ABSTRACT RHYTHM & BLUE NOTES In jazz and blues, a blue note is a note that—for expressive purposes—is sung or played at a slightly different pitch from standard

with Doug Chinnery and Valda Bailey


Following months of planning, we are delighted to announce a major new learning experience that we have been working on for some time. ‘Abstract Rhythm & Blue Notes’ is the most ambitious teaching project we have ever embarked upon.

Building on the success and lessons learned from our ‘First Steps’ and ‘Cultivating Creativity’ courses, many of our students urged us to extend and deepen our teaching program - to go far beyond what we can ever achieve in shorter month long classes.

‘Abstract Rhythm & Blue Notes’ is the result. An in-depth exploration of what it means to be an artist running over the course of a full year. We divide the syllabus into four quarters, each with a distinct theme linking into each other.

If you feel ready to immerse yourself in a supportive, participative learning environment designed to extend you creatively, please read on to see what we have in store for you.


Commencing on Monday 8th February 2021 at 16.00 GMT, the group will comprise of 16 motivated, curious and determined souls who are eager to advance their artistic journey and willing to invest the time and effort required in order to do so.

The year will be loosely divided into quarters with a different aspect of the creative life covered in each. However, there will be a significant amount of crossover in subject matter during each term. We are very definitely only looking for people who are interested in staying the course - not those who might feel they would only benefit from a couple of terms.

Every month we will have a group session of around 2 hours each. These will be for all 16 participants and likely to be held at around 16.00 GMT on a Monday or Tuesday.

There will be smaller 'satellite' meetings. The class will be divided into groups of four (rotated during the year) and we will schedule a one hour Zoom session led by Doug and Valda each month.

There will be a one hour dedicated one-to-one session with both Doug and Valda each quarter.

At the end of the year, there will be the optional add-on of a group exhibition, to be held in London in the spring of 2022.


We believe we have put together a syllabus that will guide you on your photographic journey with a structured program of presentations, exercises and discussion. And homework (!)

We expect you to be fully motivated and able to work remotely, rising to the challenges we will present.

The environment will be one of encouragement, support and advice but, self-motivation and commitment are essential.

The group sessions will include presentations from both of us, backed up by fully illustrated and detailed PDF notes. The sessions will be recorded for you.

During the year, you will give presentations to the group. About ten minutes or so, on a specific subject.

We will have properly structured blind critique sessions - talking about your images and also analysing work from well known photographers and artists.

We will offer up a reading list which will form the basis of group discussions.

Although there will be exercises and mini projects that we set for you, the primary goal of the year-long endeavour will be the completion of a project which will then, for those who are interested, be shown in an exhibition at a London gallery. We will certainly cover some of the organisational skills needed in the syllabus, but much of the work involved in putting this together will be undertaken, by all of us, outside the hours dedicated to this workshop. Associated costs will be shared amongst the participants.



The blue note is a very fitting metaphor for what we are doing with our creativity. For better or worse, we ad-lib and improvise as we go with no structured control or absolute predictability about where we might end up.

During the first quarter, we will be talking about some fundamental principals needed to understand fully - and, indeed, subvert - the rules of colour, composition and content.

We will work with you and help you to develop a visual language - a way to communicate your ideas through your photography. We will look more deeply at working with colour and metaphor and consider figure/ground relationships together with Gestalt theory and principles.



The second quarter is geared towards helping you to become your own artist and develop your own way of working. We will offer up ideas on how to overcome creative block. On taking risks. Working outside your comfort zone.

Nurturing your own voice is paramount - it is, after all, completely unique to you and what makes your work vital and particular. Moving beyond that which influences us and steers us in a certain direction in order to follow our own path - however rough-hewn it may be.

We will also discuss how to filter out the negative noise - both the internal and the external. Never have there been so many opposing influences - so much brilliantly aspirational work - ready to assault our fragile self-esteem at the merest click of a mouse.

Living the life of an artist brings with it its own challenges. It is largely a solitary pursuit, although we are lucky that we will, we hope, have group meetings and overseas tours to look forward to. The voices of our friends and family can, and often do, strike a discordant note. How can people who don't see the world as we do possibly understand?



Leading on from the previous module, we dedicate this quarter to taking inspiration from all the visual arts. Music too.

We talk about how we might filter through the work that moves us. How to let it percolate awhile before deciding what to discard and what to steal and how we might take these ideas and flex them into something new, something unique.

Although we have our feet firmly in the present, we will look to the past to see how what has gone before might build a bridge to the future.

What we are able to do with our cameras and computers didn't exist even twenty years ago. These are exciting times - new ideas, new ways of working. Innovation, not for its own sake but with a purpose - however inscrutable our intentions may feel on occasion.



Learning to be an artist. Whatever your goals. For some, it may be fame, power and world dominance, though we suspect that not to be the case with our valued clients and friends. If nothing else, we see ourselves as a group whose motives are pure and unimpeachable.

We will talk about building an audience. How a presence on social media can have a very real impact. How to create a profile and present yourself as you would like to be seen.

The thought of approaching galleries is enough to drive the fear of God into most of us. There are other options and we will discuss ways to get your work out and about and beyond the confines of Instagram.

Using your website, writing a blog, building a mailing list, submitting articles to publications - all these tools can be useful to the emerging artist. The importance of content and identifying our goals.

We will also cover exhibiting - what is needed, how to go about it and the very real effort involved in getting your work ready for a public show.


During the year we will have two 'Midsummer Meetings'; one in New York (early June) and one in London (date tbc). All are welcome on one or both of these assignations.

We will plan a day to get together, shoot the breeze, shoot the city, visit an exhibition.... We will buy lunch and we can sit and reflect awhile. Hopefully, it will be a welcome break from Zoom and the chance to meet in person and reconnect with old friends.

with apologies to Carrie Bradshaw

In the Big Apple, we're thinking MOMA, Grand Central, Brooklyn, Soho (as time allows) .....and certainly not ruling out a visit to B&H. We will buy lunch somewhere very authentic.


Class size - 16

Dedicated Facebook group for sharing images, gathering feedback etc and a WhatsApp group for general chit chat.

Group sessions will be timed for northern Europe and the USA; so likely to take place around 16.00 GMT on a Monday or Tuesday. This may be subject to change depending on our tour schedule. We will give plenty of notice of any alterations.

One to one sessions can, of course, be arranged to be mutually convenient.

We expect people to actively participate - not be passive observers. This is the chance for all of us to learn and to grow; therefore, everybody's input is valuable. If past experience is anything to go by, there will be frustration and tears, laugher and madness, diversion and digression. All driven by the need to play and disseminate ideas in order to advance our creativity.

Please note, participation in the exhibition is dependent on finishing the course.

We don't claim to have all the answers, far from it. Just like everybody, we are learning all the time. All we can promise to do is offer up some thoughts and ideas that have been helpful in our journey in the hope that they will facilitate yours.


Valda Bailey 2020 Bailey Chinnery