Drawing

Beasts of Burden

“Creative expression requires an ability to work with feelings and channel them. Frustration, dissatisfaction, and even a sense of desperation may help you access an eloquence you never knew existed” Shaun McNiff

It’s been 4 months since we went into lockdown and it’s starting to take its toll. People are tired, anxious and irritated and at a deep subliminal level there is a sense of collective unease. The upside is that in this time I have learned so much about myself, my community and the world at large. I have also been reminded about the role creativity plays in keeping us all sane.

Something strange happened in my Zoom drawing class this week. A kind of wonderfully weird and unexpected awakening. We were all busy drawing animals, a theme we have been working on for a few weeks now, and the atmosphere was quiet and focused as everyone beavered away on their drawings.

Then, from out of the silence came a voice, “My baboon looks angry”, to which there was a reply “My leopard looks sad”, and then from the other side of the screen, “My elephant looks confused”, rounded off by “My giraffe doesn’t know what’s going on”. We all laughed in unison, but in that instant, there was a recognition that we were not laughing at our animals, but laughing at ourselves and that our animals were channeling our grief.

As images of the drawings started to come through onto our Whatsapp group, I could see that my students were right. These animals were indeed confused, irritated, perplexed and all pretty fed up.

It struck me in that moment, that these sessions are more than just about learning to draw. Sure, they are relaxing and fun, but more than that, they unknowingly offer us a space to channel our angst about this chaotic situation we find ourselves in. They offer a release for the internal turmoil and in so doing, help us to recognize not only what is going on inside of ourselves, but that we are not alone in how we feel. Recognizing this, allows us to laugh and feel reassured that what we are feeling is normal, given the circumstances.

There is a release that comes with being able to draw together, a therapeutic outpouring of emotion, that leaves us all smiling and feeling lighter after every session.

Here are a few of our beloved animals, who are carrying the burden for all of us:

If you would like to join my online Beginner’s Drawing Course, please let me know.

You can find out more about me at www.sallyscott.co.za

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Drawing in Lockdown

For almost 40 years I have been teaching the basic skills of drawing to adults who wish to learn to draw. No matter where I have lived the rhythm of my week has been held together by the beat of these regular classes, that see groups of kindred spirits flowing in and out of my studio. These spirited gatherings have enriched my life immeasurably and all of my students have become my friends, brought into my life by a shared appreciation for creativity.

The Joys of Teaching

One of the great joys of my work is to see students move from a place of uncertainty and anxiety, where they don’t believe that they can draw, to a more positive place of realizing that they can. Most people who come to my classes, arrive as absolute beginners, drawn here by some yearning to be creative. In some cases there is a wish to rid themselves of a critical voice from their past, to defiantly overcome the fear and do some drawing anyway. Others come for the companionship of a creative community; a place where they can experience support whilst learning a something new. For others it’s purely therapy, an escape from the left brain grind of their high pressure job, or a brief escape from the responsibilities of being a mum. There are many reasons for coming to drawing, but one thing that most students will agree upon is that what they experience in my studio, is far more than just a drawing class.

Something magical happens in these sessions. Something I could never plan. As soon as people enter this studio, we are enveloped in a spirit of camaraderie. Within every group, there is a sense of care, mutual support and trust. A feeling that allows us to exhale.

The Sally Scott Studio, Grahamstown, South Africa

I often hear people say that they find it so much easier to draw when they’re in my studio during a class than they do when they are on their own at home, and I’ve wondered about that and why this should be, but think it’s something to do with the energy of the group and the confidence that comes from knowing that they have support and guidance at hand.

Part of becoming an artist, however, is to be able to work alone, to find the strength and motivation within oneself to get to the drawing board no matter what day, mood or weather. This is something that is difficult for me to teach, as it’s something that resides within the spirit of an individual and develops organically through need and circumstance.

