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A Creative Buzz

 The Paper Elephant Exercise (photograph by David Bell)

“Drawing is a gateway to creativity.” 
Julie Douglas

Last weekend I had the honour and privilege of being invited to take part in Draw-In, a Drawing Symposium in the Belfast College of Art.  I was really excited at the idea of meeting such an impressive group of artists, but I was also a teeny bit daunted. It’s only recently that I’ve started to put the word ‘artist’ beside my name, and all the invited artists were jaw-droppingly talented and very accomplished. Real artists! To add to my mounting fears, I would also have to speak to the large crowd of art lovers and students who were coming along to the event.
Me with the wonderful Julie Douglas!
I needn’t have worried. Julie Douglas, the organiser and a brilliant artist herself, is one of those people who immediately puts everyone at ease with her mega-watt smile and warm personality.
Julie calls herself as a ‘Creative Experience Navigator’and her students describe her as “Different, Delicious and Refreshing.” She really is!!
The day began with a really great exercise. Everyone was given a piece of paper and told to stand up. We then had a minute to tear out the shape of an elephant, behind our backs and NO peeking. The results were unpredictable and quite funny- try it! It’s not as easy as it sounds!
My paintings and sketchbooks were on display too
The art-lovers and students were great- really encouraging, asking just the right questions and showing a genuine interest in the creative process.  Two of the artists, Colleen Barry and Matt Weigel, had flown over from the States to attend the Symposium, and also to give workshops in classical realism. Their work is superb, and the results from the workshops were quite impressive.
Peter Cooper, ‘the animated animator’, kept us all entertained whilst he created (and acted out) one of his creatures, a pot-bellied man eater. I loved his dragons. To add to the experience, we were all given sculpey to knead and pull into shapes whilst we listened and watched. Some of these audience creations were incredible. 
Master and model… the great PJ Lynch and Rory, Julie’s son
PJ Lynch has long been an art hero of mine. He is the most wonderful illustrator and his books have charmed and delighted a whole generation of children and parents, myself included. PJ did a portrait demonstration in oils, and managed to complete it in an hour whilst answering a barrage of questions about his techniques from the audience. You can see more photographs of the day on his blog here
The master at work!
I really enjoyed talking to PJ and found him incredibly inspiring, so much so, that I am going to throw caution to the wind and join him on one of his portrait workshops in a few week’s time. I’m looking forward to the challenge of painting an unfamiliar subject in a new medium with huge brushes! 
A selection of PJ’s sketches and books
Aidan McGrath had some fantastic photographs that I had to look really closely at, because they looked just like finely detailed paintings. I also brought up the incredibly inspiring sketchbooks of Susan Sex, one of Ireland’s best known botanical artists.
Paul’s talk was captivating
However,  I think it was the talk given by Paul Foxton than resonated the most with me. Paul is one of those gently spoken souls who has a wonderfully philosophical approach to art. He is deeply interested in the cultures of the Far East. He showed us some of his techniques and spoke so eloquently about the sensitivity of charcoal, that I wanted to rush out and start drawing in charcoal there and then. He encouraged everyone to develop an art habit, even if it was simply a matter of ensuring that you sat down at your table and opened your sketchbook every day. 
His blog learning-to-see is equally motivating and well written. It’s definitely worth checking out.
“Every time we immerse ourselves completely in an act of creation (no matter how insignificant it might seem) we have arrived. Every time we do that, we transform ourselves a little more: we find more peace, develop our focus and attention a little more, become stronger in ourselves.”
 -Paul Foxton

At the end of the day, once the crowds had gone home, the artists all went for a meal together. The conversation was brilliant, exciting, motivating and interesting. There was a creative buzz in the air- I caught it, put it in my pocket and took it home.
“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

― Emily Dickinson

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