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.

“It’s not my sort of thing. I leave that to the wife.”

There are Sharpies, watercolour pencils, ‘tiger fur’, glue and paint brushes strewn over a low table in the corner of the café. Two women stick cardboard leaves onto drinking straw branches that dangle from an elaborately-decorated wooden chair.

It must be another Creative Scene event.

“So you invite people who come into the café to interact with this chair in some way?” I ask.

“They can add something to it, or draw something on it,” says SceneMaker Sonja who’s helping out, “and that gives us an opportunity to talk to them about art.”

“Is that glue strong enough, do you think?” asks Liz as Sonja attaches another leaf.

CS_200416_057-EditLiz Walker who is one of three artists (with Rozi Fuller and Jim Bond) who’ve spent afternoons here at the Cocoa Lounge in Dewsbury and at The Cobbles in Birstall for this Art Tea Café project. That’s ‘Arty’ Café.

For Creative Scene it’s an obvious extension to the Artists@Work project which takes art to the people… in a factory, an Indian restaurant, on the market and in shopping centres.

“Workmen come to The Cobbles for their all day breakfasts,” says Liz, now with paintbrush in hand, “so we had builders, engineers and tree surgeons all having a go, which was really nice. Is this too much green?”

“People feel more relaxed in a café, don’t they?” I suggest. “It’s a good way of striking up those conversations.”

CS_200416_018-EditSonja has form. I’ve already reported on her sitting with shoppers at The Mill in Batley as they crochet with textile artist Cassandra Kilbride. “Do you feel comfortable talking to strangers?” I ask.

“I used to work in a shop,” she says, “so it’s no problem.”

Sonja tells me about one customer who’d come for a brew at The Cobbles with his family. “I asked if he did any art. ‘No, no, no,’ he said, ‘it’s not my sort of thing. I leave that to the wife.’

“I asked him if he’d been to see the poppies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and he said he had, and enjoyed it. ‘That’s art,’ I told him.

“Then Liz and I told him about the copper sulphate room at the Sculpture Park and that interested him, so I hope he’ll go.”

“So it went from ‘No, I don’t do art,’ to ‘Oh yes I do, don’t I’?” I say. “So you’re finding ways in?”

“Many people see art as just painting and sculpture,” says Sonja, “but if you talk to them about music or theatre or photography, then they see how much they do interact with the arts.

“I have to admit I’d never have thought of going to an opera before I saw Batley Does Opera.”

“People have enjoyed getting involved,” says Liz as Sonja encourages a little girl from a nearby table to join the creative fun. “We’ve given people a simple task, sometimes just a a one line doodle, to encourage them to pick up a pen and have a go.”

CS_200416_042-EditThree-year-old Muzaina is soon followed by her mum, Mehmuda and they each start to draw a leaf.

“Give it your best,” says Liz as Mehmuda hesitates with her Sharpie.

“Do you do any art?” prompts Sonja.

Who needs Jeremy Clarkson anyway?

Just when I thought the Creative Scene accelerator peddle was already on the floor, there’s been a shift in gear.

Until now the dozen or so SceneMakers – local people with an interest in the arts – have been investigating, researching, getting to know the Creative Scene staff and each other. Now, it seems, sleeves are being rolled up.

At the start of one of their regular meetings, the SceneMakers hear news that Creative Scene will bid for another three year’s funding to take it up to 2020.

“We can start to develop local people’s ambitions and find ways of making creative activities more sustainable,” says project director, Nancy. “To do that we need your help in lots of different ways. This is a step change, we’re now going to work in a more intensive way.”

SceneMakers project manager Ruth sets the group off with a quick fire activity involving Post-It notes. Soon one wall is full of sticky notes of activities that the SceneMakers have been involved in. They’ve been busy.

CS_140715_0037-EditThen it’s time for quiet homework reflecting on just one of those activities. “Think about something that has had the most impact and why,” says Ruth. “What was it about that experience that made a difference to you?”

This is a bit tricky for Harriet and Pippa, brand new SceneMakers, here for the first time. Instead they contemplate other projects that have inspired them.

After ten minutes, the SceneMakers share their thoughts. Sonja offers her experience of a singing and music workshop in a Cleckheaton coffee shop. “Stepping inside for the first time was a leap of faith but I was curious. We sang and played percussion and I made connections with people there who I’d never have met in a million years.

“I managed to persuade my mother to go and she really enjoyed it. She said you don’t tend to meet new people when you’re 85.”