In early March 2020, in my twentieth year of running my Grahamstown studio, things were going well and I had a warm sense of achievement after each and every class. My sessions were buzzing, all at capacity and everyone seemed to be energized and happy. Intuitively, I knew I must savor the moment, and fortunately I did, for as so often happens in life, things were about to change dramatically, in a way that none of us could have predicted.

The Winds of Change

Within the space of two weeks, we had gone from hearing about a virus that was spreading through China and Europe to realizing in horror, that Africa was on its itinerary. After a few days of confusion that followed the President’s speech, I leapt into action and made plans on the run as to how I could keep the classes going. With the announcement of the pending lockdown, everyone bomb-shelled as they ran for shelter, stocking up their nests for the coming storm. I crammed in some last minute extra classes to help those who had only just begun their drawing adventure with me, and at the same time was learning about social distancing and the best disinfectants to use to keep everyone safe.

India social distances on my studio verandah, as she attends her last art class before lockdown

Everything happened so fast that week, and before I knew it, the students were gone and it was just me, my dog and the silence of my empty studio.

A New Way of Being

Like so many art teachers around the globe, I had never even heard of Zoom, and would not have thought it even possible to teach a hands-on subject like drawing, remotely. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I did know for sure, that I wasn’t going to panic and I certainly wasn’t about to abandon my classes. Having been through a war, those old survival instincts kicked in, and one way or another, I would make a plan.

Whatsapp was my first port-of-call and I quickly established two groups into which I placed my students according to their level of experience. This was to be our portal for communication during the lockdown. It was important to me that this be a safe space, a place to retreat, to share our drawings and to draw inspiration and strength. It was to be completely free of the virus, and memes, death tolls and horror stories were banned. I simultaneously moved to email and sent out detailed class instructions that would serve as a guide for what drawing to do next. I spent hours creating new sets of illustrated notes, and quickly learned how to make videos and shared a few short demonstrations on techniques. In their respective homes, my students were busy clearing dedicated art spaces from where they planned to work. We were getting onto our feet and gradually we all got into the spirit of how to be in this new reality.

Helen sets up her home studio space

A few weeks in and I was starting to regain my balance. I even took a X-Fit class to learn how this Zoom thing worked. I still couldn’t quite see how it would work for a drawing class, but was willing to give it a chance. I attended another session and slowly began to relax into this somewhat uncomfortable way of communicating. I thought a little more about it and after a month of being apart, decided to offer it to my students as a way to check in and say hello. I had a few takers and we met at an appointed time. It was wonderful to see them again and I knew after that session that this would be a very good way to keep our community connected. So I planned a few drawing exercises and the next time we met, I offered them an option to draw a little, which they accepted and turned out to be a lot of fun.

Since then, a weekly Zoom session has become the new norm for those who are able to connect and we now have three very active groups. I even got new recruits, who live in different parts of the country, so started a completely new session for them. Much to my surprise, these remote teaching sessions have become the highlight of my week. I am enjoying the challenge and so enjoying watching everyone’s progress.

An evening class in lockdown

Therapeutic Calm 

Many of my students have commented that the drawing has really helped them get through this difficult period of lockdown. It has become an anchor, their calm in the storm and that seeing the familiar faces each week, has provided a sense of normality.  To be part of a creative community, has helped to break the sense of isolation.

As a teacher, I am quietly pleased at the unexpected benefit this surreal situation has brought us, for it has provided my students with first-hand experience of what it takes to be an artist. They have learned what it is to work in isolation and have had to be willing and motivated enough to carve out time for their art, to show up at the page, despite being alone, without an audience and confronted by enormous challenges. Some of my students have found it very hard because they have families to take care of and now have the pressures of home schooling in this abnormal situation. I am immensely proud that they have set up the necessary boundaries that allow them to continue with their art; making it clear that mum’s art is important, that her needs also count and that sometimes she needs time for herself. In my opinion, children can only benefit from that.

What pleases me most is that in all cases my students have shown a willingness to push on regardless of how successful their drawings are. They have quietened their inner critic and drawn for the pure joy of drawing, and for the peace and fulfilment that it brings.

