When I was a kid, I used to watch a programme called Paint Along with Nancy. Nancy was a female version of Bob Ross, but with none of the charming or soothing elements. Instead of a tight boom mic perm and gentle babbling about liddle iddle trees, Nancy had a voice like a strangled cat and used an endless amount of toilet roll, which she would merrily wipe her brush on while she created wretched paintings of melted vases or muddy brown scenery. Nobody seemed to care that she was crap at it. After all, she had a smock, some paint and a six-pack of Andrex. She was an artist, and you can be one too!
Nancy’s slapdash anyone-can-do-it legacy is alive and well in Drawers Off, which pits a group of five amateur artists against each other in a life drawing contest. Every day of the week, one of the contestants has to disrobe and drape their nethers in some shiny material, while the rest of them attempt to capture their essence on paper. It’s unintentionally hilarious. Results vary. Well, actually, they don’t – everyone looks like an oven chip with a head.
Why? Because life drawing is hard. When I was at college, the students would be huddled behind easels, facing the tyranny of the blank page, charcoal trembling, worrying whether they’d accidentally draw weird boobs that looked like eyes or eyes that looked like boobs. Hours went by and muscles, eyeballs and brains started to ache. My teacher would prowl around the cold studio with a roll-up in his mouth, shouting: “I used to work on a building site and this is tougher!” And he was right. Art is a time-served skill – like architecture, medicine or construction. Do it badly and you end up with a dead body or a pile of rubble every time.
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On Drawers Off, though, it’s all just a bit of lockdown fun. They judge each other’s work in the benign presence of comedian Jenny Eclair and a staggeringly over-generous mentor. (One week, a woman rendered another contestant in purple biro and made her look like a donkey on its hind legs – it was declared “lovely”). Imagine Bake Off with no Paul Hollywood or Prue. The only judge is Noel, who wears bright geometric knitwear and says things like “Mmm, that’s great!” and the winner is the baker who can make a cake that looks a tiny bit like a cake – even though it’s actually a plate of cabbage.
Still, I guess we’re all trying to pass the time until we’re released, so why not blow £50 at Cass Art and pretend to be an artist for a bit? Nancy would probably be proud. The results might be terrible, but on the plus side, it’s one way to use up all that hoarded toilet paper.