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Learning the lines

PUBLISHED: 11:39 07 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:40 07 October 2014

Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class.

Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class.

Lucy Etherington unleashes her inner artist on a life drawing course at The Bank community arts centre in Eye

Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class. Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class.

When I joined the life drawing class at my local art centre, I completely forgot that there might be a moment of awkwardness when faced with a totally nude human being.

I know it’s puerile and my mind should have been on higher things, but when I arrive at my class and start chatting to Moyses Gomes, the handsome young Brazilian dancer in a dressing gown who is going to be our model, it suddenly strikes me that I will shortly be seeing his bits. I hope to God I will not fall apart giggling and have to be escorted from the premises.

I had sort of been expecting some curvaceous Beryl Cook-style lady-of-a-certain-age with a bit of an exhibitionist streak.

I had also assumed my classmates would all be either beginners or, like me, middle-aged former art students, who long to paint and draw again but have lost the confidence and motivation.

Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class. Left to right, Rebecca Lyne and Lucy Etherington.Life drawing class at The Bank Arts Centre, Eye. Lucy Etherington takes a life drawing class. Left to right, Rebecca Lyne and Lucy Etherington.

A couple fall into that category, but some are professional artists and turn up with the full kit – testimony indeed to the high teaching standard here.

As I stare at my blank page, my charcoal poised, I am assailed by a ripple of panic. But then we’re on. It’s like a race. You have no time to think, you have to chuck your ego out the window and get on with it.

We have two minutes to draw Moyses, who has twisted himself into a shape that isn’t entirely identifiably human. The challenge takes me out of myself. I don’t even have time to criticise the marks I’ve made. Another two minute sketch and we are ready to focus on a 50 minute pose.

Moyses is understandably a bit wobbly after half an hour balancing stretched on a hardwood podium, but that’s part of it – rubbing out the lines, redrawing, trying to work out where the muscular tension is and how to describe it on the paper. It’s drawing from life and life moves. It’s like a geometry puzzle but messier. I don’t care that my hands are black with charcoal, I’m utterly absorbed.

As our tutor Rebecca Lyne says, the process of drawing from life has a lot in common with meditation.

“Your focus is entirely on what you’re creating in the present moment,” she tells me on our coffee break. “Everything else fades into the background.”

Rebecca is one of the founding members of The Bank art centre. A professional figurative artist who worked in arts education in Norwich for 10 years and runs projects in local secondary schools, she was working in a gallery in Eye, in the north of the county, when she saw that the local HSBC bank over the road was closing.

“I thought, what a great building. What a waste!” Six years on, her dream of turning it into a buzzing art centre became a reality.

The whole vibe of The Bank is arty but inclusive. It’s a café, a gallery and performance space, running courses every day for all ages, in everything from print-making and song writing to Spanish, a capella and creative writing. There are days when you can just pop in and try something out, book a one-session workshop, or sign up for long running courses like the one I’m doing, which starts again in September. It’s a remarkable place to stumble upon, especially in a rural town. They also have a recording studio in the bank vault, monthly performance evenings plus massage and therapy rooms upstairs.

“It’s all about promoting well-being through creativity,” says Rebecca. “In any of our classes, you come along thinking you can’t draw, write or make music, but by the end you will feel a sense of achievement that will give you confidence.”

For me, it feels like going back to college – minus the pressure to be the next Picasso.

Back in class, Rebecca comes around and asks how I’m doing. I feel a bit unsure. She tells me straight away what I’m good at and I glow with childish pride. “Love this line,” she says, pointing at my abstract rendition of Moyses’ man parts. And I am proud to say I do not giggle. This is not the Chippendales, this is art!

Gently she gives me some advice to help me.“Focus on the waist” and “Look at the shape here”. She makes two small marks to demonstrate and somehow vastly improves the entire thing. “I would normally rub them out and make you do it,” she says, but she lets me have this one.

In the break we wander around and chat. The varieties of interpretation are astonishing. Every one of us sees the world in a unique way and all of them are really strong pieces of work.

At the end, one of my talented classmates admires my one minute sketch. When you have very little time, your brain selects what is most important and often it works better than the things you agonise over.

Going home, Rebecca is right – I do feel a huge sense of well-being and achievement. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I’d forgotten what it was like to experience that creative buzz, and – even more enjoyable – be part of an exciting artistic community.

For more information and courses www.thebankeye.org

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