What I have found, much to my surprise, is that it is possible to teach a practical subject in cyber-space, and that not only is it possible, it can be very satisfying.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing a selection of the drawings that my students have produced in the comfort of their homes, with my guidance from afar. I will begin with a series of drawings of buildings that we had just started working on when the virus forced us into hiding.

Looking at these, I am sure you will see why I have every reason to feel proud.

 

 

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Picks from the Pinboard

Driving up the hill towards my house this morning, I noticed that the thick carpet of purple Jacaranda flowers covering the verges of the road, are starting to fade. As I turned the corner and pulled into my garage, I was thinking about my university days, and the saying that when the Jacaranda flowers came into bloom, if you hadn’t started studying for exams, you had left it too late. (It was the stuff of nightmares!) Which prompted me to ask myself, as I opened my front door, what date it is, for the signs are abundant that not only have the exams been written, the students have all left town. I’m wakened to the fact that December is here and I haven’t done a blog post since April! It’s definitely time to catch up!!

So here I am, preparing a post in which I will share some of the creativity that has been born in my studio over the past seven months. We’ve been busy, my students and I and it’s been a particularly productive year.

Today’s selection has come from the participants of my Drawing Classes, all adult beginners who are rapidly overtaking their teacher. I am immensely proud of them and eternally grateful for their support. Their regular appearance in my studio each week, is the pulse that keeps me alive and everything else functioning smoothly.

We’ve had a good time, as I’m sure you will see from their drawings!

If drawing is something that you would like to do, perhaps this is the time to sign up? We would welcome you to our group and I am happy to keep you a place. Classes will resume towards the end of January 2019.

In the meanwhile, I’m gathering images for my next post, which will feature some of the work that I have done this year. I have been extremely busy and have lots to share, so will attempt to get it all together before the Jacaranda flowers completely disappear…

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Singing Over the Bones

“Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In Clarissa Pinkola Estes modern classic, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, she tells, among other things,  the story of La Loba, the old woman who spent her days scouring the countryside for the bones of dead, wild animals. She would gather them up and take them back to her cave, where she reassembled the skeletons and sang soulfully over them in order to flesh them out into the creatures they once were.

Earlier in the year, I had a big cleanup of my studio and discovered some wonderful treasures that I haven’t seen in years. When I opened one cardboard box that had long been lost beneath the table, I was surprised to see my collection of bones, gathered over many trips into the bush. I hauled them out and challenged my drawing students to bring them back to life.

A box of bones

Skeletons in my cupboard

So for the past three months the bones have been the focus of our adult drawing classes and with their sculptural forms and subtle shifts of light and shadow, they have proved a valuable theme to explore. My students, many of whom are still learning the basics, have really had to focus and polish their skills. Today I share with you a selection of their study drawings done during the first phase of this project:

I am delighted with this series of soulful drawings and in the next post, will share a few more images from the second phase of the project.

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From the Pin Board

As I wrap up my drawing classes for 2017, I am filled with gratitude for the way I earn my living, for to be able to teach people to draw and have the opportunity to light the creative flame in another persons soul, is a gift that few of us are blessed with. It is certainly one I never take for granted and I feel incredibly honoured that this wonderful group of students, who have now become my good friends, faithfully turn up  each week to share two hours with me. And they’re not all from Grahamstown, as one might expect. One lady drives an hour from the little Karoo town of Bedford and six others brave the 57 km pot-holed road from the coastal town of Port Alfred.

Ladies from the Friday morning class, all hard at work

The beauty of it all is that no matter what craziness life throws at me, the steady rhythm of weekly drawing classes and the regular appearance of these warm, friendly faces, helps to keep me balanced and moving in a forward direction.

Tuesday evening class.

My studio has been described as a ‘Red Tent’ space where women can relax and have fun, and although we gather primarily to draw, these sessions are about so much more than just drawing.  My students come from all walks of life, with one common desire to be creative, which means there is a very rich mix of diverse occupations and some truly amazing life stories, and during the course of conversation, one learns an incredible amount about subjects one might not have encountered in the normal flow of life. So these classes are interesting, but what I love most is the camaraderie and the support that is shown for one another. We have all become friends, there is no competition and everyone sets their own pace.

