Getting ready for the Autumn Term

It may be still only May but we’re already sorting out new dates for the Autumn and trying them out on our new website (Well it’s been 10 years with the old one so may’be it’s time for a change?) Anyway, click on the link for more information and remember if you’d like to chat to somebody you can call us on 0117-9396584 or email


One of the potential bonuses for anyone who turned up to the Sky Arts Den at The Podium in Bath, where I was running classes before Easter was the chance to win a £1000 prize from The Creative Fund to be spent on an art classes of his or her choice.  The lucky winner was Mike Plow, a volunteer coordinator based in the library who joined in for some of the sessions that I ran.  Mike rang me, completely out of the blue to tell me and has now signed up for some of my classes. here’s what he had to say.

In February 2011 I was fortunate to attend three of the taster sessions during my lunch hour which Will ran in the Sky Art Den (Bath Central Library) as part of the Literary Festival.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the creative side of art, and my creative streak has been awoken again. I believe this experience was only bettered by Will’s teaching style, the way he demonstrated techniques and  provided the support and guidance and encouragement in the right amounts.  To top this I have just been informed that I have won the Sky Arts Creative Fund which I entered at the festival, this now means I have the passion to proceed and a £1,000 prize fund to spend on creative courses of my choice, and I am looking forward to spending some of this with Will at his Manvers Street art courses on a Monday morning in Bath.  Thanks Will.

Many thanks to you too Mike!

Having a positive mindset

During the 80s Bill Murray made a film which I am sure a lot of you will have seen called Ground Hog Day in which his character, a cynical weatherman is made to live the same day over and over again until he finally wins the love of his assistant, played by the actress Andie McDowell.  It’s a great film, if you’ve watched it you’ll certainly never think of “I’ve got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher in quite the same way ever again but also because of the different ways in which Bill Murray explores the different aspects of his predicament.  He goes through confusion, periods of mad violence and licentious behaviour and even attempts suicide… is funny I promise you, before finally carrying of Andie McDowell in the closing stages of the film having mastered not only the ability to play Jazz piano but also Ice Sculpture!

It’s a seductive idea, that if you did ever find yourself trapped in a situation but with  bags of time then at least you can finally fulfil your ambition to learn all the new skills that you’d been putting off for years. I myself believe that it is possible to develop new abilities and that if you have the time, confidence and motivation as well as the benefit of the right advice it is indeed possible to learn all sorts of things to a reasonable level of competance, even Ice Sculpture! But am I right, or is it as the comedian W.C. Fields once put it “If at first you don’t suceed, give up! Only a damn fool keeps trying”

During the 70’s Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford university conducted an experiment to test just this. She began by taking a group of 150 students and after giving them a questionaire divided them into two groups according to their beliefs on ability, whether it is something that’s innate or something that can be aquired through practise. She then set them a series of puzzles, eight relatively simple ones followed by 4 that were much harder. This is what she found, as described in Matthew Syed’s book “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practise”

Dweck described the students in the fixed mindset group when they came up against the tough puzzles: “Maybe the most striking thing about this group was how quickly they began to denigrate their abilities and blame their intelligence for the failures, saying things like ‘I guess I am not very smart’, ‘I never did have a good memory’ and ‘I’m no good at things like this’.

“Two-thirds of them showed a clear deterioration in their strategies, and more than half lapsed into completely ineffective strategies. In short, the majority of students in this group abandoned, or became incapable of deploying the effective strategies they actually had in their repertoire.” And the kids with the growth mindset? Dweck said: “We saw that the students in the fixed mindset group blamed their intelligence when they hit failure. What did the students in the growth mindset group blame when they hit failure? The answer, which surprised us, was that they did not blame anything. They didn’t focus on reasons for the failures. In fact, they didn’t even consider themselves to be failing.

“How did they perform? In line with their optimism, more than 80% maintained or improved the quality of their strategies during the difficult problems. A full quarter of the group actually improved. They taught themselves new and more sophisticated strategies for addressing the new and more difficult problems. A few of them even solved the problems that were supposedly beyond them.”

“These results are not limited to youngsters; they have been replicated with university students, sportsmen, business leaders, and even systems engineers at Nasa. The growth mindset not only predicts motivation and performance highlights but other key indicators, too.”

Matthew Syed is the author of Bounce: the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (Fourth Estate, rrp £8.99).

The Sky Arts Den

I was recently invited to the Bath Literary festival to run a series of free art classes at the Community Room in the Podium. This was for the Sky Arts Den, actually organised by RPM marketing for Sky, a series of free workshops and performances that is currently touring arts festivals the length and breadth of the U.K.

It was good fun.  Normally when I run art classes for myself I like to spend a bit of time chatting to potential customers so they know exactly what they are getting before they arrive.  With this sort of event anything could happen.  People could wander in or wander off if they so desired. In these sort of situations I always feel that the most important thing to remember is that no matter what the format it’s all about talking to people and trying to help them as much as you can.  If you can remember that then any nerves tend to vanish.