CS_140715_0067-EditAmmaarah tells everyone about the film and robotics piece event at The New Picture House back in March: “It made me realise that art isn’t just about theatre or visual arts, it also extends to the realms of science, mathematics and coding. That really provided a new perspective for me.”

CS_140715_0081-EditAfter a break for sandwiches and scones, Nancy goes through a list of upcoming Creative Scene events. “You can help by promoting these to your own networks and communities,” she says, “or with participant recruitment or just getting stuck in.”

Typically, it’s a weird and wonderful programme that involves puppets, synchronized swimmers and brass bands; free runners, lantern processions and hackathons… although there is some debate about what happens at a hackathon.

We hear that Creative Scene is developing a novel approach to the normally crusty evaluation process: “For the Dewsbury-on-Sea event we’ll train fortune-tellers, tattooists and face painters to have evaluation conversations,” explains Nancy, “so the audience is more likely to offer its reflections if its engaged in an interesting activity.”.

CS_140715_0064-Edit“What I want you to take from this evening is an invitation to contact us with your own ideas and projects that interest you,” concludes Ruth. “If you’re working on an idea that means something to you, that’s going to be much more effective.”

And that’s the crux of tonight. Building on what they’ve already experienced, the SceneMakers have been handed the keys and been offered a map. They can create their own projects or immerse themselves in one or more from the programme. Help is available if they need to develop new skills but now is the time to strap themselves in for an exhilarating Creative Scene journey.

I’ll be on the back seat with camera and notebook to hand.

The iron men of Crosby

It feels like an end of term school trip to the seaside which makes Ashleigh the new girl in class.

Actually it’s another art adventure with Creative Scene and we’re off to Crosby beach to see Anthony Gormley’s iron men and then to meet the artist himself. To mark its 10-year anniversary he’s talking at the magnificent St George’s Hall in the centre of Liverpool.

“What do you know of Antony Gormley?” I ask Ashleigh who’s become the latest SceneMaker.

“Well, I know of The Angel of the North obviously,” she says, “but I’ve never seen any his work in the flesh.”

“Or in the cast iron,” I suggest.

CS_290615_0034-EditAshleigh and her husband have recently moved to Dewsbury where he’s the assistant pastor at an Evangelical church in town. Originally from Zimbabwe, she’s a practicing artist who came across Creative Scene after seeing the Museum of Hidden Delights project on the market.

“And what do you make of West Yorkshire?”

“It’s really pretty and the people all speak their minds,” she says with a laugh, “which is a good thing. But it seems all the arts activity – exhibiting opportunities, workshops – are in Leeds or Huddersfield. There’s almost nothing around here.”

The minibus is buzzing with shared experiences around the arts. SceneMaker Simon is showing Creative Scene’s Rebecca a video of an outdoor dance performance he’s recently enjoyed at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival in London, and SceneMaker Sonja – here with her friend Liz – is telling me about how public art in Filey and Scarborough has become a magnet for each resort.

Our driver, Naz parks up by Crosby Leisure Centre and we pile out and make a beeline for the ice cream van. We’re at the seaside after all. “I’m surprised how widely spaced they are,” says Liz as shoes are discarded and we step onto the beach, “you could mistake them for real people.”

We make our way to the nearest rusting statue, each of us chipping in what we know about Another Place. “100 all together… 17 different casts of the artist’s body… all numbered… this one’s number 64…do you think they’ve been embellished in certain parts?”

CS_290615_0082-EditCS_290615_0094-Edit “They look sad,” Ashleigh says after we’ve seen a couple of ‘men’, “their eyes are closed and there’s no expression on their faces. I like that there are lots of them and not just one, it feel like it’s about all of us.”

While we walk between one version of Gormley to another, I take the opportunity to ask Simon about his SceneMaker experiences. “How has it changed your view?”

“It’s changed me and my opinions,” he says frankly. “When we first spoke I was a bit  blinkered but now I understand much more the relationship between art, economy and place. I can see art as a way of anchoring a community.

“Look at this place,” he says, waving an arm, “this was only meant to be temporary but local people demanded it should stay because it was having such an impact. Heckmondwike too has the potential to be really creative and attract people to do creative things.

“Creative Scene has empowered me and hopefully I can empower the town. I know that sounds a bit arrogant and ambitious but people have to do what they believe in doing.”

CS_290615_0125-EditAfter negotiating the jellyfish and leaving a Creative Scene badge on number 76 – it’s already wearing a waistcoat – we head into town hoping to see a dazzle ship in the Albert Dock. Instead we run out of time and end up racing across St George’s Plateau eating our fish and chips, much to the disdain of Albert and Victoria looking down from their bronze horses.

