Drawing Class

drawing and embroidery for my pink shoes- Ann Rippin

Welcome to my new world – I am starting something completely different this year – opening a space in Bristol for  textile based workshops called – not surprisingly – Heart Space Studios. I have been asked so many times to conduct drawing and/or stitching workshops that I decided to take the plunge and with 2 other stitchers, Liz Hewitt and Jan Connett have committed to developing series of workshops and courses from complete beginners to master classes for all things textile.

complete concentration at the first workshop - drawing shoes. Jan and Liz are seen here at the bottom left hand side of the table

I conducted this first drawing class for a disparate group, most are established textile makers, some teach classes them selves, some had never been to a drawing class before and Liz Bishop, informed me that she was unteachable, she had tried and failed to draw at countless classes…I had a plan for her – but as you can see below it was totally un-necessary. I meet with this “I can’t draw” problem all the time by people who are perfectly capable of drawing but who  have at some time in their lives been told they can’t – by what standards they have been judged is hard to fathom – my response to them all is – if you can write your name the same way twice – you can be taught to draw. But this is such a sensitive drawing that I really was perplexed when I saw it.

first drawing by the woman who "couldn't draw"

I have taught design and drawing, usually observational drawing, for many years as a senior lecturer in textile design at UWE Bristol –  from life drawing through fashion illustration to drawing for design outcomes. I have worked with private clients, costume students at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as well as drawing practically every day in one form or another. I feel that drawing is my first language, English my second and stitching my third.

And what was my first drawing class about – shoes – well why not? Practically everyone I know has an attitude to shoes either their own or other peoples’ – I have been drawing and stitching them for the past few months and I had a lot of ideas about them to relay to anyone who would listen

shoe selection, from Chinese bound feet covers to Jan Connet's "staggers"

I called the first class How to Look, and I set about it in the usual way of quickly getting everyone relaxed for working by doing 2 minute studies of various shoes and being extremely strict about how they drew them – like not taking the pencil off the page for a continuous line drawing, how to use various angles of the pencils and crayons to create textured lines, pushing not pulling the pencils, drawing with an eraser….most people were amazed that I was teaching drawing skills, not just setting up poses – I was amazed they were amazed.

first simple drawings being used for stitched shoes - Janet Clarke

I have very few images of these early drawings – I was far too busy watching and teaching to remember to take photos…but happily several people returned to their simple line drawings for the stitched drawing later in the day. One of the most elegant drawing and embroidery transitions, below, was done by Sally Payne who “doesn’t stitch at all” and is a musician, she just came along with a friend.

an early drawing with transition into stitch - Sally Payne

Several people brought shoes, Jan Connett brought the most fascinating pair of all – a fabric and glitzy suede confection which almost everyone wanted to draw, but they would have taken the whole day to have done justice to them – the person who captured their spirit if not their fabrication was our only male student, Mike -who is just re-learning to draw after a very early retirement,

everyone's favourite fabric and leather shoes
coloured character drawing of the glitzy shoes, Mike Kersopp

But Jan’s own simple line drawing and embroidery caught something more refined which she could see in them – but then she has worn them and is very alive to their curious allure.

drawing and stitched transition drawing or her own shoe Jan Connett

Another shoe or rather boot, that proved to be the inspiration for several wonderful drawings, were Mike’s suede boots – their rugged rough exterior made everyone who saw them reach for oil pastels to draw really big – they turned quite a few people into confidant illustrators and their subsequent embroidered versions carried through the initial conviction.

work boot drawing, Ira Wood
work boots, Kirsten Hill-Nixon

However Mike really won the “bravery in face of the experts” award for his first attempt at stitching from his study of his own boot, I had to explain the rudiments of running, back and split stitches.  It is not surprising that such a rugged boot should elicit good drawings, there is a lot to record in them and the shape isn’t too refined!

But some of the most charming drawings of all were from a simple pink ballet -flat shoe,  their simplicity seemed to bring out careful and fairly accurate results which captured the spirit if never the quite the colour of the original shoes…
simple drawing of a simple shoe - Viv Young

and the header illustration by Anne Rippin is of these same shoes but she placed them perfectly in a shoe box to surround them with a pattern.

lively but simple drawing of my ballet flats - Ann Rippin

Anne has beaten me to blog this first, she sent me a link to her own post before I had even downloaded my images and she is extremely complimentary about the workshop.

The suede boots and shoes seem to bring out the most sensitive drawings from most people – maybe this is the ease with which you can apply pastels and soft crayons which suggests the texture of suede.

sensitive drawing and stitched painting of suede boot- Debby Bird

even my own difficult to draw, black suede shoes have been transposed into luscious deeply  textural studies by Sharne Lott – a knitter.

transitions from drawing to stitched images of a suede shoe - Sharne Lott

Even people who absolutely dreaded the day – like Liz Hewitt who organised the students for me, realised that if she didn’t worry so much about how the drawing looked but just concentrated on quickly recording just what she saw, not what she thought she saw (now I wonder why that helped?) her drawings were more accurate and looked convincing – but like many textile practitioners, she stitches a lot better than she draws.

sensitive stitching - Liz Hewitt.
killer heels quick drawing and transition stitching- Sally Sparks.

Being forced to draw quickly often brings about great changes in people’s work, when you are made to hurry up and just told to concentrate on the essentials, which are assessed before-hand,  the drawings are usually stronger by being more focused.  On the right can be seen 2 really strong drawings  of  killer heels by a dedicated machine – stitcher who was struggling to get any proper proportion in her slower and  more considered drawings. I often find that people who have taken a long time over a drawing and then realise it is out of proportion are loathe to change it – thinking that they will adjust it later ….better to erase the problem when you first recognise it .

Another thing that happens when you draw quickly is that it helps stop what I call feathery  or dithery drawing, where people make about 6 attempts at the line so it appears to be ghosted  – one of these lines must be right but which one? That is when I suggest drawing with an eraser…..choose the correct line and get rid of the rest – this advice worked wonders on one person at the class, who eventually made a sensitive if alternative coloured drawing and embroidery of the ballet- flats. – just look at that drawing of the bow!

fluid drawing after the de- feathering exercises-~Patricia Brownen


6 thoughts on “Drawing Class

  1. great – have spent all day doing just this post – but it was an amazing start to the new venture – I only hope that I have everyone’s work correctly assigned – look forward to working together again – Janet

  2. Great results, but of course you chose such a good subject – shoes are so personal and specific. Well-worn shoes are especially so, and can be quite disturbing!

  3. As a retired art teacher I love the shoes .I often used them in my teaching, even the most reluctant child could respond to them.I was at your talk at the Embroiderer’s Guild on Friday and am excited to have the possibility of doing workshops with you.

    1. Hi Jen,
      yes the shoes do get everyone going I have conducted this type of class many times – and the group want regular drawing classes on similar themes so maybe you can join in with us on this, several were at the talk last Friday.

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