The human body is a very interesting and beautiful thing … also, the sense of discovering the joy of drawing.
Dianne Gameson is an Art Director. She is a practising artist and tutor for the U3APP course, “Portrait, Costume and Life Drawing.”
Di has been involved with U3APP over the past 14 years. She managed catering for events for ten years, including the annual Christmas Party, and took on the role of Events manager whilst on the Committee in 2022. Di has organised exhibitions and also worked on the book launch for, ‘The Story of U3A Port Phillip and its people 2003 to 2021.’
Di became involved with U3APP through her relationship with Ed Canning who at that time was the President of U3APP. He was also responsible for the Newsletter.
When she retired from her position as Lecturer at RMIT, Ed Canning suggested that she teach art at U3APP. This appealed to Di, as having worked for many years in the advertising industry, she had turned to teaching later in her career.
“I then decided that I would teach life drawing, I could see that this would work well.”
Why did you think life drawing would work well at U3APP? “I was originally intending to teach a subject called Visual Language, having taught this at RMIT. However, such a course requires absolute, regular attendance. One thing led to another …”I am passionate about life drawing and a life drawing course at U3APP would suit a combination of experienced artists and beginners, at differing levels of drawing skills.”
When did you first start to notice that you were interested in drawing? “Always, always, even as a small child, I always liked to draw.” Di laughed as she explained that sometimes her fascination with drawing, ”got me into trouble.” She would sit at the back of the class in primary school, drawing a bride or a teddy bear, or a horse, instead of paying attention to the lesson and getting on with her work. Her classmates would ask her to draw something for them, so she did!
“I discovered my love of drawing, by myself. I was asthmatic, so I spent a lot of time in bed or just sitting down. I read a lot and I drew a lot, it was pretty much something to pass the time. It helped me to express myself. If I had thoughts, I could draw them.”
What did you use to draw with? “In those days paper was a bit of a luxury, I was given paper, but I used to sometimes draw in the flyleaf of books. I used mostly pencils, later on I had coloured pencils and paints.” Di spent most of her childhood in Melbourne (Caulfield).
She continued to develop her drawing skills at secondary school and decided that she wanted to go to art college. “I knew from the age of twelve that’s what I wanted to do. My parents were a little bit unhappy about it, given that it was a 4 year diploma, back in the 50s,” but they supported her decision.
Di pursued her studies further, completing four years in Design and Illustration at Swinburne Institute of Technology. This enabled her to pursue a career as an Art Director in advertising. She graduated in 1963.
Di’s first employment was with McCann Erickson, an advertising agency. This was prior to the advent of computers. However due to work practices at that time, Di, being the only female art director, was required “to empty the paint water, make the tea, oh well, I was a girl!” She was given small jobs, “TAA (Trans Australia Airlines) was one of our accounts, but mostly, I was there to make the tea and do odd jobs, so I lasted 6 months.”
Di moved on to work at John Clemenger Advertising, an advertising agency where “I had a wonderful boss, I was treated as an art director there.” An art director is required to ”work with a copywriter and come up with an idea. I would have to dream up concepts for advertising material for press and magazine ads, billboards, point of sale material and more.”
What were some of the highlights of your work there? “It was a very creative period in the advertising industry. My job was to work with photographers and filmmakers, illustrators. It was your job to choose the style of the illustration or photography required for the job, for instance. It all depended on the creative brief you were given, I was very design oriented, I knew what would work in a visual sense.”
There were no computers, “everything had to be drawn. Once the concept is drawn, further decisions need to be made. Will it be photographed, or illustrated, what publication will it be in, how much money do we have to spend, for instance.”
Can you give an example? Well, we may have a gorgeous model in a swimsuit, but we can’t afford to fly to the Bahamas, that sort of thing. There was much cigarette advertising in those days, they had big budgets.”
Di reflects, “I loved it, loved the people I was working with.” Peter Carey, Murray Bail, now writers, Brett Whitely, Ken Done, now artists, worked in the advertising industry. Filmmaker Fred Schepisi made many commercials before going into the mainstream film industry. They needed to earn a living. In a way, they were frustrated artists, also some musicians, who needed the work.”
In 1965, Peter Clemenger arranged for Di to work for their counterpart agency in London, then London Press Exchange which later became BBDO, a global agency.
What was it like living in England at that time? “It was the ‘sixties,’ nothing like it. Everything, the music scene, the clothes, the fact that I was working with all these exciting people.”
Di commenced a relationship with a fellow art director. They married in England, then two years later moved to Australia, whilst continuing to work at Clemenger. They went back to England 3 years later, where Di gave birth to her son. However, “we ended up coming back to Australia.” Di worked for a total of 4 years in London.
Di’s son has Down Syndrome and is also deaf. He was cared for in a care home due to the severity of his disabilities. Di had and continues to have an active role in his life. She had two daughters before finally separating from her husband, some years later.
Di had started up her own business in design and illustration, working from home, whilst caring for her children. Her work included ‘storyboards’ for commercial advertising or for film companies.
What is a storyboard? “For instance, you would be given the script for a commercial. You would illustrate the action frame by frame for approval by your client. It’s almost like a comic book, with images and details of the angles the film would be shot from, the progressions and so forth. The film company would then use the storyboard as a guide for shooting the film. Now of course, computers do this.”
Di received a commission with Grant and Mary Featherstone, furniture and exhibition designers. She produced a series of drawings for a ‘Babies’ exhibition for the Children’s Hospital, featuring the first week of a child’s life. This was “quite a prestigious job.”
