Drawing as thinking

“We want to understand the changes that are taking place for you all,” says Steve after we’ve had our chilli and nachos. “We’re interested to hear your reflections and aspirations.”

It’s the second of Creative Scene’s ‘The Social’, an opportunity for North Kirklees’ creatives to network and learn from others.

But also, as evaluator Steve Swindells from Huddersfield University points out, a chance to hear from those who can help shape the direction of this innovative arts programme.

There’s an eclectic mix here tonight and I’m pleased to see long-standing Creative Scene supporters, Sonja, Ashleigh and Duncan are among them.

On tonight’s bill is visual artist Matt Worden who’s planning to get us to see the world differently with an evening of observational drawing.

“First off, we’re going to make our own sketchbooks,” he says, demonstrating with an A2 sheet of cartridge paper and a craft knife. “Please be careful with those knives!”

Matt now invites us to draw a self portrait. “But we’re going to do it blind, so everyone shut their eyes,” he says, “and don’t take your pen off the paper.”

The room falls silent as lines are drawn, marks made. Laughter follows after a couple of minutes as we reveal our efforts. “Oh yes,” says poet Jason, “I’ve forgotten to draw my beard!”

The self portraits are a starting point for us to introduce ourselves. “Mine is a bit different,” explains Duncan, holding up his new sketchbook. “There’s me, with muddy boots, on a narrowboat, holding our baby. Why am I here? New experiences give you new perspectives, don’t they?”

The evening unfolds into part drawing exercises and part autobiographical talk. Matt tells us of a career in the NHS involved in socially-engaged art practices. Fifteen months ago he took voluntary redundancy and now uses art in leadership training.

“I also set up a ‘drink and draw’ class in our area. I love showing people how to use different materials and getting images down on paper,” he enthuses. “Whether it’s locals coming to the evening classes, or corporate managers looking for new ideas, drawing helps people define themselves.”

As we get onto our next exercise – drawing a horse upside down – it’s clear Matt loves teaching people to draw. And it’s clear people here are enjoying being taught.

“It’s all about looking,” he says, “and concentrating on shape and form.”

When we turn our horses the right way up – hey presto – even the self-proclaimed non-drawers are surprised with their equine sketches.

“At school we’d have broken that image down on a grid,” says Sonja. “But this was really useful, and quite straightforward. I could do that.”

“Storytelling through images has always been very powerful for getting your point across,” says Matt. “We’re being fed information all the time through images and we don’t always realise it. There’s power in images.”

Some more exercises. Next we’re focussing on our own hands. First we draw just the creases in our skin and then we get to draw the whole hand.

“Now draw with your ‘other’ hand,” says Matt. “So, if you’re right-handed, draw with your left.”

It’s great fun. My cack-handed drawing is better than the one with my ‘proper’ hand. But there’s a more serious side to all this than just making marks on paper. Our participants are beginning to see how useful it could be to their own practice.

“I can see how you can adapt these techniques,” says Fiona. “They help you look at things from a different point of view. If I were writing, for instance, it could help you think of a different way of approaching your subject, turning things on their head, using your non-dominant side. It’s been really useful.”

“That all really resonated with me,” says Sonja as the pens are collected up, “particularly the upside-down technique.”

“Your horse was amazing,” I say.

“I’m going to get my mum to have a go. She’ll say she can’t draw but I think she can.”

The next Social is on Thursday, 6th April and is all about socially engaged art practice featuring Bo Olawoye, from Nottingham’s New Art Exchange. Email Creative Scene if you’re interested in coming along.

“All of art is about telling a good story.”

It’s ten to six and the pies have arrived. “I don’t mind trying them first,” I say, standing over the steaming meat pie and liquified mushy peas, plate in hand.

Tonight is the first of Creative Scene’s The Social, a new series of networking-cum-inspiration events, bringing artists and creative and community leaders together from across Kirklees.

We’ve taken over the Old Turk pub on Wellington Road in Dewsbury – usually only open on the weekend – where Jimmy Fairhurst is tonight’s ‘turn’.

Jimmy’s theatre company, Not Too Tame, are stalwarts of Creative Scene’s pub tour circuit so he’s in familiar surroundings. In between mouthfuls I ask him what he’s got planned.

“I’ve been asked to talk about how we create the stories that we tell,” he says “and I was going to show a few clips of our work but, just by chatting to people already this evening, I realise it’s not about that. It’s about getting people to relook at their own stories and empowering their own voices.”

It’s a packed house and there are lots of people I haven’t seen before: a poet, a creator of carnivals, a painter and others who are keen to help make creative things happen in North Kirklees.

The evening kicks off with an ‘ice breaker’ involving a ball of string and our favourite literary characters. It is, after all, World Book Day.

Next up is visual artist Sarah Pennington who coordinates these events on behalf of Creative Scene.

“We want The Socials to be fun,” says Sarah, “but we also want to provoke discussion and prompt new ideas. So we will really value your contribution.” Everyone has been given a funky notebook to jot down their thoughts and questions.

“One of the reasons I started Not Too Tame is because I don’t hear voices like mine anywhere,” begins Jimmy as he takes to the floor. “Many people think their stories are not important enough to be told. But we know those voices are relevant and interesting. They matter.”

Jimmy’s session is hands on. He’s soon split everyone into pairs – “Did he say I was A or B?”– and we’re telling each other personal stories prompted by some questions he’s posed.

Soon the room is loud with intense chatter. There are tales of family history and of class… of achievement… ambition… and pride.

After five minutes Jimmy puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles the room to silence. “Now retell that story back to the person who’s just told it,” he says. This is speed-storytelling.

A feedback session gets us all thinking about what makes a good story. Does it have to be truthful or just make a connection? Surely something that resonates with the listener is all that matters?

During a break where local band Fie!Fie!Fie! sets up, I take my tape recorder from table to table.

“Having seen Not Too Tame perform, it’s good to hear their rationale,” says Simon who’s behind the annual Heckmondwike light festival.

“It’s got parallels to what we do. To attract an arts festival audience nowadays you’ve got to have a story to tell that people can get behind and take ownership of. That kind of storytelling is important.”

“I’ve enjoyed tonight,” says newcomer poet, Jason. “It’s been good to listen to Jimmy and talk to like-minded people.”

“And storytelling is something you’re familiar with?”

“Yes. I want to get back into long-form writing and tonight has given me some new ideas.”

“It’s been brilliant,” says Donna, who I met volunteering at Batley Festival last year.

“I just clicked with Jimmy and everything he was saying. All of art is about telling a story isn’t it? It’s all about relating a good story.”

The next Social is on Wednesday, 22nd March when visual artist Matt Worden hosts an evening of active looking and observational drawing. Email Creative Scene if you’re interested in coming along.