CS_290615_0226-EditThis Liverpool Biennial event is in the resplendent Small Concert Hall dominated by a huge crystal chandelier. Steered by his interviewer, Gormley talks briefly about his iron men: “It doesn’t feel like my work anymore,” he says, “it’s now become part of the place.”

The highlight is when his comments on heroism, Classicism, Stonehenge, place-making, collecting birds eggs, and natural selection culminate in a fan asking if she can have a selfie with Sir Antony.

CS_290615_0268-EditThere’s mixed views afterwards. Some hoped to be inspired or know more about the process of putting his 100 men on the local beach. “I like what he said about trying to make people think and feel in a different way,” says Sonja.

“I tweeted that I’ve been listening to Antony Gormley with Crosby beach sand between my toes,” declares Rebecca, “which is now getting a little unpleasant.”

The potential to bring communities together

The irony is not lost on me as I walk through the Edinburgh Woollen Mill outlet at The Mill, Batley. For over a hundred years Cheapside Mills – as these buildings were originally known – played their part in West Yorkshire’s woollen trade. Now they’re home to outlets whose merchandise most likely arrived by container ship.

CS_151214__0064-EditI’m here to see Sonja Martin, a SceneMaker from Heckmondwike and Cassandra Kilbride, a maker who is running workshops on the top floor.

Between Yankee Candle – apparently the world’s most recognised name in the candle business – and Massarella’s Restaurant, I find the two of them sitting at a small table covered in large balls of coloured wool.

Another woman is here too and, as Cassandra offers low key encouragement, Lyndsay and Sonja start to weave stands of wool and strips of random material in and out of the seven upright wooden pegs in front of them.

CS_151214__0014-Edit“So how did you hear about Creative Scene,” I ask Sonja as she adds her second weft.

“From a friend,” she says, “and I thought it was fantastic. Nothing much happens in my home town so it’d be great to help make a real difference there or anywhere in North Kirklees really.”

Sonja is passionate about the arts and feels Creative Scene has the potential to bring communities together, to touch people’s everyday lives. I wonder how it started for her.

“As a child, I was always making things, usually something from Blue Peter… but not always following their instructions. I think I’ve always been more arty than crafty.”

From picking up a leaflet at a playgroup when her boys were still toddlers, more than 15 years ago, Sonja enrolled on an arts taster course which lead, as these things do, to an NVQ in Youth and Community Arts and then an AS level in Fine Art.

I know that Cassandra’s workshops here at The Mill were recommended to Sonja by Creative Scene, but how, I ask, did Lyndsay get started?

“I just randomly walked past the sign a few weeks ago,” she says, pointing up at the board that advertises peg board weaving on Mondays, Bavarian crocheting on Wednesdays and ‘pudding pom-pom’ making on Sundays. “And now, pretty much every free second of the day I am crocheting. And when I’m at work I’m thinking about crocheting.”

“Really?” I ask, as if I’m some concerned counsellor. “And how long has this been going on for?”

“Only about a month. But I do get obsessed by certain crafts,” she says, “and crochet is my new obsession.”

I had no idea just how dedicated enthusiasts can get over their slip and chain stitches and it hadn’t crossed my mind that these two-hour sessions would be such a hotbed of informal mentoring and experience sharing.

As the wool strands are woven in and out, Sonja tells us about Enchanted Parks, an after-dark arts adventure in Gateshead she saw over the weekend; Cassandra describes her design for an installation she’s making for the shopping complex; and Lyndsay puts her two-penneth into our debate about arts versus crafts. It’s all really quite sociable.

As we are chatting, Fareeda arrives and quietly takes up the only remaining seat and begins to weave.

CS_151214__0023-Edit“You’re going to need a bigger table,” I suggest to Cassandra.

Fareeda lives locally and sat down at the peg boards for the first time only last week. “I like it,” she tells me, “it’s really interesting.”

“Have you done anything like this before?” I ask.

“No, nothing,” she replies. “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this.”

As I pack my bags I hear Fareeda ask if Cassandra could show her how to crochet and, walking up the hill back to Batley Station, I contemplate on what’s happening on that small table outside the restaurant.

In much the same way that playgroup leaflet changed Sonja’s life – and she’s about to help change others – it’s clear Fareeda’s interest in the arts has been ignited by these informal workshops and there’s no amount of evaluation that will uncover where that might lead.