Every Thursday evening, Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester hold an art class run by the Independent Art School where a range of techniques and disciplines across various mediums are introduced to us on a weekly basis. All classes are practical based and led by artists and specialists in the areas of drawing, painting, textiles and sculptures which rotate week by week. The start of the class generally takes place at an exhibition or collection within the gallery at 6.30pm where we are promptly briefed by the friendly course leader on the assignment for the evening. We are encouraged to make sketches and take notes of anything which may be pertinent to our task later on.
I’ve been wanting to take art classes for a while but while I’d attended creative drawing and paint classes in the past, the idea of learning new techniques inspired by artwork exhibited in the gallery really appealed to me. These classes have been running since September and only cost £49 a month. There have been a few teething problems in terms of organising meeting places, and structure of the sessions but it’s to be expected with a new class format – I have no complaints other than wishing the classes are a little longer! The Independent Art School classes are well run and I only swapped the Saturday creative drawing class in favour of Thursday evenings as it fits into my training schedule perfectly (Thursday is my ‘rest’ day). It’s also a great way to unwind and relax, I think, while stimulating creative thoughts and learning new skills.
Last night the class held was Textiles with embroidery as the theme (last month was weaving!) and the meeting took place on the first floor where Cornelia Parker’s grand tapestry “Magna Carta: An Embroidery” is currently on display. The epic 13 metre hand embroidered piece is a collaborative effort involving over 200 volunteers from all walk’s of life including prisoners, lawyers, politicians, human rights advocates and activists to celebrities – all who have been affected or associated with the Magna Carta in one way or another. It replicates the Wikipedia article, a digital legacy of the Magna Carta interpreted in an embroidered form. A short 8 minute film accompanying the exhibition shows interviews with a selection of volunteers who contributed towards this amazing piece of art. A particular clip which stuck with me shows a prisoner embroiderer stating that regardless of status, stature or achievements in life, every volunteer that took part was at one point one and the same, simply stitching and symbolically representing the equality and rights for all. Pretty neat :)
Some snaps of sections of the Magna Carta Embroidery (apologies for the amateurish photo taking). These more detailed parts were painstakingly stitched by the Embroiders’ Guild and the Royal School of Needlework. They are astonishing and wonderfully intricate. Check out the Wiki page for some notable contributors including Julian Assange, who stitched the word ‘freedom’ and Jarvis Cocker who gave us ‘common’ and ‘people’. Love it.
After watching the short film, we made a few quick sketches – sometimes they serve no purpose other than forcing us to pay attention to the intricacies and detail of the artwork, but it really opens your eyes (especially a noob like myself) and gives you a real appreciation of the true creativity required to create a piece from conception to reality.
Onto the practical. We were each given a piece of material plus a selection of colourful cotton threads to try our hand at stitching techniques! Believe it or not, this took the best part of the session, all being relatively new to embroidery it was a taxing yet enjoyable class. It was interesting to note that at even such a basic level, distinct styles were obvious between participants. The four stitches below, clockwise from top left are: chain stitch, French knot, blanket stitch and couching stitch.
If you’re interested in taking part, check out the classes (some free!) held at Whitworth here: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/learn/. Be inspired :)