If I were to celebrate one person who has been a personal art mentor, teacher, coach and fierce believer in what I do and has since, more recently, become one of my closest friends, supporting me beyond my art, clearly it would have to be Jo Harris. Founder of Henley School of Art, Jo has become Henley’s top creative, providing the most inspiring creative classes and workshops, and gathering a community of likeminded souls who find pure joy in what she offers through her school.
We have tremendous fun in her classes, and I want you to find out more about this amazing artist, so asked her a couple of questions…
When did you start Henley School of Art and what was the founding dream?
I started the Art School 9 years ago as a small unguided Life Drawing group. I did it purely because I’d moved to the area and there were no Life Drawing groups in the area and I wanted to keep my own practice up. The sessions grew as did the desire for people to learn more about Life Drawing and it became obvious that I needed to provide classes as well as the unguided sessions. I had experience teaching so I set classes up too. I soon grew out of the village hall I was teaching from, so I had to look for a permanent studio. What happened then was that I found the most idyllic space in the heart of Henley and I knew I had to take it. The rent was far more than I had a budget for and I knew the only way I could take this studio on was to incorporate other tutors and make the space an Art School, instead of just focusing on Life Drawing. And so, quite by accident I founded the Henley School of Art!‘
What are you working on at the moment?
‘I’ve recently rediscovered a passion for collage making. My usual work involves drawing using pencil, charcoal, pastels, ink etc. So cutting things out and re-assembling them feels pretty different and quite exciting! I’m planning an exhibition in summer so I need to get a good body of work together. I’m making a small collection of collage work which is keeping me very happy!’
What do you love about teaching life drawing and why have you chosen this form of art as your main practice?
‘Life drawing is the basis, the ground stone for all drawing practice. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Fine Artist, an Architect or designer – having Life Drawing as one of your skills is pretty crucial. If you can draw the human figure – if you can understand the proportions, the perspective, the tone and the lights and darks – then there really is almost nothing in the world that you won’t be able to draw.’
‘I love teaching it because people start a course off wanting so badly to be able to do it, but find it incredibly difficult. Then I watch the confidence grow over the weeks and things that they thought were impossible become second nature to them – it’s incredibly satisfying. I also just love passing the drawing bug on – the insatiable need to draw people, with or without clothes!’
And what’s next for Henley School of Art?
‘Unfortunately my beloved little Art School took a terrible bashing thanks to all the lockdowns. With rent and salaries to pay and no students coming in for nearly 2 years, in the end something had to give. So my beloved studio in the heart of the town unfortunately is no more as of the end of this month.‘
‘But, it’s not all doom and gloom! I’ll be continuing in our online form - the plan is to make that even stronger and to offer more and more online content. In the meantime I’m scouting out local venues, barns and studios with the intention of finding a new teaching space. It also gives me the chance to offer private tutoring and do a spot of freelance teaching at other, glorious Art Schools in the area.’
‘More importantly on a personal note, it gives me the opportunity to concentrate a little more on my own artistic practice as an Illustrator. Running the school on my own was a massive endeavour and as a result I never really got a chance to do my own work – I’m looking forward to getting some momentum going in that area again!’
To find out about Jo’s incredible online classes (seriously the best there is, she manages to get the best, most diverse International life models) and to join future workshops, visit www.henleyschoolofart she’s treating us to the fabulous Trixie Divine tonight, and then spoiling us with Miguel de Souza on the 21st April, the list is endless and not to be missed, go and check them out!
For me personally, I have another story for you that features Jo‘s fabulous school and how far I’ve grown with my art through attending the Henley School of Art which includes a TV appearance and an Art College acceptance, both of which will be saved for posts nearer the time... all exciting stuff for sure!
For now, I hope you’ve managed to have a lovely Easter and spent precious time with loved ones x