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A-side B-side Gallery, Hackney, 26 January 2015

8 February 2015

That moment you walk through a familiar doorway and immediately sense something unfamiliar about the place you’ve entered… such a moment I experienced on my first visit of 2015 to the A-side B-side Gallery.

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The beaming welcome from artist and group leader Catherine Hall, from the centre of the room, was exactly as I remembered yet all around seemed different. First I noticed there were twice as many easels. Furthermore they were all new modern black frames rather than the heavy old wooden variety.

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The entrance desk was on the right instead of the left. Oh, and the walls had all been painted! And the floor. And there was a portable wooden step with a crimson cushion for models to pose on. And a black curtain as backdrop. In fact, everything about the space was pristine and plush.

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It was heart-warming to see. The gallery and its life drawing group are flourishing, and well deserve to be. With Catherine’s keen, clear, one-to-one expert guidance this is a group where amateur artists can improve their basic skills and enjoy learning a broad spectrum of new drawing techniques without pressure or judgement.

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Seven of the eight expected artists arrived; we set to work. My first standing pose of 6 minutes was to be drawn blind – eyes to the model, not to the paper. An extraordinary array of forms were created: some surprisingly proportional, others capturing pleasing details, and yet others with a multiplicity of lines that created an animation effect.

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We raced through three poses of 30 seconds, two of a minute and three of 3 minutes. These were to hone the eye and line; the essential form was to be outlined within the first 10 seconds. After such intensity we slowed right down with a leisurely 20-minute seated pose that took us to a break.

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We resumed with two poses of 10 minutes each before seeing out the evening with a half-hour long pose. For the first 10 minutes, Catherine asked me for a standing pose that incorporated a straight line, so I reached my left arm back to hold a ceiling pillar, then leaned forward.

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Left arm and pillar were straight lines forming a right angle from one perspective, with my right arm forming another right angle across my chest. 10 minutes was about my limit for holding that one.

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Come 9pm we were done for the evening. Artworks were admired, fixed with spray and rolled up to be taken home. The artists kindly said their thank-yous and – I hope – left satisfied with a positive two hours of creative outpouring.

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I wondered whether many of them go to other life drawing groups in London. Possibly not; so if they value being part of an easy-going, pleasant group with constant variety, challenges and progression supported by personalised tips and encouragement, then they may not know quite how lucky they are.

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It was fantastic to see more people making the discovery, and the A-side B-side itself with a bright make-over befitting a bright future.

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