Posted 21st January 2018
For the past 6 weeks, every Thursday evening at 6.30pm, Watts Gallery has been transformed into a bustling life drawing studio. With the help of artist and mentor Jane Allison, 12 budding draughtsmen and women have here chosen their charcoals and picked up their pencils in a bid to heighten their know-how and sharpen their skills. I had the good fortune of accompanying these merry artists as they sketched their way through evenings of coffee and concentration, heeding Jane's sage advice and producing masterful artworks in the process.
As we set up for the class the Gallery assumes an auspicious functionality, in which the room's beauty is intensified by its temporary occupants: 12 easels – upon which rest paint-splattered mount boards and thick, cream paper carefully attached with masking tape – standing tall and dutifully by 12 stools and artists, all of whom are arranged in a jaunty semicircle around the model. After the provision of detailed instruction and a brief pep talk from Jane, we begin work on our blank paper. Let's only do one pose tonight, Jane says, otherwise you'll just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Two hours for one drawing. It had better be good, we think to ourselves.
Time is warped by episodes of intense focus and, as I become increasingly absorbed by my charcoaled impression of the sitter's hand, or of the way the light falls on her wrist, these two hours of life drawing are worn away by the evening like the lead of a pencil; each pause to step back and look at my work marks another 20 minutes passed.
But every moment is laden with the joy of drawing from life under the patterned lights and arched ceilings of Watts Gallery. Picture-perfect artistic examples are not hard to come by here. Every idle glance from the easel, every contemplative stare into space is met by an unadulterated well of inspiration in G F Watts's manifold portraits, sculptures, sketches of people. This is in part why it is so satisfying to be making art among the towering canvases that adorn these walls.
But there is a sumptuousness, too, in seeing the Wattses' legacy of Art for All find fulfilment today in these historic buildings, if only on this small scale. We are a group of people coming together to put pencil to paper, and I think G F and Mary Watts would have approved.
Places are still available for the Drawing summer term. Book online by clicking here.