> Behind the Scenes

The Process Behind The Workshop – as told by Pete Underhill

In the early noughties, a range of collectable figurines I’d designed was gaining quite a following, so much so that I would attend signings, mainly in the UK and Europe. The signings were mainly hosted by retailers where collectors would come to pick up the latest release and stand in a lengthy queue to have their figurine autographed and perhaps ask for a personal sketch.

During my execution of these sketches, often hastily drawn onto A4 copier paper, the appreciative collector would so often tell me how much they would love to be able to draw. Fuelled by my enthusiasm for drawing and a desire to share the skill admired by so many, I decided to put together an introductory course for the complete novice.

I’d noticed during my own sketching process that my methods of assessing angles, shapes and relationships within the observed subject were akin to processing information as opposed to an undefinable ‘artistic magic’. It was this realisation that led me to believe that if a student can tell the time on a traditional clock and read and write, they may not realise it yet, but they already had skills that could help them learn to draw.

I recall sitting in the reception area of a garage as I waited for some work to be completed on my car, sometime around 2004, tapping out the basics of my idea into my laptop. Over the next twelve years, I added to, tweaked and adjusted the document to the point where I thought I was ready to deliver my theory.

I’d mentioned my plan in conversation to a friend who suggested I trialed my idea on his wife, who had expressed a desire to be able to draw. This led to a one-to-one session at their home where in my enthusiasm, I began my demo/exercise routine and romped along like an over-enthusiastic puppy, expecting my student to keep up. I’m not a teacher; if I was, I would have noticed that she had reached the point of information overload and any knowledge imparted beyond that point was simply noise – I’m very sorry, Angela!

As the years rolled by, despite me not applying or sharing it, my project continued to evolve. Quite often, a thought might come to me of how I could improve the delivery of it, usually whilst in an unrelated situation – during a car journey or in the shower – I do a lot of thinking in the shower. Tiny changes made to tune the delivery of my theory.

Eventually an opportunity presented itself for me to share the workshop with my local Creative Arts Network at North Warks and Hinckley College. As the date of the one-off evening class approached, my inexperience as an educator was confirmed as stage-fright and self-doubt took hold. How would the class go? Would the attendees ‘get it’? Would I be booed out of the classroom? Would I remember what I was preaching?

As with my experience of attending regular signings, I’ve found I get first night jitters, but, as soon as the event begins, gears engage and things usually go just fine. Thankfully, this was the case with the delivery of ‘Time to Draw – an introduction to Observational Drawing’. That said, after the two-hour session, mentally, I was a soggy mess! I should say also that the response from the participants was positive.

Fast forward five years: on the checklist completed as a newly elected Associate of the RBSA, I noted that I can deliver a workshop on the basics of observational drawing. I’d been adding, taking away and making adjustments here and there to a point where I was happier with the workshop and felt confident enough to deliver it. In August, after a brief exchange of emails with our Gallery Manager, Sanna Moore, I was thrilled, and a little bit frightened that there just happened to be a window in the RBSA’s Workshop Schedule on 18th October. My first delivery of the course back in 2016 occupied two hours. This one was more than twice the length! Gulp!

As the date of the workshop approached, I decided to run my course notes and workshop sequence past the very experienced eyes of our Vice-President Vivienne Cawson VPRBSA who gave immensely valuable insights and suggestions, for which I was very grateful and adjustments were duly made in good time.

As before, stage fright took hold, with worries over the impending workshop occupying my daily waking thoughts. Oddly, on the day of the workshop itself, a calm had descended.

I did have concerns that the reach of the RBSA might not connect with absolute beginner, at which my workshop was aimed, I need not have worried; on the day of the workshop, the attendees were exactly as I’d hoped – eager to engage and not too set in their ways. This enabled their connection with the very stripped back approach of the workshop.

I had made it clear in the promotional blurb for the workshop that this wasn’t going to be a day where the participants take home a pretty piece of art. It was intended to provide a foundation on which they could build and develop their individual abilities using what they’d pick up in the workshop and ongoing with the course notes.

In the event, the progress of each attendee was clear as all seven laid out their various pieces of work for the Q&A/wind down. It was immensely satisfying for me that every one of them displayed great progress and I was confident that they would leave, equipped with the essentials to improve and grow as artists.

In short, I wanted to plant the seeds to create future Friends, Associates and Members of the RBSA, and I’d like to think that’s possible.

Now for the really scary part – In the closing minutes of the workshop, I was asked by more than one of my students – what workshop I offered to follow on from this one! It had only taken just short of two decades to put this one together…..