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In Conversation with artists Eureka and Thea Bates

We speak with Convent tenant and artist Eureka and Thea Bates about the return of their art school this autumn. Join their two-day class next week, 27 – 29 April, for an all-encompassing artistic experience, from collecting and making your own ‘bespoke brushes’ to creating original works with life drawing classes and more. Eureka and Thea will have you saying, ‘I am an artist!’

Art Summer School 2017 in January was a big success. Are you hoping to see some returning students further develop their skills in autumn?

Certainly. Some of our summer students were very keen to know when the next seasonal art school would be as they wanted to keep building on the experiences they had with us.

The workshop runs for three consecutive days. What kind of development do you see in some of your students over that period of time?

We love to see people who are a bit tentative about their ability take the plunge and jump right in. We offer a combination of the exquisite surroundings and environment of the Convent, together with a suite of techniques to support people to make art they will love and come back for more. We are also happy to work with experienced artists to consolidate or extend an aspect of their practice.

Do you focus on drawing exclusively, or are students encouraged to try other mediums?

Drawing is the first kind of mark that a child intentionally makes. Remember when you drew with your food on the highchair table? Drawing is our ordinary everyday form of expression (only eclipsed these days by the computer). However, we entice people to draw with handmade tools, for which we will source the raw materials during our first walk around the convent. These may be twigs, sticks, leaves or bark, for example. Or we might encourage people to use recycled materials to make beautiful and interesting marks.

Then we make ‘bespoke brushes’, using some of those gathered materials to paint with in the life drawing sessions or from their own inspirations. For life drawing we provide basic materials, but people are welcome to work with any hands-on medium they choose.

Who are the classes developed for in regard to skillsets? Is it for those who want to reconnect with their artistic side, or people who have existing artistic experience?

Both. As experienced teachers, together we have a truckload of information and expertise to share with participants. We can take a ‘newbie’ and get them feeling confident and courageous to try new things – equally with experienced artists who are looking perhaps to find more freedom in their art.

The open studio community model of our art schools means that everyone shares with and shows their work to others for support and encouragement too. Also, we both have extensive experience working in community engagement that underpins our work all the time. We are building an art making community where everyone feels free to create their best work.

What are some of the most important things you remind all of your students, regardless of their experience or skillset?

Love what you do. Give it a go. Rip it up and start again. It’s all practice. Try all sorts of techniques and subject matter, particularly if you are nervous. And remember there is no such thing as ‘getting it right’. ‘Getting it right ‘is such a subjective thing. Right for you might be boring for me, and so on.

That said, there are all kinds of things to learn whether it’s about perspective, how to look at a life drawing model and place them in the space on your page, understanding the elements of design or how to mix colours to name a few.

What can students expect to discover about themselves as artists over the three days?

That’s a great question. We like to think that they will find confidence to say, ‘I am an artist’. It takes courage to be so bold, and it takes patience to attempt things we may never have done before, such as drawing the incredible ceiling in the Chapel, or drawing live models. Some people are very comfortable with these things but love the challenge of making better compositions, using the materials differently or asking their peers for feedback.

The Abbotsford Convent is filled with interesting and unusual spaces to paint, especially with the changing colours of autumn. Will students get to explore the grounds for inspiration?

Absolutely. On the first morning Eureka will share his intimate knowledge and love of this place; knowledge he has gathered since taking up a studio. As we walk around, Thea will be alerting people to the hidden and not so hidden treasures of the gardens, so rich with inspiration!

Eureka, you’re a tenant here. Do you have a favourite place to visit here when needing some inspiration? Apart from Cam’s Kiosk.

Apart from my studio with its amazing views, I would have to say the cloister of the old Convent. It resonates with my knowledge of both Christian and art history and it contains Cam’s Kiosk (best coffee in Melbourne), the Salon rooms are opposite where we are holding Art Autumn School, and they are joined by an amazing corridor with tessellated tiles. The fourth side is a lovely garden.

You both have long-standing experience as art teachers. How do you complement each other as a team?

What we have in common is our love of helping people find their inner artist and the joy and freedom that comes with making art as your favourite form of self-expression. We have a similar love of textures and free form mark making, together with a passion for exploring new and interesting subject matter, materials and approaches. We are very adaptable, can find where an individual’s starting point is and then work with them to build their skills and courage. That’s where the experience counts.

Thea’s art practice is grounded in the natural environment; Eureka brings an international perspective with his recent art residencies in Berlin and Venice.

Do you plan to host more classes at the Convent?

Having run Art Summer School 2017 in the Ironing Room and now Art Autumn School 2017 coming up in the Salon, there is a huge desire to complete a ‘Seasonal at School Series 2017’ here. Art Winter School 2017 will be in August and Art Spring School 2017 will be in November. To do them all here would be just perfect.

What other projects are you two working on for 2017?

Eureka is heading to Toronto in June for a residency focussed on contemporary art and the body. We are exploring one-day workshops in interesting settings around Melbourne, and maybe in country settings such as Mirboo North and Castlemaine.