The art room, decorated with paintings of animals and flowers and a charcoal drawing of Bob Marley, is immediately pleasing. It's just like being at school; there are little jars of chalk and felt-tips everywhere, Tupperware boxes of pastels of indeterminate colour, pots of paints and stuck together brushes, splodgy palettes, creaky easels, bits of bicycle, chipped vases and hopeless attempts at sculpture in institutional grey clay. Jak Rouse, the teacher, mostly paints floral watercolours but encourages people who come in to do whatever they feel.
"It's really letting go for some people," she said. "A lot of them really want to express themselves but feel they can't do it in words. It is very cathartic to pour it all out on to paper. It's a very personal thing." She uses a book by Betty Edwards, Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. "My aim is to provide the means for releasing artistic potential," writes Edwards. "For gaining access at a conscious level to your inventive, intuitive, imaginative powers that may have been largely untapped by our verbal, technological culture and educational system." With this in mind, I began.
I had been encouraged to use pastels, "because you can get a good effect quickly", and Jak has told me that self-portraiture is one of the best technical exercises. Painting oneself is a glaring request to be psychoanalysed. "You are obviously asking, `who am I?' in doing this," she says. I scribbled away for half-an-hour, wondering who exactly I am. Across the way, John Mattheson, aged 70, was painting Windermere from his imagination. "Windermere can be any colour," he said, smiling. Fatima Al-Aradi, 19, painted a teddy bear and worried about how to do his hat.
"Oh! Goodness!" exclaimed Jak looking over my shoulder. "Gosh! It's very rare to go straight to the mouth and eyes like that before doing the skin. Very rare. Their two functions are obviously what is important to you." I had only just started, and had already been branded a psychopath. "People always find out a lot about themselves when they paint," said Jak. "I had a widow here who painted her father and found it very revealing. Through the way she painted him, she said, she found out about herself."
Betty Edwards insists that "drawing is a magical ability". She sees everyone as "an individual with creative potential for expressing yourself through drawing." Who knows what Betty might have made of the severe, staring, red-faced me I had created, but Jak seemed understandably worried about my mental health. "Well," she said in resignation. "You've got a likeness."
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