My parents said the first time they knew I had some talent was about age 7 when they saw how I coloured in a bird in a colouring book, my dad took a picture, he was really proud. I don't know if that indicated that I had any talent, but it made my parents less anxious, I think, because by then, I was already pretty sure I wanted to be an artist.
Drawing was always something I loved doing, because back in the 70's, that was pretty much the only way I could relive my favourite films and TV shows. I liked drawing spacecraft and cars and things exploding. My family wasn't particularity artistic, my dad liked painting but wasn't that serious about it, and my granddad had been quite a keen amateur painter, but all I knew about that was what my mum told me. She could draw horses pretty well, and gave me my first lesson in drawing people, showing me how to draw a face. Otherwise, I was pretty much the same as all my friends, we all liked drawing, especially when it was to wet to go outside, I just liked it a bit more.
I think I became convinced I wanted to be a fine artist, when I was about 14, that's when I first saw a painting by Cezanne. Up to then, I had liked looking at books on Michaelangelo and the other Renaissance masters, but didnt really get the buzz some others seemed to get from that old stuff. Cezanne hit me like a bolt from the blue. I pulled a big thin book off the school library shelf, and opened it to discover a whole different world, and that was my first sensation of something really magical going on in painting.
I graduated in 1993 from a BA in fine art and art history, then moved to London where I bummed around for about 10 years, until I went back to study, at the Royal Drawing school, that's where I got a clear sense what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was lucky enough to meet two particualry inspirational teachers there, Anne Dowker and Francis Hoyland. Anne taught me a lot, she was tough, uncompromising and very intense, but she appreciated any one who meant business, and she seemed able to put up with me. Francis was profoundly insightful, he showed me how integral ethics are to art. He demonstrated what a life wrapped up in art could look like, that it could be good, benevolent and productive. Francis was a consummate teacher and was deeply loved by all his students. I decided that I wanted to be like him, that would be my lifes mission.
20 years later, I am aware that I am nothing like Francis, but I still model myself on his example.. Francis combined being a serious painter with being a serious teacher, in fact, being a teacher was the other essential aspect of being a painter, what was the point, otherwise, of all those insights painting yields, if they are not being shared.
To begin with, I took an adult learners course at the City Lit, so I could get work in a college. Then I worked for a while in a small college in Thurrock, but quicly discovered that what I had in mind, was different from the college. My idea to model Francis, share philosophy of art and draw with students, and have no other agenda than to encourage people to get drawing, was different from the objectives of the college. In the first place, there was a lot of paperwork, that had nothing to do with art, then there were the targets, they had nothing to do with art either. And finally, there was the notion that people had to be continually moving forward, developing measurable skills and ultimately leaving the course. That wasnt what I had in mind, progeression, it seemed to me, was not strait forward, it could sometimes be measured objectively, but not always, and was it the point any way. Art, as far as I could tell, was not really a matter of acquiring skills, but rather of becoming increasingly articulate and sensitive, both of which qualities are hard to measure, skill is a bye product, but not neccesarily an indicator, of them. So all the measuring of skill that was being encouraged was, to my mind, missing the point.
As a result, I decided to set up my own classes. When London Life Drawing was established in 2004, it was a small group of 5 or 6 people with fishing tackle boxes full of drawing bits and one eldrely man who was fine being naked. For a few years, working out of a lovely room at the top of the London Buddhist Art Centre, I ran a class every Monday, trying everything I could think of to increase foot fall. I bought all kinds of posh biscuits for the tea break and had slide shows and taught as hard as I could, but nothing seemed to change. I used to dream of 20 students, so I could cover the cost of both the Model and the room! I lost money for a long time on it, and thought of giving up more than once.
My friend, John, who had started coming to the class a year or so after it started told me about Meetup, which was a new thing at the time, he said groups could get participants through Meetup