Chris Alexander devoted his life to drawing and painting, and to teaching adults and art school students in Margate and Canterbury the skills he had perfected. He was a very fine teacher, dedicated, amusing, thorough, with high expectations that people responded to. He taught four of his five sons to draw and paint, and (speaking from personal experience) I can say that he knew how to give a student just enough information to resolve the particular challenge in hand, without complicating the explanation. Here are some accounts offered by some of his students of a man who was a popular, ‘stellar’ teacher, fondly remembered by everyone he taught.
1. ‘The man who taught me to draw.’ by Lydia Thornley – designer
‘[Drawing with] boot polish [!?] Chris Alexander was bold in his choice of media but until I went to the exhibition at the lovely Mine Gallery [Carshalton, 2013] I had never even thought of making marks with it…*
Chris Alexander, artist and Foundation tutor at Canterbury College of Art [now UCA], brought style, wit and a memorable no-messing sensibility to the job of teaching life drawing. And decades later, I remember these things:
- How would your figure walk off the page?
- Never start a drawing in the corner of a piece of paper (It’ll fall off the opposite corner).
- A good portrait study has a subtle element of caricature.
- Understand how a body articulates.
- If the person you’re drawing is moving, be patient, people tend to return to the same position.
- Don’t make scumble drawings – do a confident line.
Chris [who would now be 88] is, sadly, no longer with us, but getting to the Mine Gallery exhibition on its last day I was reminded what a stellar draughtsman he was….And how important, and difficult, drawing is.’
(Quoted with thanks from the website: www.thornley.co.uk)
* The boot polish portrait (of a portly man) is on page 74 in the Christopher Alexander book, and a section of it features in the carousel of images on the home page of this website. The technique, which he used on other occasions involves boot polish, a rag to smudge it on, shiny paper, matchsticks to put the dark highlights in and a sharp stick to scratch out the white highlights. Tempted to have a go? Why not? There are two more examples of his use of this technique on the experimental studies page of this website.
2. ‘His Friday night demonstrations were unforgettable; one particularly stands out of a full-size oil painting of a laughing girl, where he kept her, and us, laughing for more than two hours so that he could catch her lively face.
And then his spectacular skeleton one where he drew the skeleton, then gradually built up muscles, sinew, fat, until it became a whole human being. He talked the whole time, explaining muscles (etc.) so it was an anatomy lesson, and also a lesson in building up tone and volumes.’
If you were taught by Chris Alexander and would like to share your memories of his classes, contact Steven Alexander via the contact page on this website.