In September last year I began going to life drawing sessions. They are not classes as such - there is no tuition - but each week about a dozen of us get to draw (or the more ambitious paint) a model in a variety of poses.
I'm still trying to get the hang of using a pencil. Drawing is not my speciality - I used to do a bit when I was a kid, but not since. Pin-men have been about the limit of my ability.
Every week, when the session begins, I look at the model and know exactly what I would do with a camera - the angles I would chose, the lighting I would select, the areas on which I would zoom in or out.
Except I'm not allowed to do that. Instead I have a bit of graphite encased in a stick of wood that periodically needs sharpening, and an A4 spiral-bound pad of paper. And somehow I have to figure out how to coordinate my eye with my wrist with the paper and make marks that are supposed to look something like the person standing, sitting or reclining in front of me.
At least once every week I want to run screaming from the room and never return.
So why have I been putting myself through this torturous process? Surely I've not decided to pack in the photography and become a figurative artist?
No. It's a deliberate exercise to put myself out of my comfort zone in a different creative medium. All the lurching panic and knotted stomach and forcing myself to keep going even though it feels certain I'm useless and will never get the hang of it, is part of the process.
Creativity and new understandings rarely come from the status quo. It is the different, the new and the unexpected that open up our minds and stimulate the creative juices. And if we learn something in a discipline outwith our usual ones, it can inform and influence our standard practice.
In essence, by learning to draw it forces me to look in a different way, and this in turn has the potential to affect my photography and the way I view things through the lens.
That's the theory, although at least once every week I've questioned the wisdom of it and been quite convinced the whole idea is complete bollocks.
However, over the past two terms my sketching has improved - often at a 3-steps-forward-2-steps-back pace.
This was my first drawing at my first session:
Feeling clueless and struggling to work out which way round to hold the pencil...
And this was where I'd got to by the end of the week before last:
19 two-hour sessions later
Last Wednesday evening, however, my brain spasmed and I suddenly lurched in a completely different direction.
"Line" is at the heart of drawing. As my wife says at the beginning of her Graphite and Ink video, "The starting point it always line and the lines are never straight." And usually what happens with drawing is you create loose guidelines and steadily increase the detail and accuracy with stronger strokes.
But sometimes I've seen images where the lines are distilled, edited down, removed - until only the minimum number survive. Rather than creating a likeness, they are creating an essence. And when I had my brain spasm, I was suddenly filled with a desire to reduce rather than increase detail.
I began with this:
and then started stripping it back until I ended up with this:
Click on the images for larger versions
And then I sat and stared at it for about 15 minutes, amazed at how just a few bold lines carried more life and energy than a more detailed approach.
Now I can't wait to get back to the life drawing sessions and start exploring and refining this technique. Unfortunately that was the last class until they start up again in September.
Nevertheless I feel my understanding of line has made a leap, and I know it will affect how I see things through the lens of my camera.
And that's exciting.