhaps adding washes of watercolour too. I will almost certainly combine my photography with my pen work, in collage styles I am already beginning to experiment with now in anticipation of the trip.

I’ve only just booked my flights and the trip is 3 months away, but I’m already feeling my imagination and creative urges bolstered by this amazing life experience. Watch this space for daily updates while I’m away…

http://www.kalanirvana.com/one-world-residency/

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A walk in the woods for me always brings back memories of days spent with my dad exploring the local woodland and heath. Being an actor, a creative, imaginative soul and of a Peter Pan nature, he would crouch wide-eyed, cocking his head to the side and pretending to hear the stomp of Christopher Robin’s Heffalumps in the distance. Thrilled, and in that wonderfully childish state of overwhelming excitement, I would follow his racing trail through the trees, squealing with delight as we crunched over the bracken underfoot in high anticipation. In those moments and in those memories we entered another world. Removed from the everyday industrialism for a brief period, we chased into a shadowy world of tone; of light and dark, pared back sounds, silence and crackles, birdsong and sun on bark. Coming across a steep dip in the ground he would inform me conspiratorially and in hushed tones that this was the Heffalump nest and it must be nearby. We were lost in a world of myth and story, letting reality as we knew it fade away to reveal the spine-tingling hidden parts of perception.

A recent trip to Lesnes Abbey Woods resulted in the photographs in this blog, and encapsulate this sense of mystical storytelling which I now pass on to my 3 year old; pointing out to him faerie doors in the trees and drinking in his delighted astonishment like the elixir of life connecting me to the most cherished experiences of my own childhood.

I used Photoshop liberally with these images, to create and enhance the sense of uncovering the hidden reality below that which is first seen. For myself at least I have managed to capture the sense of magic and story which speaks to the deepest parts of me.

All photos copyright Kate Withstandley Photography. Taken on Nikon D5100 with 18 – 140mm lens.

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Spending Tuesday night at the book club is not all it seems. Rather than squeezing around a friend’s coffee table to discuss the latest bestseller, I partake of a free glass of red and get settled to examine some naked bodies. The Book Club I am referring to is situated in the heart of Angel and is an exceedingly cool for cats drinking establishment, with original artworks for sale adorning the bare brick walls, Ping Pong tournaments and an ongoing series of workshops and talks. They claim to be “fusing boozing with brainpower”. Yes please.

The naked part is not compulsory (although a nudist bar in London could be quite fun, no?) and it is only the models who do actually strip down to their natural state. Life Drawing by Morris, which usually takes place twice a month, is held in the basement below the main venue. I had been to the Book Club only once, before I ventured here for this class. I arrived on a Friday night around 7pm for a catch up with some work colleagues. Mistake. The Book Club on a Friday night is not ‘catch up’ material. It is loud, heaving and buzzing. Great for a pre-weekend warm up and lovely and contemplative on a Monday or Tuesday when I arrive for the class. I had no idea it even had a downstairs.

But have a downstairs it certainly does. The basement space decor is a cross between luxurious burlesque and deserted house in the woods. The ceiling is covered with a carpet of light bulbs, giving it the essence of an amethyst-filled cave (or maybe that’s just me). Anyway, it’s a lovely space. All materials are included in the price, as is the large glass of wine, which succeeds in sweetening you up.

      

So, a few pieces of paper, some charcoal and pencils later and we’re ready to roll. The first time I came to this class my nerves were shaken by the initial 4 minute poses. 4 minutes!?? I’m more a ‘2 hours each night for a week to produce a drawing’ kinda gal. Which is exactly why this was so good for me. Short poses force you to work fast, concentrate harder, maybe even to choose different elements rather than the whole figure. It taught me to embrace simplicity. I learnt within the first 5 minutes to use strong lines and blocking to create the overall effect rather than small areas of tight shading as I would have at home. I thought it might be useful to detail the most important lessons I have discovered whilst doing these classes. The more experienced of you will be murmuring ‘pah, that’s obvious’, but even though I had taken art at A-Level and a subsequent art class, I had not before clarified in my own mind the basic, core techniques for drawing from life. This is as much for me as you!

1. Draw what you see. Sounds mind-numbingly obvious, I know, but honestly. Most people (including me) think they are drawing what they see, when in actual fact they are looking more at the paper in their lap and are drawing from the memory of what they have just seen. Once you become aware of this you can keep track of yourself. You shouldn’t look at the paper for more than, say,  2 seconds at a time. Brief glances are enough, you need to spend 99% of the time looking at what you are drawing.

Figure from Behind – charcoal on paper

2. Really look at what you are seeing. Most of us will be influenced by what we think is there, rather than what is actually there. If something looks strange and uneven our brain will automatically try and correct it and the representation will be wrong, because that is not what we are actually seeing. Everyone finds their own way of doing things, mine is just to pick a roughly central point in what I want to draw and to work outwards from there. Sometimes I have to really force myself to draw what I see, not what seems to look better on the paper. At this point you don’t know what will look better in the end, but I guarantee it will be when you focus on drawing what you see. Try it. Even just as an experiment one day.

Man in Mask – charcoal and pastel on paper

3. Use points at other parts of the body to get the right proportions. As you can see from my own drawings, I haven’t completely mastered this one yet. It’s a good way of doing things though. I often concentrate on drawing a leg, for example, then when I look at whether the line of the arm is parallel, or in line etc., it’s way off. I would recommend checking the lines of each part of the drawing in relation to the other elements every 5 minutes; and let’s not forget the old classic method of using your finger and a pencil to mark the size of something in front of you, by closing one eye and measuring the length on the body of the pencil. It is an invaluable tool.

Reclining Nude from Behind – charcoal on paper

4. Remember it doesn’t have to perfect. You are experimenting. Try different techniques, use materials you wouldn’t normally go near. Try some more detailed, and some just flowing lines; some just shading and some just line drawing. Climb out of your box and try something else.

Seated Figure – charcoal and pastel on paper

5. Any kind of meditation technique will help. Focus is your best friend here, especially as you are on a time limit for each pose. Every time I let my mind wander to tomorrow night’s plans, or dinner on Friday, I stop and realise I’ve begun to ignore rule number 1.

Reclining Nude – charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper

Standing Figure – charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper

Standing Figure#2 – charcoal, pastel and pencil on paper

Figure – charcoal and pencil on paper

I mentioned this class to a couple of friends and got the standard response of ‘nah, I can’t draw’. Aside from this irritatingly defeatist, and (usually incorrect!) attitude, there seems to be a definite pre-conception about life drawing. That you somehow have to audition to get in, or that you will be branded as crap and everyone will point and laugh. Not so. I have found that aside from some cheeky sideways glances (which are more out of curiosity than anything else), everyone is interested in their own work, not yours. The range of experience can sometimes be gauged; some people have clearly done this before and others not. It doesn’t matter. You pay your (very reasonable) £10, sit down, zen out and look at the body in ways you never would have done otherwise. I’m there.