Ladies in the Thursday afternoon class, focussed and relaxed.

Most of my students arrive at my door for the first time with little or no drawing experience, but after going through the basic course, they are soon up and producing some really lovely work. I am delighted with the drawings that have come out of my studio this year and would like to share some of the fun and a selection of the work.

Click on the images below and enjoy:

Classes will resume in January 2018, so if you are keen to join us, please contact me for details.

As this is my last post for the year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my students for all their support and wish everyone a safe and peaceful holiday season. I’ll see you in 2018!

 

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Art Journals

Many people have asked me what Art Journaling is and have wondered if it’s a form of scrapbooking? Well, yes and no. It is a way of collecting thoughts, ideas, visions and memories and putting them all together in a book, similar to what is done in scrapbooking, but art journaling is less commercial and is a more intuitive, individual and creative approach to visually documenting ones thoughts in a freestyle form, using images, paint, textures and words that when combined tell a fuller story.

‘Teatime Reflections’ by Sally Scott. This is a nostalgic reflection on days gone by, growing up on our farm in Zimbabwe. It includes a photo of the  ruin of our family home and the fireplace, in front of which, I once learned to sew and knit.

I have been journaling for many years and have explored a wide array of themes and subject matter. Before I start any new artwork, I make notes and sketch, writing my thoughts and ideas into my art journal, which is kept for this specific purpose. Whenever I have a moment of inspiration, I make a note of it in this book for future reference. It helps to remind me of my initial enthusiasm when my Muse takes leave and I am scratching around for ideas.

A page from my art journal

I also keep journals when I travel, big fat documents that record the details of my journey.They are filled with photos, drawings and writing and are a fabulous way to honour my journey, record inspiration and remind me of my reactions to things and all the fun I had.

Travel journal

I’m also in the process of making a visual document of our family history, something that can be passed down through the generations, that will give family members an illustrated understanding of where they have come from. It’s a major undertaking, but so worth the time and effort.

A family history journal. Artist: Sally Scott

In my reflective moments, I make pages that illustrate my thoughts about deeper emotional issues, and these often progress into fiber artworks, which are a tactile form of journaling. “Surrender”, “Towards Infinity”, “Bongwefela”, “Zimbabwe Ruins #2” and “Desert Beauty are all examples of this. “Zimbabwe Ruins” (below), is another good example of 3 dimensional journaling…

‘Zimbabwe Ruins’ by Sally Scott. This fibre art apron was made after a trip to Zimbabwe in 2004. It documents the chaotic situation and economic decline that I witnessed in that country.

It can also be fun to use story telling as means of exploring issues relating to human behaviour. I recently completed a page that was inspired by Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion, where a slave who has escaped his master and is hiding out in a forest, comes face to face with a lion. Expecting the lion to attack, the man is surprised when the beast limps towards him, holding out his paw. On closer inspection Androcles discovers a thorn embedded in the lion’s foot, and without hesitation, carefully extracts the thorn. Through this simple action a deep, mutual trust is formed and they continue to help each other survive in the forest. Later they are both recaptured, and with the emperor in attendance, Androcles is thrown into the lion pit. As luck would have it, the hungry lion is none other than the one he had befriended in the forest and, recognizing a friend, the lion rubbed up against him like an affectionate, purring cat. The emperor, on hearing the story, pardoned Androcles and let the lion free into his native forest. The moral of the story is that gratitude is the sign of noble souls or the kindness and caring of one being to another will always be remembered.

A journal page dedicated to the theme of trust and vulnerability, inspired by ‘Androcles and the Lion’.