Di had also started to paint, influenced by Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, Robert Jacks and others. She executed a series of large abstract paintings on commission for clients in the fields of design, advertising, and film.
In the 1990s, Di decided to change direction and became a sessional lecturer in Art Direction. ”By this time, I’m in my 50s, a bit too old for the advertising industry.” She had been invited to give a lecture at Swinburne University. Encouraged by the positive feedback, “I thought, I think I can do this. I had not considered teaching before, it was something that just crossed my path.” Di went on to do sessional work also at RMIT University, Monash University and TAFE colleges, also, before going on staff at RMIT.
During her time as lecturer at RMIT, Di also taught in a Bridging Program in Singapore for 5 years, held in the summer break between semesters. She continued to run the program in Melbourne for a further two years, at the faculty of Creative Advertising.
Di has also worked within the court system in Melbourne for the Nine Television Network, “drawing criminals in court, as they were not permitted to be photographed.” They were mostly “petty, drug related crimes, it was a bit depressing, in a way.”
In what way has the advent of computers changed the role of an art director? “I never worked with computers when I was an art director, but generally the slow progression away from manual skills has taken some of the freshness and individuality out of the creative process. Artificial intelligence is now becoming more commonplace in the industry.”
In further discussion, Di considers that whilst it is too early to know, “we will lose creativity, we would become too reliant on something else, doing it for us.”
Let’s talk about your art class at U3APP: Di had kept up life drawing for years after leaving Swinburne. More recently, she had the good fortune to attend the class of a very gifted teacher, Yvonne Audette, an Australian abstract expressionist painter. The National Art Gallery and other well-known galleries have collections of Audette’s work.
Di felt inspired to start a class in life drawing, which is basically “drawing a nude figure.” This is possibly unique to U3A in Melbourne. Each Tuesday, “we close the door, we pull down all the blinds, we have a professional model, and we draw the figure, either male or female.” Some of the students have been coming for a long time. “I have a very loyal group of students.”
Di teaches the class a number of the techniques she acquired from Yvonne Audette. She also teaches anatomy. “You can draw an outline of a figure, but you also need to learn about the bones, the muscles, the way they function.”
Di explains this further, “In other words, we all have preconceived ideas of what people look like, we are fascinated by people. But you have to put that aside and consider and also be amazed at the way that muscle works when that arm goes up … that sort of thing.”
At the commencement of each class, Di talks about various aspects relevant to life drawing. They draw only in charcoal. The class is a mixture of experienced artists and beginners. “There are people who have never picked up a piece of charcoal before, which is wonderful. Everyone learns from everyone else.”
Di has a list of models she has used over the years, obtained from the Life Models Society and a number of websites. Some models have had training, “but anyone can be a life model, they come from all walks of life, many are students.” They are paid $50 an hour. All outlay costs are paid for by class members.
Portrait, Costume and Life Drawing, which costumes are worn? “Well, this is really drawing a clothed figure. I also teach portraiture. Basically, we draw each other.”
So, no actual costumes? “No. During Covid -19 we were not able to use life models, so we drew models or each other, in clothes!”
What aspects do you think your students may value the most, and have gained from your influence, over the past 14 years? “I think I have managed to share with them my appreciation of drawing the human body. Once you get over some initial discomfort, there comes the realisation that a person’s body is a beautiful thing. Young, old, fat, thin, it doesn’t matter. The human body is a very interesting and beautiful thing … also, the sense of discovering the joy of drawing. Anyone can join the class, experience is not needed. They are a very close knit group.”
Exhibitions of your work? Di exhibits mostly at the Gasworks Art Park. In November 2023, she will be having her 5th exhibition there, showing also with Linda Condon, (art tutor, U3APP). Di has also exhibited in various group exhibitions in Melbourne and Ballarat.
Di acknowledges that the opening of an exhibition can evoke “a feeling of trepidation, how will my work be viewed? But I sell a lot of my work, so it must have some appeal. I don’t ask ridiculous prices, the fact that it is on someone’s wall makes me happy.”
Interestingly, Di’s very first exhibition was of landscapes following a visit to the Kimberley, WA. “But my love of drawing and life drawing skills led on to my next 3 exhibitions which were of abstract nudes.” However, the exhibition in November 2023 at the Gasworks Art Park, will feature Di’s landscape paintings.
The impact of art on your life generally? “It is pivotal, it is a very important part of my life.” Di has her own studio. She is comfortable spending time alone, painting and drawing, her partner having recently passed away.
Earlier this year, Di travelled to London and Paris with her two adult grandchildren. They visited a number of galleries. “When I travel, visiting various galleries is the highlight,” whether this be in London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, or smaller, less well known galleries. Di appreciates modern art, Brett Whiteley for instance, “his drawings of nudes have inspired me.”
So, where to from here? “ I have no big plans. I will continue teaching. I enjoy it, the class enjoys it”. Di is a member of U3APP’s Ken Letts’ French class. She enjoys playing tennis, singing in a choir. She especially enjoys drawing with a group of friends, perhaps at someone’s studio.
Di surmises, “I have had a wonderful life. I have been lucky in the way that things just came my way.” These fortunate circumstances have inspired and motivated Di to share her skills and love of life drawing with others. U3APP has facilitated these classes, albeit behind closed blinds and windows.
From an early age, afflicted with asthma, Di discovered the joy of drawing by herself. She has willingly shared her love of art with others.
Felicity May interviewed Di Gameson