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Lets Talk about…

Doing an art workshop.   
By Sue Rochford
Steve Morvell’s Mini Art Apprenticeships, Studio/Gallery, Halls Gap, Grampians

PART ONE
Right now I’m on a couple of rest days. I’ve had three intensive days one-on-one with a master artist in his brilliant studio up in the Grampians, Victoria. Tomorrow I head back into this other world of art and artistry for two more days. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is expensive (three hundred dollars a day and top that with accomodation, travel expenses and loss of pay). How can I justify this? Is it just purely indulgence? Is it pleasurable? Is it scary? Is it hard work? Challenging? Mind-stretching? Short answer – yes. All of the above.

The first day of the workshop began with a long and somewhat transcendental (but not religious) exploration of art. Not always the way this workshop starts I’m guessing, as the partner of my teacher popped her head in the studio door about four hours in and found us still relaxed on the couches talking and couldn’t help but commenting on her surprise. Was she wondering – “not working yet?” Ah, but we are. I’m admittedly also surprised that we can have done such a lot of conversing and no hands on art, yet this process is as enlightening to both of us as any hands on work could ever be at this stage.

This master artist who is my teacher has opened the book that is me, the artist, gently and respectfully turning pages and slowly beginning to make notes in the margins. He is a well studied man with a lifetime of knowledge and a kick arse memory for quotations (supplemented with author) that are always relevant. This alone would be impressive. But we go on to discuss the real nitty gritty of “our” art (not just the “why” which would be terribly twee) but the how of the past and the future, the underpinnings and underminings, and the ethics and responsibilties of our art in a terrifically personally relevant way especialy for our particular choice for art subject, wildlife. The hours roll by unnoticed.

At the end of the day, we untangle ourselves from the depths of discussion and push into some basic tuition. Although it is dry (and ridiculously important), this session becomes more of a banter on experiences and already gleaned knowledge rather than being didactic and closed. The day ends and I’m itching to paint now but with a quirk of fate, all my regular artistic tools have been left at home and I must hold fast in a disciplined way. I realise this whole adventure is teaching me a quiet discipline, an intentional waking meditation my teacher is undoubtably imbuing his technique.

The second day is less about where I am and where I’ve been, it’s more about how I do it. Four of my current artworks are placed along the wall but far from being a judgmental, critical process, there is a strong ambience of encouragement (tangible in both his expression and his considered use of words). My heart-pounding reticence and vulnerability with this exposure are quietly removed, not with gushing praise or false innuendo but with gradual, sincere and studied commentary. And quiet praise. (Thank you) Few words are spoken but the words that are said are supremely enabling.

At last the moment arises when I can begin to work. The trepidation here is indescribable. I have both deep delight and deep fear. Essentially he sets me up with all the tools and more that I should need (many of which I haven’t used for years as I have become very specialised) and then I’m left to my own devices. A short while later I am really immersing in the art making, relaxed and almost happy when my teacher gently stops me. He asks me to explain my process. It is here that I realise I am defending a limiting method (limiting to me) and we explore the words “comfort zone” and “dreams” and his philosophy that the two are not close together on a page. He pushes me right out of my comfort zone. As I am falling off this precipice, again the day ends and my lift home has arrived.

The next day is a mixture of formal tuition (done in Steve’s own inimitable and friendly style), talking, creating art and occasionally welcoming visitors to the studio. The day rockets by. Late in the afternoon I am standing in front of my work, feeling totally out of my depth. An overwhelming desire to drop tools and run passes over me. Why am I bothering? What a god awful mess I’m creating. I’m so out of my comfort zone. Despite positive encouragement and awareness from my teacher, it is only a discussion of the experience of this feeling and the normalizing of it as being shared by many artists and many well respected artists, that pulls my focus back. And tapping into an incredible strength I have pulled up somewhere from the depths.  

A couple of studio visitors arrive and with my teacher distracted, I am encouraged by him to finish a detail in my work that I have held in check. I’m suddenly a pig in mud although terribly conscious there are others in the room and that I’m perhaps being a little rude. But a few moments later, one of the visitors comes up beside me and without solicitation begins to exude extreme delight at my work on the easel. I am always surprised at how such positivity engenders such a deep satisfaction within me about what I am doing and banishes the angst of earlier. I have yet to learn the lesson of the power of my own positivity about my work and I suspect that this major limiter will be addressed in the next few days when I head back out to the master’s studio for the final two days. It’s already become glaringly obvious which I guess is part way there.

The workshop so far? Has it all been worth it? At this point, even if I stopped now, I would say yes, yes, yes. Easy? Never. Worth it – invaluable. Bring it on.

 

PART TWO
Now. It’s over a week since I returned from the final two days. The workshop days were filled with tidying up all the loose ends created from my last stint with every question I can think of answered. We then trek off to the delightful Halls Gap Zoo which is a world standard privately run zoo with a great ethic about animal conservation and care, and oh such a friendly place. Our sketch pads brim with notations – I’ve taken my line for a walk (well actually a dance!) and Steve and I marvel at the sublime joy just a piece of paper and a pen can bring. So many artists miss out on this pleasure. The magnificent Bison roll in the dust and we curse leaving our cameras behind. But the picture is indelible in our minds. Then it’s back to the studio and more practical exercises begin and for me primarily exploring value but harnessing technique and materials along the way.

The final day is about exploring technique interspersed with conversation and quiet working time. Steve has prepared notes and filled a USB with further instruction. (delectable stuff!).  It’s painfully obvious to me that this superb experience is coming to a close and although I’m still struggling with my work on his easel and it’s much later than the finish time, reluctantly we both “pens down” and wrap up what has been not only a master and apprentice workshop but (at least on my side) I hope the forming of a lasting friendship. Steve promises a lifelong mentorship. And he means it.

 Between the workshop sessions I was in a frenzy of art making (when paid work didn’t get in the way) and I am surprised and  gratified that my work has leapt into the arena I had hoped and we are “cooking with gas”. At the end of the workshop when I return home though, I am flat. This immersion was tiring and taxing (must remember to be kind to myself). And it is now patently obvious that my materials are poor. Remedy - purchase some new gear. Investing in your art is a huge leap of faith (in yourself) but the minute the opportunity arose, I raced out and set myself up. Again, flat.

This emotion leaves me baffled as I was so inspired in the first break. Could this be  just a little left brain interference. I am back in the “real world” now.  The environment (and the glorious weather) and the support felt in my Grampians stint seem sadly distant. But the artist in me kicks in and I can’t help myself, my favourite place (my tiny studio in the backyard) beckons. I ignore the self talk (Steve will be pleased) and embrace the exciting new materials (toys) I have gifted myself. I put pastel - drawing to rag to paper. We are on a roll at last. Sublime. I’ve produced three works I can be more than proud of in the last week.  I’m sitting here in my snug art space alone but I know that not too far away there is a kindred soul, labouring with delight whenever his gallery/studio is not run with ecstatic visitors or demanding students. I’m now“cooking with gas”. I’m ecstatic. Thankyou dear Steve.  Priceless.

I’m going to make a difference - to me, to you and for Wildlife.

Web Manager:
Stephen Powell
 
Steve Morvell
c/o Steve Morvell Wildlife Art - PLEASE NOTE ADDRESS AND PNo CHANGE.
159 Grampians Road
Halls Gap Victoria
Australia 3381
Tel: +61 3 5356 4820
Email: steve@stevemorvell.com