NPTC (Newtown) – Drawing Room Project

Thursday 15th September 2016

It's 10.30 am and I'm in the Art Department's Mac Room at NPTC's Newtown Campus delivering my presentation on Oriel Davies's (OD) Drawing Room Project to thirty-five students and four staff. On what, I am told, is one of the hottest days of the year, the room is sweltering. I talk for an hour, bombarding them with images of work from artists and designers, hoping to enthuse them in their task to create an object to place in OD's Drawing Room. The brief stipulates that the students must choose a famous person to base their object upon, so I also show pictures of a range of celebrities, some dead, some living, who are known for their eccentricities. Following Amber Knipe's talk to them explaining the project, everyone files out to their various studios.

Responses to the project are already in full swing. A wonderful still-life arrangement has been constructed in the Foundation Year studio - a kind of four-sided theatre set, with paisley-wallpaper, armchairs, pictures, an old wireless set, pot plants (did I see an aspidistra?) a chest of drawers and an odd assortment of mantelpiece knick-knacks. The students stand at easels making timed continuous-line ink drawings of the display using sticks and nibbed pens, while Carys, their tutor, calls out time-checks while playing their musical requests on the computer. Meanwhile, the Level 2 students, under Rob's careful tutelage, are doing spot welding. Responding to line-drawings that they had made earlier of toys, playing cards and board games, they are now re-interpreting them through wire. In the National Diploma's First Year studio, students are working in groups of twos and threes, brainstorming and mind-mapping their initial responses to the brief. After only a week into the course, they are already showing a willingness to cooperate and pool their resources. Mind-maps are also being employed in the Second Year studio, while some have already downloaded pictures and ideas from the internet directly inspired by the presentation.

I spend the afternoon speaking to each student in turn, delighted by the wealth of ideas that burst forth. A group of First Year NDs come up with the notion of a fish tank, with its interior made up to look like a miniature drawing room and filled with water. We can use fake fish! one of them exclaims, delighted by the prospect and showing me examples of them on her mobile phone. Three Second Year NDs are discussing the possibility of creating a Jack the Ripper desk. A kind of crime scene, they tell me, where the viewer has to open drawers and work it all out. There will be a desk light, one of those green ones, one says. We even discuss the possibility of filming it. Many want to align the project to their particular creative interests. A make-up artist talks about producing a series of 'family portraits' where the faces have been made-over with fake bruises, while a fledgling tattoo artist is already making a tiny scale-model of a table using dollar signs, á la Andy Warhol, for legs and topped with a cut-out tattoo needle. And a Foundation student, with a passion for Audrey Hepburn, wants to remake her telephone-in-a-suitcase from the film Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Just before leaving I return to the ND Second Year studio for one last look at the students' sketchbooks. One of them shows me a download from a website about famous writers' idiosyncrasies'. Look, she says, pointing at a paragraph headed 'Franz Kafka'. I scan the page. According to this website Franz Kafka, author of, most notably, Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial had a penchant for pineapple upside-down cake and as a reward for finishing a book would eat a whole one in one sitting. I shall have to read up on him, the student says, laughing.

A good day. And I leave abuzz with their enthusiasm, eager to see what they will create.

Ellen Bell

NPTC (Afan) – Drawing Room Project

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