The forest at dusk


Olivia (A1 charcoal, pastel and graphite 2018) Drawn over an existing charcoal drawing which was partially rubbed out

Can you remember your childhood? Sometimes you’d rush into things – where angels might fear to tread, perhaps – without a second thought about the consequences of your actions. Yet I bet there is no child in the entire world who could be encouraged to enter a dark forest alone as dusk became night.

I feel like that on the morning of Seawhite Studios‘ workshops. Not because there’s anything scary about Katie Sollohub or Emily Ball, but because when you sign up for their courses you know you’re going to be encouraged to stray over boundaries, perhaps into the dark forest of your creative fears, and challenge your own preconceptions.

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend Katie’s one-day workshop on drawing the human head. Katie and Emily work closely together, so anyone who was at all familiar with Emily’s wonderful book, Drawing and Painting People: A Fresh Approach, would know this wasn’t going to include a three-hour portrait session on the precise representation of the model in pencil.

We were guided through some liberating exercises – drawing our own faces with eyes closed, drawing the model without looking at the paper:


(which resulted in the rather pleasing abstract above) – and producing a drawing by gently spreading crushed charcoal and coloured chalk over paper, completing it with a few lines. I’ve done this before – it’s discussed in Emily Ball’s book – but not with such a light touch, which made all the difference to the finished drawing:


The image at the top of this post looks reasonably conventional. However it was one of two drawings that we were asked to do over existing ones. It was a pleasure to rub out a very dull drawing I’d done earlier in the day and concentrate on Olivia’s astonishing profile and her remarkable ear-rings. Little of the original drawing remains except for a few faint lines and the tint of the rubbed-out charcoal on the paper.

I’d had a rather difficult January, creatively: the lingering effect of flu over New Year and some demanding issues in my work life left me drained and uninspired. I’d done a bit of messing around with acrylic paint and sat in front of empty sheets of paper thinking, “I haven’t a single idea in my head…” The gentle explorations of Katie Sollohub’s workshop, however, cleared a path through the undergrowth as they have before – especially in that charmed space between the figurative and abstraction, which for me has all the wonder and terrors of the forest at dusk!


30 thoughts on “The forest at dusk

  1. What a an exciting art session you were involved in. I’m glad you are back from the creative brain drain. We all know how that can be. I particulary like the last drawing, it as if she is looking at herself through a foggy mirror.

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  2. Ooh, I love the profile especially – such beauty, and those highlights in the hair are so free. The forest at dusk is the perfect analogy. Thrilling indeed to find your way through.

    I’ve found myself in the exact same difficult position this month and I know a few others have, too – but the dark is receding and the sun’s starting to reappear, so hopefully things will perk up all round!

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  3. I love this particular bit of your wandering, and admire your courage – which has resulted in such exciting drawings. I think this time of year may be designed to pose us these sorts of challenges and I’m not sure why – but without exploring, and daring, where would we be? I’m re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones and it’s doing the same thing for me. (Odd that a book about creative writing should be so inspirational for drawing. Or then again, not odd at all….)

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      • I thought you’d know it. It sits by my bedside and I read it in small, bite-sized chunks (it’s written that way) and every chapter blows away cobwebs, throws things up in the air and rearranges them. And yes, I guess you’re right, we probably do all face the same problems!

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    • Oh, I love that book (and Goldberg’s others as well). In fact I used to teach freshman composition at a nearby university which was for students that did not get into regular freshman composition. They were mostly students from inner city Detroit. Writing Down the Bones was our ‘textbook’. We all enjoyed the short chunks of inspiration and the freedom to write what we held in our hearts instead of writing dry academic essays. You might also like her Wild Mind and I have one other about writing memoirs called Old Friend From Far Away. Thanks for sharing this book recommendation. I just might pull it out of the shelf today. My creative juices seem to be a little on the frozen side this winter. 🙂

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  4. Hope things get better in February Michael, this is never a good time of year I find! The workshop sounds just the job to help get through this patch and the results are full of life and vigour. I’ve had a period of feeling stuck too, i should take a workshop like this to get me going again

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  5. What a wonderful description of the creative process and the fear of the unknown! I agree with you and Phil, awful time of year. I’ve bought an entry form for the RA Summer Show and the deadline is February 14th so tomorrow I’ll be working on my entry – that’ll give me the kick up the backside I need lol 😀 Hope you’re on the up now

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  6. Michael, this post spoke to me – I loved it. I so enjoy your beautiful descriptions of your creative process – and stalls. Of course I also loved the portraits. I think my favorite was the second one, the abstract. I, too, have had a rough time this winter with my creativity. If you look at my blog you’ll see I’ve had huge gaps of not writing anything. We’ve had a very cold winter where I live and it snows almost every day. You’d think being stuck at home I would write – and draw – more, but not so much. But the sun is finally shining, the driveway is clear and you have inspired me. So glad you are over the flu and getting your mojo back. 🙂

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