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Welcome to the first in the series of my lockdown chats where the aim is to share how others are keeping sane during global social distancing. This week I want to discuss all things ART, and how it can become the perfect at home activity to stay engaged and have some fun while enduring this societal pause. The enforced slowing down has led many of us to adopt a ‘try something new’ attitude and people are exploring their creativity from home in amazing ways.
In this blog I speak to Lee Crocker, an artist who lives and works in Manchester. He has run several drawing workshops over the years where he introduces his unique style of sketchbook documentation. In this interview we discuss how he is continuing his work during lockdown and also how others can get involved.
Lee works at Bury Art Museum, a beautiful gallery in north Manchester. Over the years he has been able to utilise his role to not only take care of the museum’s vast collections but to also create this own workshops and curate his own exhibitions. I wanted to begin with a few questions, so I began with the most obvious:
What’s your favourite thing to draw?
I like to draw everyday life; pubs, houses, municipal buildings. People passing by are a great source as well as mates sat in the pub. I love the contrast of Victorian brick and ugly 70’s concrete and catching people as they pass by. I also like drawing people I know whilst they are relaxed and talking, catching what they say in snippets alongside the drawing. I often quote one of the Camden artists, Harold Gilman, who said he liked to make the mundane memorable.
Where is your favourite place to get your sketch book out?
The pub or the train….I love drinking and drawing trying to capture an atmosphere and if there aren’t many people in, I draw the surroundings in and out. On a train I like to draw the passing scenery
His enjoyment of the social aspect of drawing has led him to create many fantastic workshops over the years with a view to help people realise their artistic potential. They are predominantly sketchbook based and teach you the power of documenting things around you. The workshops are a relaxed environment in which participants can get creative by combining drawing with music, models and live musicians.
We discussed some of his previous groups and one that he is particularly proud of is the Friday Art group which started off as an NHS run group with a view to encourage those suffering with depression to get back into socialising. This group has been going for 10 years, long after the funding ran out; many of its participants, some of whom hardly drew before, have gone on to have successful exhibitions in their own right. More importantly they came away with a solid group of friends who attend several art groups together and still continue to actively participate in Bury Art Museum events.
I really wanted to talk about his most recent group Sketchbook Social and how he is continuing it in light of Covid-19. He explained to me that they have moved to operating the group on a digital platform by forming a Facebook page adopting the tagline ‘be safe, isolate and create’. Going digital enables the current members to continue creating from home and perhaps entice a few new members to join in. It is open for everyone young and old and even if you’ve never put pen to paper before, it is a great social hub of resources designed to ignite creativity.
So what exactly is Sketchbook Still Social?
The ethos is to create, daily if possible, but it is designed for followers to be able to dip in and out as time permits. Everyday you are given one word to evoke the imagination and give inspiration such as ENVIRONMENT, AWAKEN, EARTH and YOU. Examples of work are shown from the varied museum collections and members are invited to create and share their own.
The daily tasks are simple DIY activities where you can use the most basic of materials which makes it very easy to replicate at home. This clever approach means that art classes and groups can be open to everyone. You don’t need a ton of resources at home, you can use what is available around you. The whole format is absolutely perfect for children who are off school and could greatly benefit from being introduced to something a bit different during homeschooling. Originally this group was a weekly meet up and limited to those local to Bury, however, now with the use of this digital platform anyone can get involved remotely and I would highly recommend following and joining in with the group if you get a chance.
We finished our chat with one final question, possibly the most important one to ask an artist:
What’s in your pencil case?
Blackwing pencils, brush pen, correction dip, dip pen, graphite sticks and an electric rubber which is crap.
What I wanted to put across with this blog is the idea that anyone can draw, this sentiment is certainly echoed by Lee and his colleagues at the museum, who are also big advocates of this belief. It doesn’t matter if you think you are no good at drawing, the act of creating something can be extremely cathartic and enjoyable. As you continue to explore the art world you can hone and develop your own unique style and just have fun with it. Take advantage of the extra time you have from being at home at the moment, get the the kids involved, take a break from stressing out about the current pandemic; lose yourself by listening to some music, drinking some wine and drawing.
It you like the idea of getting involved and want to see more then give Sketchbook Still Sociala like and follow on Facebook, and hopefully when normal life resumes you can get yourself to Manchester and visit Bury Art Museum. It is a gorgeous gallery run by a group of really approachable lovely people. You can also find the weekly activities over on the Museums website https://buryartmuseum.co.uk/BAM-Online-Weekly
I hope that this has inspired some of you to pick up a pen and start sketching, just remember don’t bother with an electric rubber, they’re crap!!