Over the weekend of the 29th and 30th of April, Ann Witheridge and Toby Gawler hosted a two-day military themed still life course at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London. Ann and Toby were given the chance to set up multiple still life set ups using different items in the museums collection including military helmets, uniforms and general kit used by soldiers during the Victorian era of the British Army.
Written by tutor Toby Gawler.
Choosing the objects.
The museum’s head of collections ran us through the different objects that we could use, telling us their history and use, before setting up the arrangements that the class would be working on over the two day course. Once I set up the compositions, we gave the class the choice to work in charcoal or pastel for the first day. Ann ran through simple compositional ideas with the students, the do’s and don’ts, common mistakes and things to look for to make your composition interesting.
It’s always interesting to see what other artists choose to focus on. For some, the shiny brass of the teapots caught their eye, for some it was the workmanship of the helmets, and for others it was the uniforms or even the everyday objects such as the boot brush and sponge.
Considering the big ideas.
We then asked students to experiment with different still life compositions sketches. Ann encouraged them to consider the big shapes and ideas within their compositions, thinking about the dialogue between the objects. After lunch, we were given a guided tour of the museum’s art collection, including a piece painted at the museum in 2019 by Ann of Betty Webb which is now on permanent display.
In the afternoon we prepared for the second day, considering what did and didn’t work in their compositions. They were guided through the different materials, their range and use, and encouraged to continue to have sketchbook practice in their daily life in order to jot down ideas and to make sketches without thought of the outcome.
Painting still life.
Day two started with a simple demonstration on how to lay out a palette using a limited range of colours, the equipment and materials needed for oil painting and how to get started with an oil painting. Ann and I helped students prepare a ground for their paintings and showed them the beginnings of oil painting using the Alla Prima method. We both painted demonstrations alongside the students, offering help and tuition so each artist could finish their work by the end of the day.
It was such a joy to have access to the National Army Museum’s collection, the generosity of knowledge from their curators and staff, to paint within their beautiful space, be able to be inspired by the many artworks in their collection, and to soak up the atmosphere within the museum to inspire each of the artists work.
Here are some pictures of the weekend: