Artist Fay Ballard is leading a weekly creative workshop with dialysis patients at Hammersmith Hospital. She is writing a weekly blog in response to her experiences.
Michael was sitting in bed reading the paper when I arrived this morning and we enjoyed a lively conversation about the general election, exchanging views on the prospective candidates and Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing technique. Michael was keen to work; would he like to paint the underlay drawing of the beach scene he’d chosen or learn to draw in perspective, a request he’d made last week?
Keen to master drawing skills in order to create convincing realistic images, we began by looking around the ward and finding our eye level. From this level, we searched for the angles of the perspectival lines coming towards us on the handrails, the beds, the soap dispensers and the ladies’ toilet sign; could we measure these angles roughly? Next, we looked at foreshortening; the handrail was actually about three metres long but looked about the size of my hand from our position. Then I stood some distance away and asked Michael to outstretch his arm and measure on his pencil the size of the jar of paint held in my hand. It was tiny. Moving towards him, could he measure the jar again, and again, as I moved closer in. See how the jar becomes larger as it comes nearer you?
Building on these observations, we placed a small rectangular box containing plastic gloves on Michael’s bedside table and set to work with paper, pencils and rubbers. First, Michael made a vertical line corresponding to the box’s nearest edge and then calculated the angles for its three horizontal lines in view. This took some time and many attempts. Next, we calculated the height of the box in proportion to its depth by using the outstretched arm and pencil technique. Surprisingly, it was higher than longer because of the foreshortening; our eyes were trying to trick us into thinking that the rectangular shape, roughly the dimensions of a box of tissues, should be longer.
We repeated the exercise a few more times to grasp the concepts and rules. After working continuously for two hours, Michael decided he was done for the day. He placed the drawings in his bag hoping to practice this week. That was a difficult session he said, and I replied that perspectival drawing was one of the hardest exercises to master, recalling my student days spending weeks on the subject. As I cleared up, we returned to politics and Arthur Scargill, the former President of the National Union of Mineworkers, popped up in the conversation. Did he know that Scargill had selected the Mona Lisa as his luxury item when castaway on Desert Island Discs?
Michael introduced me to John, a patient nearby who had been looking at us working away. Perhaps we could talk next week?
Olive was awake and we took great delight in talking about Elijah, her baby grandson, who had put on weight and was settling well into this world.
Akos was awake too and looked rested. We struck up a brief conversation as the porter came to fetch her. Had she been completing the sudoku puzzles? Smiling, she replied not, she’d been sleeping most of the time, thankfully.
I hoped Chantelle had been able to use the paint box and sponges to continue experimenting with watercolour whilst I’d been with Michael and went to find her on Peters Ward as the time approached one o’clock. She’d enjoyed using the sponges very much and would like to spend time together next week building knowledge. I should wake her.
To my delight, I found Thereisa in the bed next to Chantelle and asked where she’d been last Wednesday morning. Very keen to paint on ceramics but too poorly today, we realised to our disappointment that she was on the afternoon and not the morning shift. We’d first met during the brief crossover period at lunchtime.
How could Thereisa paint on ceramics every Wednesday afternoon and fulfil her wish?