Drawing on my life-long love

Angela Birchall

7/4/20244 min read

I’m delighted to be showcasing a selection of my work at the ArtHouse Gallery as Southport Contemporary Arts’ “Artist of the Month” for July.

The trio I have chosen represent my life-long love of drawing and my favourite drawing media of pencil, soft pastel and tinted charcoal pencils.

It’s nearly half a century ago that a truly inspirational, Royal Academy-trained artist taught me to draw and paint when I was a teenage student at the art school he founded in Rhodesia. He instilled in me a love of creating art and taught me a myriad of techniques for being able to turn those ideas into finished artworks. For that I am truly grateful, as are so many art students to whom I have passed on his knowledge.

This began when I was doing my first degree which was a Bachelor of Education (Hons) subject specialist in Art and Design. We had to do various periods of teaching practices in secondary schools in the area and I came across so many pupils who had become convinced that they would never be able to draw anything.

Suddenly I had delighted pupils realising that they could draw after all!

In those days I wasn’t an experienced art teacher so I automatically fell back on using the techniques that I had been taught in learning how to draw. They worked! Suddenly I had delighted pupils realising that they could draw after all.

That, in turn, led me to use the theme of how to teach drawing as the topic for my teaching dissertation. I began to study why the techniques I had been taught and which I had now started using in my own teaching practices actually worked. I knew they did work, I just needed to find out why they worked.

I knew that the way I had been taught to draw enabled me to truly “see” and record any subject in any drawing media, but why? By researching it for my dissertation I discovered that it is the finest way to switch from working in the stereotypical thought processes of the left hemisphere of the brain into working in the creative right hemisphere thought processes. I also discovered that not everyone was as fortunate as I was in their art tuition.

I still vividly remember when putting up my final year degree show one of my tutors flicking through some of my sketch books and asking: “Who taught you to draw like this, Angela? No one teaches drawing like this any more. More’s the pity!”

I was taught to draw properly and that, in turn, led me to studying how this could help anyone switch onto working in the thought processes of the creative right hemisphere of the brain. That, too, has become a topic of lifelong fascination.

Small wonder then the importance in which I hold drawing as a crucial tool for all my artwork, and the reason I chose to focus on it for my current display of work as the SCA’s Artist of the Month for July 2024.

The display has a trio of works so I chose one from each of my three favourite drawing media: pencil, soft pastel and tinted charcoal.

My pencil drawing is “Strength and Grace” showing the ballerina performing on stage to her appreciative audience. You view the event from the wings so you feel much more involved. The play of dark shadows next to the dancer’s pure white costume uses the technique of "chiaroscuro" (light-dark) to add a sense of drama.

This picture also takes me back to my teenage days at art school because we were taught figure drawing as we headed for our O’level and A’level art exams so I have always loved drawing the human figure. It also started off my unending admiration for the work of Leonardo Da Vinci as I used his books on anatomy in order to really learn the bones and muscles of the human figure.

The soft pastel drawing I have included in the trio is “Resting,” and here the drama is created by the subject – a graveyard – and a soft, muted colour palette depicting the last rays of the sun flickering through the trees and hitting the edges of the gravestones and tombs.

It’s an amalgamation of images from Highgate Cemetery and when I saw the light playing on the folds of the figure’s garment, I just couldn’t resist portraying it.

I love working in soft pastel because of the subtle ways the colours can be blended to create various effects, including fur and feathers, and it is why most of my commissioned pet portraits have been done in soft pastel. Animals are a joy to have around you so I’m always delighted and honoured to be asked to create portraits of special pets for my patrons. Thus that had to be the theme of my third picture, but this time I focused on just one aspect of a pet – the eye – and instead of soft pastels, I drew it in tinted charcoal pencils.

To create this larger-than-life-size image of a cat’s eye necessitates really focusing in on the details that one doesn’t normally notice; it is a classic example of the precision that drawing demands and is what makes it the foundation of all my 2D work.

The trio will be on display throughout July and, because it is in the side window of the ArtHouse Gallery, it means it’s literally on display 24/7 as it can even be seen when the gallery on Eastbank Street in Southport is closed. All works are for sale.