Soooo, what an interesting day at Janet Haigh’s monthly drawing club. Last month I didn’t bother to blog about it as I had such a horrible time. This wasn’t Janet’s fault: I just didn’t feel like it. And there’s an interesting lesson in there for me. Sometimes, it just isn’t worth forcing it. This month I felt much more relaxed and really got into the drawing – the sense of making marks on a page.
Last month we were offered some lovely embroidered and painted textiles to draw and I was okay-ish with the effect I got. So, here’s the fabric:
And here’s my attempt:
Which was fine, but I didn’t really connect with the subject and went a bit mad drawing it on a massive scale with pieces of paper taped together on the wall.
Today, I was in a calmer mood, and seemed to finish my drawings. But the subject was what was so interesting. I could have called this post: ‘A feminist draws corsets’. The room was heavy with ambivalence today as we drew them. I see them very much as symbols of women distorting their bodies to appeal to a notion of femininity, which, in the words of the great Audre Lorde, is a supplied one. But, there was something engrossing about drawing these exaggerated and exuberant objects. The conversation over lunch turned to this tension and the young and older women in the room all seemed to find real ambivalence in their reactions to the objects. Janet made the fascinating point that we draw to deal with this ambivalence. In a sense we draw to find out what we think about something. If we know what we feel it’s less interesting. I didn’t particularly want to do the task, but found it quite absorbing when I did. We started off with drawing exercises like not taking the pen from the page, drawing in two minutes and so on and then paid attention to specific things. But I cannot keep me out of the drawing. So, the first corset I had to draw looked like it could, in another life, be something from a grubby burlesque or a saloon. I could even imagine Mae West in it (I’m older than I look – and why did she only make one film with W.C. Fields? – the world is a poorer place). So one of my early drawings really tried to deal with that everybody wants a bosom for a pillow feeling:
I like going to the class because it is such a discipline. Janet makes you draw and keeps you drawing. But, Janet likes drawings that show evidence of looking, and I realised today that I am so self-obsessed that I can only ever draw my reaction to something and how I feel about it. So, when we changed subject, despite impeccable feminist credentials, I was drawn to the exuberance of the massive frothy bow on the back of this pink and black number:
I have a very preferred style of drawing which is an outline in black artist’s felt pen filled in with a watercolour wash. Janet was having none of this and took my big, gorgeous black brushpen away from me. So this drawing is lighter than the first, which features at the top of the post. In case you are wondering, this is what the actual corset looked like:
From this you can see that I have left out the embroidered butterflies on the black fabric. Here’s the same corset from the front:
In the afternoon, we had been expecting to do some life drawing, either of people making the corsets in the workshop which was taking place in the other room, or of the work being modelled by its makers. But corset making is a time-consuming business and they weren’t ready for us. And, interestingly, the drawing group had other ideas. We had got a bit caught up in the design element and the fashion drawing aspect. I was running a few ideas through my mind about Frida Kahlo and her concrete corset and wondering what it would be to cross-pollinate a corset with Laura Ashley, but in the end, I got caught up in the exaggerated shape of the garment. And so I spent the majority of the afternoon making very flat designs based on a very quick sketch of the butterfly corset:
Janet and I had a very interesting conversation about using these as a patchwork motif. She was interested in turning them into a repeat patchwork block, but I think that the whole point about them is that they are so curved and that the straight lines you need for patchwork would fight with that, so that they would be better off in applique:
I liked the slightly exploded treatment which happened when I put two different painted papers together to make stripy corsets reflecting the panel construction. I also loved the found Eve lettering on this one:
This was made from one of two heavily layered oil pastel resists I found when I opened my sketchbook! And the EVE was entirely accidental. I also rather liked the graffiti-ed quality of this corset.
But I am struck by how jaunty I have made them and how unthreatening. I have largely taken the sex out of them, and in the final photo of some much smaller pieces I have almost turned them into swimsuits:
It’s as if I had domesticated them and made them harmless, defused them somehow, by turning them into pattern repeats.
So, lots and lots of food for thought today as well as some nice drawings (which I didn’t photograph, but we did lots). And a possible theme to return to later.
For another view of the drawing club, have a look at Janet Haigh’s gorgeous http://janethaigh.wordpress.com/ Janet runs the class and teaches it, and the blog is a good record of a wide cross-section of drawers’s work. And it is a really lovely blog in general.
For the corsets, see Lisa Keating’s website http://www.lkbespokebridal.co.uk/. Lisa is the walking work of art who made the corsets and was running the class.