Tag Archives: connections

Drawing Connections

Being able to meet with others, chat, and sketch, are all pleasures that we have come to appreciate more since the lockdowns. The ‘Urban Sketchers Gloucestershire’ group has grown steadily over the last year, and our meetups are lively, friendly events to look forward to. Last week we were in Painswick, a beautiful village with an overload of fascinating views and buildings to challenge our sketching abilities!

The month before we met up at The Boho Bakery, in King’s Stanley –  a great meeting place in yet another interesting Gloucestershire village with lots of sketching attractions (as well as great coffee and cheese scones!)

It might seem that we have managed to recreate a world before the pandemic, enjoying all the benefits that a group can bring – companionship, a sense of shared purpose, support, conversation, community. In our hearts, though, we know that the world has changed. A global pandemic, and now war in Europe, exposes the fragility of our securities and institutions. We talk of Ukraine and Covid, but only in passing; there is a shared acknowledgment of the anguish and distress, as well as an appreciation of our own good fortune. It doesn’t dominate the conversation – we are having a fun day out – but it is there. It seems to me that we tacitly recognise that it is too overwhelming and emotional to focus on for long, but we need to acknowledge and share its impact with each other, even in these fleeting moments and comments.  Although the world has changed, our need for each other is a constant factor, even more crucial in the face of destruction and violence.

We have been sketching in beautiful rural locations, but there are other remarkable people facing up to the devastation and horror of war. Ukraine before the war had a number of urban sketching groups – hard and painful to imagine the trauma that has overtaken their lives and those around them. Powerful, heartbreaking drawings for example from https://www.instagram.com/potapenko_iryna_art/ can pull us into the awful reality if we can bear it – and underline the fact that we are so privileged to have that choice. A big part of me wants to block it out as it is too distressing – but I also want to acknowledge that we are all linked as humans, and have to share the awfulness as well as the pleasure of life. And of course, devastation is not confined to Ukraine.

The personal and immediate quality of sketches bring us closer to the experience of having our ordinary everyday lives ripped apart by violence and destruction. This comes across  in the work of  George Butler, a ‘reportage illustrator’ who has travelled  and sketched in Ukraine – a fascinating article about his sketches in conflict zones can be found here – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/mar/26/ukraine-war-artist-george-butler-drawings-kyiv-odesa

There have been very many responses by various artists to support Ukraine.  One example is Nick Wonham, a printmaker who has produced some powerful linocuts to illustrate his brother Jonathan’s poems in a limited edition book, The Lady on the Plank: Poems for Ukraine. His prints can be seen at  https://www.instagram.com/nick_wonham_printmaker/

It all seems a long way from the peace and tranquillity of Gloucestershire villages, but I imagine months ago the violence felt very far from parts of Ukraine too. I’m not suggesting that Painswick is under immanent threat but rather pointing to the connections between us all, and the ways in which sketching, printing, painting, ‘art’ in all forms has the ability to link us together if we can let it.

Less is more – or could be.

Painting is not something I am comfortable with, so this term’s project to produce a landscape has not been easy. Having to work on something over a period of weeks is another challenge – when it comes to paint I have an even shorter concentration span than usual. Of course, like most things that challenge us, it has produced some unexpected and interesting results.

I started with an imaginary landscape called ‘The Dreamboat’ that had an estuary, promontories, two boats, and maybe a light house.  It is still ‘The Dreamboat’, but this is what it is currently looking like. The light house was first to go, followed by one boat. Then some rocks appeared in the foreground, and the other boat vanished. Now the rocks have gone too. I’ve painted the sea over and over again, gradually discovering that I can reinvent the scene almost endlessly as I try to convey a mood or atmosphere. The subtleties of tone become increasingly significant as the features are painted out. DSCN0446-001

Less is more even when painting, I have discovered. Gradually taking away the obvious landmarks and recognisable features opens up another way of communicating. It makes me think about silence. In psychotherapy, silence is significant, and even noisier in group therapy than in individual work. I must have spent a lot of hours sitting in groups where no-one is speaking. We look around, gaze the floor, stare at the ceiling, glance at the clock and examine each other’s shoes.  Read a few episodes of The Wednesday Group and you will see the importance of footwear in group psychotherapy!

At some point someone (probably me) asks what is happening in the silence and we might struggle to put the thoughts we have been having into words. Sometimes it is the tone of the silence that is important. How does it feel, what sort of atmosphere, what does it convey? Then we are into the same territory as landscape painting, I think.  Often we end up talking about an image – someone will try to describe how they have experienced the silence in visual imagery, and we share our reactions to this imaginary scene or landscape.

How do you convey the subtleties of experience in words or images?  We are not all poets or painters, and words can be clumsy and crude, just as images too can be clichéd and lifeless. Taking away the easy phrases or formulaic images might leave us with a seemingly empty canvas or silent space.  It might, however, spark the realisation that under the surface of life there is more going on than we thought.