What I did on Sunday

Ann's corset drawing 1
Ann's corset drawing 1

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:

Stenciled Japanese cottton kimono fabric
Stenciled Japanese cottton kimono fabric

And here’s my attempt:

My drawing of Japanese kimono fabric
My drawing of Japanese kimono fabric

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:

Mae West
Mae West

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:

My second attempt at the pink and black corset
My second attempt at the pink and black corset

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:

Pink and black butterfly corset
Pink and black butterfly corset

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:

Pink and black butterfly corset - front view
Pink and black butterfly corset - front view

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:

Paper collage corsets
Paper collage corsets

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:

Three paper corsets
Three paper corsets

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:

Eve paper corset
Eve paper corset

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:

Mini paper corsets
Mini paper corsets

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.

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4 thoughts on “What I did on Sunday

  1. Yes, it is a bit ambiguous the fascination and the repulsion for the corset! Being an “apple shape” I can never refuse to wear bra, indeed, it would be a nightmare to have all my bras burned like in the good old days of demonstrations! Anyway, it is interesting because just this weekend we were talking with my friend Pinar Coskun (my wonderful Turkish/Dutch friend who is a gourmet veganist and passionate about education for sustainable development http://www.kookmetmijmee.nl/) about a Dutch lingerie designer that it is taking the bra to the front line… literally: http://www.marliesdekkers.nl/
    I liked very much your designs, specially those that had happened by chance. I liked the fact you kept the lines clear while suggesting a butterfly; a ribbon or a musical acordeon…
    B.

    1. I checked out Marlies Dekkers website. I think the question of how to advertise or make posters for women’s underwear is really fascinating. How to avoid the supplied notions of women, underwear and sexuality is really interesting. This website threads an interesting line through it!

  2. OOH am I so glad you come to my drawing classes, this is exactly what I want to happen in them – drawing and thinking. It was such a tricky day to teach for reasons of space, time and subject matter – there was a very strange atmosphere for the first half of the morning, an antagonism that you have explained well in terms of our ambivalence to what we looked at…but you have given a good account of the arguments and also I like your comment that on reflection your flattening and decorative development of the shapes have made them less threatening….I still think a good repeat pattern may be worked – might have a go myself…
    Janet

  3. I really love the drawing club – so glad you started it. And that tension that you were talking about is very interesting when you are drawing – and a bit of a life skill – how do you do a good job at anything when you feel a bit conflicted. Drawing really is a core element of life and not a nice add-on!

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