A cycle of ups and downs leads to a Series of Beginnings

2020 was a strange year, a rollercoaster, with lots of dips, but, to be honest, a few ups too.

For our Drawing Now group, most weeks were punctuated with an online meeting. Michele has been leading our group for several years, and she offered her time and expertise to continue to guide us. When we started in March 2020 we didn’t know it would last most of the year.

These sessions were something to look forward to, a motivator when the weeks felt like ‘groundhog day’, a group where we could say ‘I haven’t done…’, ‘I’m struggling with…’ or ‘look at this’. A connection of people who got it, who understood, who were kind and generous to each other.

The title for the exhibition is A Series of Beginnings because any one of the week’s prompts could lead to a whole body of work at some point in the future.

The provocation that really sparked my creative output was one of observation and focus: ‘Pick an object and draw it 50 times in 4 hours’. It could be any object, and the time could be spread across the week or completed in one session. Redrawing the same thing many times over, with a limited time to do it shifted something for me. I knew I didn’t want all my drawings to look the same, so I found a series of different drawing supports; different papers and cardboards of varying sizes and colours and stacked them up ready. Then I wrote a series of numbers on cards and shuffled them to give myself minutes or seconds at random and set up some different drawing materials and tools. Then I set a timer and started working quickly and instinctively, sometimes depicting the whole object and sometimes just certain elements.

My object was a sea urchin shell that I have had for a long time, but which I have never observed as closely as I did that week. For me the result is an understanding that such intense study of a shape means the knowledge remains in my hands as well as my mind’s eye.

In this exhibition we have decided to show all the drawings everyone made for that week’s provocation in the exhibition, because it seemed to be a key project for us, whether we completed all 50 drawings or not. It was a reminder to look and look again, when drawing.

A prompt that inspired other drawings was working with ink on a square background. I fell in love with the qualities of the different inks and the slightly unpredictable outcomes as it flows on the paper, and the constituent pigments separate out. I have continued working with ink, wax, water and paper, and had two of my later drawings accepted for the Pound Arts Open from series of works inspired by a visit to Kilve Beach between lockdowns.

Two areas that we explored that I haven’t yet expanded on, but will definitely work on later, are the protest texts and haptic drawing technique. Both feel like an open door that is encouraging me to step through.

After a summer break we decided to come back together as a group and work on individual projects, choosing to build on the knowledge and techniques we had gained during our previous prompts, and inspired by a text which Michele shared with us: ‘staying with the trouble’ by Donna Harraway.

For me this started a period of creative ‘thrashing about’. Taking ancient cave paintings as a starting point I was aiming to explore the human’s place in in world, and how they/we fit into ecology. the subject felt too big and thorny, too hard to depict and encapsulate. This led to discussions about continuing to work without knowing what the outcome would be, and accepting that by making the work something would start to make sense.

I have ended up making small boats, which feels like a rich seam to explore. Currently I am sending off some my little ‘crafts’ into the world.

I have treasured this shared experience, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to show some of our year’s output at Trowbridge Town Hall, where the group used to meet up in person, to draw, on a Thursday evening. Perhaps we will be able to do that again soon.

Philippa Edwards a member of Drawing Now

A Series of Beginnings’ opens at Trowbridge Town Hall on Monday 17 May and continues until Saturday 3 July