Gary’s Masterclass on Scamping Brought Back Memories from Childhood

“It’s the idea that makes them brilliant” – Gary, craft mentor extraordinaire, lectured last Wednesday morning. I unclenched my jaw and sighed with relief. 

When I first spotted the ‘Scamping & Drawing’ class on the SCA Calendar a few days before, memories of a childhood spent hating arts & crafts came racing back. Like a 16th century, Salem-born man who harbours a deep-seeded jealousy for his brilliant wife, adept in herbology, I’ve always been suspicious of proficient sketchers. I lack patience for activities that I do not consider myself to be naturally skilled in – a terrible weakness, I know. SCA is changing me for the better in this sense, too. Yet, old habits die hard, and I’m a stubborn narcissist at heart. Where others see a blank sheet of A4 and a biro as an opportunity to bring their dreams one step closer to reality by conjuring them into form, all I can see are my inability to: draw in a straight line, sketch simple shapes, use a ruler, hold a pen the right way, and cut anything neatly. Like I said, it takes me back to 2003, the year I finally gave up this tantalising dance with my own mediocrity and turned to the path of the hardened novelist (I was 6).  

“It’s the idea that makes them brilliant” – Garry reassured again, before taking out what looked like to me an enormous, unfillable, ridiculously large, sheet of white paper and divided us into two teams. I sheepishly made my way to join my team who promptly gathered round, we looked like eager ants surrounding a sugar cube. Armed with markers, Gary instructed us to draw anything that we associated with the term ‘ice cold’. The little hamster in my brain got on its wheel and started spinning away, working into movement one little cog at a time. While others dove in drawing whimsical drawings of penguins, igloos, tongues stuck to icicles, all I could think of was words – and they weren’t translating to images at all. One word associated with another at a good pace but any visual aid that came to mind was inconsequential because I couldn’t even begin to consider how I might render it. ‘I’m a beautiful mind limited by this flesh prison, curse my stubby stiff fingers’ I whined to myself. As I did, the sheet was already half full and all I had contributed was a crooked ice cube. My entire reputation is riding on this. Can’t think – must act scamp. 

The ice cube was a tough labour. For one, the angles of the cube, really all there is to drawing it, were totally disproportionate. To add insult to injury, there was already an ice cube on the page and it was WAY better than mine. I had to fight the urge to analyse my work as I made it, or worse, compare it to anyone else’s, and keep going. The fridge came next – half decent, at least you could guess what it was. Then, Gary pushed me a step further – ‘ok, now what would it look like if the freezer door was opened?’. OK, I have become Rambo and Eye of the Tiger is the soundtrack to my life. I make a smaller fridge with an open door; a few trays of ice are visible. My brain is starting to get lubricated – a narwhal, a skier, a bear, a cooler with beers in it, an ice fisher, an igloo, someone’s hand with a finger missing from frostbite, a fuzzy hat and mittens, a saber tooth tiger, a Woolly mammoth, all seamlessly follow. 

15 minutes fly by and our time is up. The other team returns to the room and we hang the sheets side by side, they had to draw words associated with Guinness. Oh, I get it now. Ice Cold Guinness. We come up with quick combinations after that as if it were easy – ‘what about if someone is ice fishing on a pint of Guinness? What about an igloo? A freezer shaped like Guinness, or maybe an ice lolly?’. 

What was my key take away from Gary’s masterclass and this exercise? If you forego judgement in the creative phase and you embrace ideas as they pour in, you are more likely to arrive to your desired outcome (or at least get close). On a fundamental level, I found this exercise of splitting concepts, associating images with words and finally marrying the visual language to sell a key message, in this case, ‘Ice Cold Guinness’, exceptionally useful. 

Needless to say, I have a new, profound appreciation for timed, quick sketching – it’s the idea that counts!


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