Pastels and ukulele sing-alongs

pastel portrait demo by Rob Wareing, 2012

Saturday was a full day. I was collected at 9am to head over to the Chislehurst Arts group, where Rob Wareing was hosting his annual visit from South Africa portrait painting workshop. Rob focused on pastels, and spent about an hour doing a demo: me up on a high stool, sitting in my 1940s pink dress, with an intensely bright, hot light in my face.

I’d brought along my ukulele because after the day of modelling, I was heading over to my friend Rachael Black’s daughter’s 3rd birthday party, and I’d offered to do a little sing-along. (A fun side note: I met Rachael modelling for this portrait class two years ago, and we’ve been close friends ever since.)

The uke case (which people frequently mistake for a small violin) drew some amused attention, so Rob suggested I hold the instrument while he drew me. Much like my pose at the Atelier in Bruges, he actually ended up only sketching my face, so it didn’t matter what I was doing with my hands. (In Bruges, I started off carefully clasping my pink silk robe; two weeks in and my hands were in my lap, where I could move and stretch, because no one was painting them.)

When Ilaria del Turco painted me last autumn in Chelsea, and later heard that I played ukulele, she excitedly suggested we do a portrait of me with it – conjuring, for me, 1920s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ style nude/uke louche yet elegant poses. We’ve yet to do that, but it would be fun – and I’d love for gibson to be immortalised.

Holding gibson while Rob gave the demo was fascinating: usually my mind wanders in all kinds of directions when I pose, but because I only ever hold the uke to play it, holding it then meant all of the songs I know (about 20) floated up in my mind, and I was effectively playing without playing. Also, as Rob spoke, when his voice hit certain low notes, they thrummed through gibson, and it was a great challenge not to give her a strum.

pastel portrait by Joel Wareing, 2012

Rob’s son Joel, who teaches art classes as well, and is currently doing a Masters in painting, joined us for the day, and he was very pleased to get to work in pastels – he explained to me that his course is very technical and research-based, so he hasn’t had the chance to paint for awhile.

The room was comfortably full, with 16 people: 8 painted me, and 8 worked with Peter, a very cheerful fellow with an excellent tan, a bald head, and a prominent nose – offering a lovely contrast, for people to choose between me and him.

Later, at the birthday party, we sang ‘Wimoweh,’ ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’ ‘With a Little Help from my Friends,’ and ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’. I must say that I had brilliant vocal back-up; there was some real harmonising going on! (Despite the fact that I have the worst timing one could have with a musical instrument and still function.) So all in all, a great success.

The only tricky bit was that some of the sweet 3-year-olds at the party (including the birthday girl,) understandably wanted to have a go on the child-sized instrument, so I had to pack gibson quickly away and explain that next time, when I’ve got it back from France, they can bash on my Mahalo uke all they want.

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