For three Friday mornings in March HB2, our workshop, social and project space at the Holy Biscuit was a hive of activity and filled with enthusiastic artists clad in aprons or boiler suits. Seven people (including myself) who have been involved in the Painting for Fun group that takes place here on Tuesdays had signed up for a workshop led by artist Dave Tweedy. Dave is the Newcastle-based painter behind our current exhibition, Present : Past, on until 5th May (more info here ).
In the lead-up to the workshop, Dave visited the Painting for Fun class for coffee and a chat to let people know about his forthcoming show and plans to run painting workshops that would be open to anyone in the group. People warmed to Dave’s easy and approachable manner and conversation flowed freely. Class members were invited to visit Dave in his studio the following week, then at Newbridge Project studios on Newbridge Street in the City centre. The group received a warm welcome and cups of tea and spent an hour or so in relaxed conversation. Although Dave’s work is largely abstract, everybody had their own observations and responses to the work and discussions with the artist gave further context and insight. We came away inspired and motivated, looking forward to Dave’s exhibition and keen to learn from him.
I enjoy Dave’s work for its mix of playfulness and pithy comment, with references to popular culture alongside religious and political subject matter. His paintings can be enjoyed on many levels, from a superficial appreciation of the colour palette and composition to a deeper reading of the significance of certain juxtapositions. As someone with an arts background education-wise but a limited history of painting I was keen to take part in Dave’s workshops as a new challenge to develop my own skills and experience.
Workshop participants were asked to choose an object, image or text as a reference or subject matter for exploration over the three sessions. This needed to be something of personal significance that had associated meanings or memories. The items brought along included a painting, a carved wooden box, song lyrics, snowdrops, a miner’s lamp and a heart stone. The remit for the first sessions was to ‘Produce a precise portrayal of your chosen image/ object. An analytical approach, literal representation’. For most of us this was a fairly straightforward and familiar approach, although it required significant patience. Those in the group who generally work in a more expressive or intuitive manner were less inclined to enjoy this stage! Some very accurate and detailed studies resulted.
Christine shared her thoughts: “In preparation for the workshops I enjoyed making notes and collecting a few photographs associated with my upbringing in a mining community. Having thought of a theme it was good to devote time to remembering my father very fondly as I worked and am pleased to be left with several ideas to explore in future paintings. These ideas are more open ended than my usual way of working which will be an interesting path to follow. The paintings just won’t be on the same scale!”
Stage Two’s remit was ‘A rapid, uninhibited response to the subject matter, dispense with any notion of how it should look ’. We came prepared with our protective clothing and Dave provided large brushes plus a plastic tube to enable energetic gestural marks. Everyone had a go and enjoyed the unhindered, looser approach. Some responses retained recognisable elements of the original reference material, while others boldly plunged into a very abstract approach. Colourful splashes, dribbles and marks emerged – on paper, walls, floor and clothing!
One participant, Jed, said “The workshop was suited to my style of painting big, bold and blast of colour. The workshop empowered me to capture, explore & evaluate the work that was produced. Dave’s expertise, encouragement and friendly nature all made for a an excellent enjoyable workshop. Loved the use of the Dave’s bamboo stick! I now need to figure out where to hang the paintings…”
Yvonne also commented: “I was very surprised to find how easy it is to paint large and standing up. David’s workshop has opened up a new avenue for my art work.”
The third session incorporated stages 3 and 4:
Stage 3: ‘Further exploration where elements of previous stage are retained, developed or rejected. Consider subject from different viewpoints without direct reference to source material. Explore as far as possible in a new direction whilst retaining an essence of the original.
Stage 4: ‘Bringing it all back’. Create a piece that encompasses the previous stages. Consider bringing back elements that you both enjoyed and disliked.
I found this session the hardest, working out how to tread a line between control and freedom, representation and abstraction, emotion and analysis. I decided to return to a more planned approach, using some of the shapes and patterns from stage 2. Others chose to explore a different element of their reference material that had not featured in earlier weeks, or to expound on the symbolism and associated meanings that suggested themselves. Carole commented, “I enjoyed the links that I made in my head and my attempts to turn these links into some kind of art form. It was a new way of thinking about art.”
Variety abounded; from careful to carefree, dark to bright, small to enormous! I found I was flagging as the session neared its end, lacking in painting stamina, but others wanted to keep going. We came together at the end to discuss our work, the progression over the 3 weeks and to give each other our responses and feedback. A very positive and encouraging process!