Edinburgh: Sketch practice (contains “tasteful nudity”)

Saturday morning I got myself out of bed sooner than I wanted and headed out to the National Gallery for some life drawing, picking up a sausage roll along the way. When I arrived at the front desk, a bit breathless and hot, I found out that the morning drawing session had sold out. So I signed up for the afternoon session instead, and then went into the museum’s restaurant for a bit more breakfast and my Morning Pages.

Aberdeen buttery with more butter and housemade orange marmalade, tea and shortbread.

I ordered what the menu called an Aberdeen buttery, which looks and tastes (and trails crumbs) pretty much like a squashed croissant. After my rich sausage roll it was a bit much for me, but I loved the house-made orange marmalade, and the tea was just what I wanted. As you can see my cat hat kept me company while I ate and wrote.

Afterward I went to my first Scottish farmers’ market — I’ll post about that tomorrow — and then, finding myself with two hours to kill but not feeling up to a trip back home, I settled myself on the back steps of Usher Hall and made a sketch of the corner where Cambridge Street meets Lothian Road.

Street sketch

I ended up drawing for over an hour and that left me just enough time to get back to the museum for the drawing class.

By the way, my initial observation at the Kelvingrove Museum is so far holding true: no one here pays any attention to me when I sketch out in public. No one says anything, no one stands over me watching, no one even lets their eyes linger over me for longer than they would if I were not drawing. (This is in contrast with the friendly comments I got from Americans and Canadians, and the eager interest demonstrated by passersby in Taiwan!) Even when I’m wearing a silly hat!

Lisa wearing cat hat, sitting on the steps of Usher Hall

This is in keeping with my impression of Scottish behavior among strangers. People are quite nice and friendly one-on-one, but unless you have some clear reason for interacting or making eye contact, people seem to mind their own business. I can’t decide whether I like this or not, and I think the answer is both. As a slightly nervous newcomer to the country, I’m relieved not to be accosted, but as an American, I do sometimes feel lonely when no one approaches me. Anyway, since drawing is not the best time to converse, I don’t mind too much either way.

When I got back to the museum, I found the classroom already set up with easels, paper, charcoal, and a padded space and cushions for the model.

Classroom with easels and an area for the model

The instructor, artist Graham Flack, made me very warmly welcome (see? friendly one-on-one) and after a while the class got underway. It was my first tutored life drawing class in years, but even so it wasn’t really a class; Graham just went around checking out everyone’s work and offering helpful suggestions. He said we would be doing only “short poses” of 20 and 30 minutes, but as I’m accustomed to sessions where most poses are 2-10 minutes, this was fine with me! There were about 8 of us there and the skill level ranged from newbie to experienced artist. I was the youngest, I’m pretty sure.

Standing nude woman

It’s been a really long time since I did any drawing on an easel, and even longer since I touched charcoal. As I told Graham, I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff, especially vine charcoal (which is softer, and makes lighter marks, than compressed charcoal). It’s very tactile because your hand is close to the page and you can smear the marks with the slightest touch, but it’s also messy and fiddly, and — this is going to sound ridiculously fastidious — my fingertips always feel a little sensitive after a couple of hours of smudging the rough paper.

20-minute seated pose

Anyway, whatever. It’s good practice to try new things, and it really was nice to be able to use an easel and charcoal, since those are two things I wouldn’t consider bringing on our travels! It took me a little while to get used to them again, and to the big size of the paper (I think it’s 18″ x 24″ and the biggest sketchbook I brought with me is 11″ x 14″). I kept making the model look bigger than she is. But oh well. Practice.

Standing nude woman from behind

Tricky lying-down pose with foreshortening

When I left the gallery, the sun was out and people were all over the East Princes Street Gardens, as if it were a beach.

Saturday afternoon in the East Princes Street Gardens

I was tired from all my drawing and running around, and from not having had lunch, so I trudged up one of the city’s many flights of steps (carrying all the farmers’ market purchases, and now my rolled-up charcoal drawings) and then — after a bit of confusion when I forgot which side of the street cars drive on — caught a bus back home.