I was also involved in running some outdoor busking sessions sketching portraits of passers by outside the Abbey and Podium shopping centre.  You have no idea how strange it was inscribing the portrait of the gentleman below, an Italian Man “To Leonardo, best wishes Will Stevens”

It was also hugely enjoyable getting to meet some of the other performers and tutors in the “green room” Now, thanks to the Natural Theatre Company I know how to put on a fake beard and for my weekday sessions I always had a lovely introduction from Gavin of Opera Playhouse.  See photo.

Anyway, It was a good chance to meet lots of new people, some of who are going to be coming along to the next set of classes that I will be running in Bath at Manvers St Baptist Church.  For details of all the classes that I will be running don’t forget to check out my main website,

Art Lessons for Primary School Teachers


I’ve noticed over the years of running art classes in Bristol and Bath that there has been a small trend (i.e. several times a year, if not exactly a flood )   of  teachers getting in touch with me asking for drawing and painting tuition.

Being a teacher at any level is tough.  I know I’d certainly rather teach at Primary level than Secondary.   (If somebody was throwing something at me I think I’d stand a better chance of fighting back if they were toddlers rather than burly teenagers………………..just kidding!! ) But I think the problem at primary level is surely connected with having to be a generalist, knowing a certain amount about a wide range of subjects and there is nothing that seems to strike fear into the heart of teachers quite as much as having to get up in front of a class and draw a diagram on a blackboard if  in your heart of hearts you feel that it’s something that you’re “rubbish at”

I’ve had a fair bit of success here with teachers being told by their pupils that “it’s great to have someone who can teach us who is good at art Miss!”  and I’d really love to do more targetted stuff, may’be for small groups of teachers. So if any of this strikes a chord or otherwise interests you get in touch.

July 2008 Painting Holiday


So, I’ve finally got around to uploading some of the best of the snaps from my recent painting holiday in July in Auribeau. Yet again it was a great trip with everyone enjoying the beautiful weather and great food making new friends and painting out of doors for the very first time.   As I sit here looking at the bucket of water in our back garden with it’s crisp coating of ice at the beginning of 2009 it all seems a long way away.  A lot of the people who came on the two 2008 trips have expressed an interest in coming back which is great but can I persuade anybody new to come along given that the fall of the pound relative to the Euro would make everything 50% more expensive this year compared to last?  Perhaps these photos will help to convince some of you…..

Teaching art to kids (Some of my experiences)

The classes that I run are really intended for adults rather than kids but I do sometimes bend the rules a little and allow children and teenagers to attend.  (There’s not really much provision for talented children in Bristol and Bath, apparently)  What I usually do is get them to come along for a trial session and have a chat with their mum or dad afterwards before deciding to continue.  I’ve had quite a few home schooled kids in the area attending recently which was quite interesting for me as it’s something  that I didn’t really know much about.

In general I  find that one or two kids in the art class blend in quite well and gain from the experience of learning alongside adults but you do have to be careful if you’re a parent to make sure that your offspring aren’t too worn out from school. One over-enthusiastic parent insisted on taking his child to an after school martial arts club on the same evening as the art class.  No wonder he always looked so tired.   Once during a portrait drawing project he turned up late  so I found that I  had to quickly explain to him how to rough out the basic shapes by what’s called blocking in.  Blocking in is a way of working where you build up a kind of scaffolding using shapes like ovals and rectangles until you get the basic proportions established before going back over it again a second time and adding the details   “A bit like a robot?” he said. “That kind of thing” I said in return.  A little later on I could see he had drawn a beautiful lower body,  certainly much better than I could have done at his age but on the top was a fantastic robot head- including antenae and dials!  I know he could have just misunderstood what I was asking him to do but judging from the the wry expression on his face I think not!  I’d have loved to have kept the drawing.

More recollections of school…

I was recently talking to Helen, the secretary at Cairn’s rd Baptist church where I run an art class about experiences of art at school.  (I’ve already written at some length about this sort of thing in a previous post but this is such a classic example of the sort of wrongheaded and discouraging things that art teachers say at school that I though it merited a post in it’s own right.) Anyway Helen, aged 6 or 7 was drawing a picture of , I believe, a rose when the teacher held it up to the class and said “Class, this is an example of how not to do it”.  I was slack jawed with disbelief when I heard that one I can tell you.  At that age what on earth does it matter what it looks like and, anyway surely there’s a better way of doing it than holding it up in front of the whole class.   Inevitably after that Helen decided that she was “no good at art” and didn’t really  take any interest in the subject after that.


I was quite amused in the class this week by something somebody told me who used to teach hair dressing.  We were practising some colour mixing and I was showing how colours can cancel each other out when mixed together, depending on the proportions mixed.  Generally they need to be complementary pairs: red-green, blue-orange and yellow-violet.  Apparently it’s the same in hair dressing where too much of a copper tone can be corrected by adding ash colour.  I was discussing this with a group this morning and somebody told me how they’d had a haircut that had gone badly wrong where her hair had gone very yellow.  This had been corrected by adding a blue which horrified her initially but turned out to be just the thing needed to restore her hair to it’s proper colour.  I would have thought she would have ended up with green hair so it must’ve been an orangey tint and not a yellow one. (Complementary colours cancel each other out.) Unless there’s some weird magic in  hairdressing that I know little about…..