M@ takes a walk along the Thames as part of an exploratory art class.
“I am writing because we just launched a new experience/ walk for people with an interest in art and London. It’s a Drawing Workshop, led by artist and art educator Chris Clarke.”
“But I can’t draw!”
“Doesn’t matter. The tours are aimed at both beginners and more assured artists. Your experienced docent will show you some basic techniques to help you get started.”
“But I don’t even know what a docent is!”
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I decided to give the tour, from Context Travel, a try. I hadn’t wielded a pencil in months. Could I even remember how to hold one?
The tour starts in the delightful setting of Roupell Street, that picture-book Victorian terrace behind Waterloo Station. Our docent Chris, it turns out, is very experienced. He taught art at Westminster School for 30 years. He name-drops Conrad Shawcross as a former pupil, and you sense that this is just the tip of the brush. Mark Wallinger was his lodger.
Everyone is given a thick sketchbook to keep, which contains pockets for collecting ephemera. Apparently, artists sometimes do this to remind themselves of locations. We’re then shepherded to the river-front to try some sketching.
Chris has a crowd full of beginners today, myself included. He introduces some basic exercises for capturing a landscape: sketch the prominent horizontals such as the roofline or waterline; try putting in a succession of verticals; give texture to your creation with different styles of shading. Then, we’re let loose to draw the north bank between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges.
As something of a novice, I found the process tough but rewarding. Getting everything in the correct proportion and depth was no easy feat, especially with a steady stream of passers-by attempting a peek. Chris showed us how to do the old pencil-in-outstretched-arm-with-squinty-eye trick, so beloved of artist impersonators, but in reality a very useful technique for gauging proportion.
We moved on to the balconies of the Oxo Tower, opening up views of the City. It was time to bring together all the tricks learnt from our earlier efforts. I decided to focus on the dome of St Paul’s and its immediate neighbours. The view is so familiar. Yet in scrutinising and sketching the landmark, I saw details that had previously passed me by. Better yet, I can still recall them days later. I doubt that would be the case had I simply studied a photograph for the same amount of time.
At one point, a random arm twinge causes an undesired furrow to appear in my bastardisation of Wren’s dome. Desperately – and this is absolutely true — I start scanning the sheet of paper for a CTRL+Z option, to undo the error. That’s how long it’s been since I tried anything like this. Fortunately, our docent provides a little-remembered device from childhood known as a ‘rubber’.
The tour — more of a class really — lasted around three hours. I’m weak at drawing, and remain so, but the simple tricks Chris demonstrated helped my confidence, if not yet my execution. Plus, the very act of observing and recording helped me see my city in a new way, which is never a bad thing.
But, no, you’re not seeing my drawings.
More information about the tours can be found here. They’re aimed at small parties and cost £260 for the group, which includes three hours of expert tutoring, drawing materials and possibly a cup of tea.
Other reviewed tours: