Show some flesh!

WE added skin tones to our monochrome portraits in this week’s drawing and painting class. Who would have thought that, to create realistic flesh colours, you start by mixing a black and finish by adding blue? Well, not me.

Here’s my effort. Hopefully the fisherman doesn’t look too much like one of his salmon.


I’ll miss next week’s class because we are away to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Faustus. Tim The Tutor says the following week we shall start analysing and deconstructing classic paintings, and then will attempt to reproduce them.

Ambition, as we say in Swansea, is critical.


My world is full of white middle-class women

I WAS back to being the sole male in today’s drawing class. This is something I’ve commented on before. There have been very few men in any of the activities I’ve sampled for this blog.

The photography and drawing classes, like the film studies and social history groups I’ve joined, are dominated by retired women. And gender is not the only imbalance.

All have a massive bias in favour of white, middle-class people. It even extends to geography. Almost everybody I’ve met in these classes and groups lives on the west side of the city.

There is a historic reason behind this east-west divide. And it can be found in many post-industrial towns and cities in Britain.

Swansea’s industrial wealth was built on the metal works that were sited along the river that runs through the city. The wealthy owners, and their managers, built their spacious homes to the west of these factories, where they could benefit from the prevailing sea breezes blowing in from Swansea Bay.

Those same breezes, however, would carry the noxious fumes and smoke from the factories eastward, over the rows of terraced houses where the men and women who worked in the factories lived.

That historic divide is still in effect in Swansea today. Swansea West is regarded as ‘posh’ and middle-class. Eastside, on the other side of the river, as down-to-earth and working-class.

The film studies and social history groups are part of the University of the Third Age (U3A), which provides learning opportunities for people who have left full-time employment (which, in practice, means retired people.)

I know that the U3A committee in Swansea is aware that its membership is skewed, and is working on ways to attract more people from the under-represented parts of the city.

Incidentally, U3A Swansea celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and I have been asked to interview some of its members about how it has helped to make their retirement a richer experience. Two of the interviewees are former chairmen, so it will be interesting to get their thoughts on what can be done about this imbalance.

Meanwhile, back to today’s drawing class. Our hastily-arranged visit to Poland meant I missed the last class; so I didn’t know what we would be tackling today. In an effort to cover all eventualities, I turned up with sketching pencils and pad, charcoal sticks and chalks and sugar paper, soft pastels, and acrylic paints and paper.

What I didn’t turn up with was a photograph of a family member. Which is what Tim The Tutor had asked everyone to bring, to be turned into a portrait.

In the absence of a photo of The Current Mrs Feeney or The Daughter, Tim provided me with a photo of a salty sea dog (the sort of bloke who 100 years ago would have set sail from Swansea’s Eastside to journey around Cape Horn and bring copper ore from Chile back to the voracious furnaces along the banks of the River Tawe).

The task this week was to create a ‘tonal portrait’, simply (!) concentrating on the light and shade in the composition. Next week we will add the colours.

For what it’s worth, here’s my effort. Now, what do you think are the chances of somebody like him joining a retirement class?


HOW many shades of grey?

MY introduction to acrylic paints at today’s Drawing & Painting class was as messy as I had anticipated. But also strangely satisfying.

Tim The Tutor took us through the colour wheel, and explained how to mix colours to create colours. He revealed the surprising fact that black is not actually black (which must have come as a nasty jolt to Spanish rock band Los Bravos with their memorable 1966 hit Black Is Black) but is instead infinitely various hues of all the other available colours.

We spent an enjoyable hour or so mixing yellow, red, blue and white to create the twelve primary, secondary and tertiary colours that make up the wheel. Then we mixed the three primaries (yellow, red and blue) to create a black, and mixed that with white to produce as many shades of grey as we could manage (I didn’t manage 50, but then again I didn’t manage to read the book either).

After that, there was just enough time to attempt to put what we had learned into practice. For what it’s worth, here’s my effort.

DSC00086Next week we are going to attempt to reproduce a painting. Something simple, says Tim. Probably a Turner. Yes, right, that’ll be fine then.

Plenty of shade, light not so much

WEEK three of our Drawing and Painting class, and it’s on to charcoal and chalk. I’d never tried drawing with either of these before; messy, aren’t they?

Tim The Tutor explained the mysteries of “ground” – the laying down of a background colour or shade, as opposed to where you throw your drawing in disgust.

After a couple of attempts, I could have dispensed with the charcoal stick and prepared all the ground I needed off my fingers.

It was back to the same still-life arrangement as last week for a subject. For what it’s worth, here’s my effort. I know what you’re thinking: “what is it?” It’s a study in shade and tone, allegedly. And in my defence, I don’t recall Picasso being such a dab hand at drawing bottles either.

DSC00084Next week we are moving on to acrylic paint and the use of colour. Aren’t we getting on with things!

Where have all the men gone?

I HAD my second Drawing and Painting class this morning. The young couple from last week did not return, which means I am now the Token Male in the class.

I am getting used to this not entirely welcome phenomenon. The University of the Third Age groups that I have joined (Film Studies and Social History) are also overwhelmingly peopled by ladies. It seems that retired men are less inclined to join things.

This may prove something of a problem for a blogger who wants to create an online community of retired blokes who think there is more to retired life than gardening and golf.

Back to the class. Tim The Tutor had assembled a large collection of various items on the desks grouped in the middle of the annexe room where we meet. “Stiff life,” Tim said, by way of introducing a discussion about line and balance. All very straightforward until you have to actually apply it and draw something.

My efforts weren’t very good, though one of the ladies was kind enough to say she liked my vase, which wasn’t a compliment a retired bloke expects to receive.

For what it’s worth, here’s the vase, etc.

DSC00081Next week, Tim wants us to bring chalk. I told The Current Mrs Feeney. I know what she’s thinking: “second childhood.”

“Is it upside down?”

A NEW Year and a new retirement project (“What, another one?” said The Current Mrs Feeney.)

I went to the first class of the Drawing and Painting course yesterday. It is run by Swansea Council’s lifelong learning department. £50 for ten two-hour classes is good value in this Retired Bloke’s opinion.

There were a dozen of us under the benign instruction of Tim The Tutor, who is forty-ish, fair brown hair turning grey, shoulder-length ringlets tied back, grey hoodie, blue skinny jeans, desert boots. Arty type. Obviously.

Most of my fellow pupils were white-haired ladies of mature years, but there was one couple present younger than me (“Face out of joint, Spence?” asked TCMrsF. Puzzlingly.)

Tim took us through the Rules of Composition. They were the same as they were when I took a Beginner’s Digital Photography course with the same council department a few years ago. It’s nice to know some things remain the same in this ever-changing world, don’t you think?

Then it was a quick romp through colour and tone before Tim set us our first exercise; a ten-minute sketch from a landscape photograph.

Here is my effort. I think we can all agree that Things Can Only Get Better (“Don’t be so sure” said TCMrsF. Encouragingly.)


I’m looking forward to next week’s class. Meanwhile, Arthur The Handy Gardener has started calling me Rembrandt. I suspect he’s not being entirely serious.