On my journal page, I illustrated the story, but added another dimension to the meaning. Sometimes it happens that in an effort to protect our vulnerability, we create defensive armour (thorns) that can unwittingly inflict wounds on another’s vulnerability, causing the victim to strike out and inflict a wound of their own. If one can step back in love and compassion and recognize where the pain is coming from, one can remove the thorn, and trust and vulnerability can return. In this story both parties were vulnerable, but it was their recognition of this that allowed them to trust each other, thus doing away with their need to protect themselves and enabling them to form a bond which ultimately was the strength that broke the chains of their captivity. It was their trust of each other that allowed them to be free. So, vulnerability is crucial, for without it we cannot trust and without Trust one cannot have freedom.

As you can see Art Journaling can appear in numerous forms and be a great source of enjoyment and therapy. If you are interested to learn more or to try your hand at it, please contact me, as I will have a new series of workshops available in 2018, in addition to my regular monthly journaling sessions that I hold in my Grahamstown studio. My final session for 2017 will be this Saturday 25th November. Call me if you would like to come.

 

 

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The Value of Tone

I read somewhere recently that in painting, tone is everything. If one gets the tonal values right, the other elements stand a good chance of coming together. It struck me in that moment, that tone is important in many aspects of human communication, be it the tone of our voice when we say something or the tone in our head when we read an email or message. One can say something one thinks is innocent, but if the tone of voice is off, the meaning of those words can change completely.

The challenge for us all in these times of mass communication and digital media, is to make our words come across in the way we intend them. The problem of course, is that even if one’s words are written with care and good intention, if the recipient of an email is in a bad space when reading those toneless words, they will impose their own tone and completely transform the meaning.

So I am not surprised to see that the race is on between rival digital tech companies to come up with human like emojis that are aimed at illustrating the tone of the words being sent out on social media. Perhaps this is partly why platforms like WhatsApp have become so much more popular than email. The pictures can say it all, short circuiting the need for us to impose our own bad/sad mood on the words of the sender. How clever we are becoming… for anything that helps promote understanding in this very conflicted world, does it for me.

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Survival – A Lesson from the Veld

I have recently been sorting through my aloe paintings, and one in particular stands out, for its universal message has a personal story attached…

When I was a young girl, we lived on a cattle ranch in Inyanga, which is situated in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, in a magnificent mountain range that borders with Mozambique.

There were seven children in our family and we roamed pretty wild and free, spending our days either helping with the farm or exploring the rivers, kopje’s and bush.

On top of the mountain, looking over our 14,000 acre Nyangui Ranch, 1975.

The hillsides of the farm were littered with mysterious ancient ruins and stone terraces that we loved to scramble over and explore, as we disappeared down tunnels, into unexpected enclosures, picking up shards of pottery, imagining who might have once lived there.

Exploring ancient ruins on our farm. 1975

It was a blissful existence for kids growing up without television and all the mod cons of today. We learned to appreciate Nature on both macro and micro scale and this laid a firm foundation for the creativity that was to follow.

Sisters catching tadpoles in one of the many rivers on the ranch

 

Playing in the stream, siblings Sally, Anthony and Penny, 1967

But then war came to that beautiful area and we were forced to move, leaving our playground behind. We all set off on our respective paths and life taught us some serious lessons.

On a nostalgic return trip to the old farm, many years later, I took my two young sons to visit a ruin that lay embedded in a commanding position at the top of a hill. The countryside was hot and dry, and in the grip of a ten-year drought. The rock hard ground was stripped bare of grass and the termites were eating the trees. A veld fire had recently removed whatever dry grass remained.

Nyangui Ranch in the drought. 1991

As we clambered up over the multiple layers of terraces, sweating and panting in the heat, we finally reached the ruin. Memories of my childhood came flooding back as I surveyed the landscape around and as I sat on a warm granite rock, I felt the earth’s energy seep through my body like a much needed blood transfusion. Oh, it was so good to be home!

In my desire to share my youthful memories, I attempted to ignite some enthusiasm into my sons, who both looked somewhat confused as to what all the excitement was about. I was beginning to wonder myself what the purpose of this visit had been. I mean this was my childhood and these were my memories, so how I was hoping that my boys would get it I really don’t know, when their reality was based in the city and the lush green hills of Natal.

