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Making light of play

Back in October, my partner, Petra and I were lucky enough to escape to Madeira for the half term and after verifying our COVID credentials and collecting our free bananas at the airport, spent ten blissfully uneventful days in a small, seaside apartment in Funchal’s old town. As you might imagine, a lot of my time was devoted to looking at the sea.

I mean really looking.

I know I’m not alone in finding the movement of water and waves captivating, but it’s also perplexing! The sea has a rhythm that is at once predictable and erratic. Dazzling in sunshine or dark and impenetrable under cloud, its complexion changing profoundly from one moment to the next, it’s never still, even on the calmest day. And if it won’t keep still, how can we hope to fix it on paper or canvas?


From our tiny balcony overlooking the Atlantic, I spent hours trying to unpick its patterns of ripples and notches, sometimes flickering serenely in sunlight all the way to the horizon. Other times, however, the sea seemed like another creature entirely as it raged against the nearby rocks, heaving and sighing and lacing them with skeins of fizzing foam. Just how did marine artists in earlier centuries capture its constant flux without the aid of a camera??

Wave studies (Caran d’Ache Neocolor II, watersoluble crayons)

A pencil case, a tin of Schmincke watercolours, two brushes, a tin of Caran d’Ache watersoluble crayons and a Seawhite sketchbook was all I’d packed. When I’m seized with the urge to sketch, I’m more likely to act upon that urge if I only have to pluck my sketchbook from my pocket and begin.
My attempt to stop the sea’s flow, however and put it onto paper seemed as vain to me as Cnut’s.

Cloud over sea, Funchal (Caran D’Ache watercolour pencil & Schmincke watercolour with our landlady’s evening meal restaurant recommendation!)

Indifferent to my struggle, the sunlight played upon the waves as the clouds danced above. Only we are beguiled, while heaven and earth, it seems, are bent upon other matters. It is not their intention to make art, after all.

And I often say at the life class, that it shoudn’t be our intention to make art, either. Our job, in fact, is to get down onto paper, as faithfully as we can, the way we feel about what is in front of us.

And neither is it our job to judge what we do. Like water, like clouds, like children, in fact, we should play, too; but play well and play earnestly. And leave the judging to others.

If art occurs, that’s a bonus.

Life Drawing classes are back for another ten weeks, starting Thursday 13 January 2022.Choose from the a.m. session (10:30 to 12:30) or the p.m. (13:30 to 15:30).

Book now with PayPal.

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