My two young sons visit the ancient ruins for the first time. 1991

Then, as I wandered around with my camera, I came upon two small aloes, side by side, both scorched from the fire, parched from the drought, but doggedly standing their ground. I was riveted by this image of survival, and in that instant, I knew why I had needed to be there.

I took that photo with me into the turmoil of my life and kept it as a clear reminder that no matter how great the heat, the thirst and the flames, when one is well rooted and grounded, one can survive pretty much anything. With a belief in one’s ability to survive, one can emerge stronger from the experience, with spirit and light intact.

‘Nyangui Aloes’ by Sally Scott
Medium: Chalk Pastel

Last year I translated that photograph into a chalk pastel painting and was reminded once again that Nature is the great teacher and Creativity, the therapist. Or is it the other way round?  Whichever way I look at it they seem to work in tandem and I am very grateful for both.

 

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Open Tabs

I recently visited the optometrist, for what I thought was to be a routine check-up that would enable me to renew my drivers license. After flicking through A’s and D’s and upside down E’s, I was relieved to hear that things weren’t as bad as I expected, and engaged the doctor on the ins and outs of ageing and failing eyesight. I had so many questions that every time he started to speak, another question would pop into my mind. Eventually in desperation, he laughed, put his hands up and said I had too many tabs open and that I needed to put a hold on them so that he could attend to one question at a time. I was amused by his analogy, but appreciated him telling me so directly that this is what I do and as I left his consultation rooms, I felt I had just had an awakening.

Back in my studio a short while later, I stopped for a moment and observed the scene before me. Everywhere I looked were half finished projects, enticing piles of creative energy waiting for my attention. In that moment, I knew that my optometrist was right. I do have multiple tabs open, in the form of numerous projects going on at any one time, and I flit from one to the other like a butterfly gathering nectar. I’m sure a good psychologist would tell me the pitfalls of my process, but this is the way I love to work and the way I stay in the flow, I am never without something to do, and even when I am finishing off a project, the next idea is being born.

So since my visit to the good doctor, I have been examining my situation and been actively closing a few of the tabs that have been slowing down my system. I have finished the beading on a bag begun over a year ago,

A funky example of a bohemian bag

given my aloe a flower

One of a series of small ink drawings

 

and completed that winding road that leads me through the Eastern Cape landscape.

A recent work of a road less travelled

I have made the leaves for a sample bag that I will be using when I teach in Port Elizabeth next week

A sample bag for my Bohemian Bag workshop, which will be taught at the National Quilt Festival 2017 on 3rd and 4th July

and rustled up some flowers

Preparation for The Bohemian Bag Workshop, being taught in PE on 3rd and 4th July

I have taken the last of my paintings in for framing…

Country Road. Chalk Pastel. Sally Scott

Another Road, Another View. Chalk pastel. Sally Scott

…and I have also designed a poster for my Festival exhibition.

I will be showing a few of my recent works in a group exhibition at the National Arts Festival 2017. The exhibition opens 29th June and closes 9th July.

 

So that ticks a few things off the list and now that this blog post is written, another tab is about to be closed, but not before I invite you all to visit our exhibition at The Highlander between the 29th June and 9th July 2017.

 

Stay tuned for feedback on both the exhibition and the bag workshop. I suspect that by then a few more tabs will have opened.

 

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Artists in the Making

“In the beginning is the attitude. Everything else will follow”. Shaun McNiff

We’ve had a good year in the Sally Scott Studio and I feel very proud to be able to share a selection of work that has emerged from our weekly drawing classes. Most of the students started out as complete beginners, but over the months of regular attendance, they have made amazing progress as their skills and confidence have grown. Click on the images below and enjoy…

If anyone is interested in joining us for next year’s classes, please contact me. No previous experience is necessary, and yes, I welcome those who “can only draw a stick man”. It won’t be long before you are producing work like that in the gallery above.

An evening class

An evening class

A morning class

A morning class

Happy Christmas everyone!

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