I’ve established quite a little ritual in the mornings at the backpackers hostel: get up; finish my blog post, breakfast and shower before meandering to the Art Café around the corner for coffee and emails. The subsequent walk to the Ruskin has become pleasantly familiar and it was odd to tread it for the last time.
What we did
Today was a life drawing day. We had an excellent model who held some wonderful poses, long short and an hour or so of constant movement. Long and short of it is: I love life drawing so I had a great day.
Finishing the week on something practical like this was a good idea, we were all over brimming with the knowledge that had been imparted to us this week and putting our knowledge into action through drawing was certainly the best way to assimilate into our creative practice.
The last day must be a funny on for Sarah to run as some people get slightly restless towards the end of any course and my fellow class members started disappearing surprisingly early to catch their respective modes of transport (planes, trains, lifts from friends). It broke the end of the day up a little and it was a shame to not all be present and focused for the end of week review of work, but what can on do? We had three bottles of Champagne to celebrate the end of the course with, and it just left more for those of us still present in the evening!
A thing I learnt
I need to rely less on schematic understandings of the body. I know this, Sarah pointed it out and it doesn’t hurt to remind myself of it constantly. The danger in becoming confident in your drawing is you can also get lazy and rely on your ability to make a pretty drawing rather than using the drawing as tool for enquiring after truth in what you have observed.
I have had a fantastic week. The course has had a great rhythm to it (1 day Introduction, 2 days anatomical tuition and drawing, 2 days anatomical tuition and sculpting, 2 days putting everything in perspective and drawing) and I’ve met some lovely people on the course, not least the tutors! As far as my aim to seek out exemplary tuition goes, I haven’t been disappointed; not only have I learnt a lot about anatomy in the context of art and figure drawing, I have encountered some of the best teaching I’ve yet come across. Next year I shall definitely be signing up to another of Sarah and Eleanor’s courses, I’m thinking about the Head and Neck one next.
If you want to find our more about courses at the Ruskin you can do so here. I would strongly recommend the course to anybody who has an interest in learning anatomy for artistic purposes.
The first three days of the course were so jam packed it was as if they’d been stretched over a month; the next two were so hands on that the time just sped by and I woke dismayed to realize that tomorrow would be my last day here. Not wanting to let the day get away from me I met Rebecca and Jess for a trip around the fabulous art bookshop on Broad Street before class, picking up copies of Sarah Simblet’s ‘The New Silva’ and ‘Botany for the Artist’.
What we did
Today was billed as ‘studio practice’ and was intended as a day to assimilate all that we had learned over the past week. I started the day listening to Sarah fielding questions from fellow students and telling anecdotes of her experiences writing books. She was then kind enough to sit down and give me advice on the anatomical spreads for my next instructional drawing book (Life Drawing in Fifteen Minutes), as well as providing incredibly useful input about for the anatomical component of the Draw Atelier course.
After searching in vain for modeling tools with which to complete my head sculpture (I’ll do it when I get back to the studio in Brighton) I spent the early afternoon looking through Sarah’s exquisite dissection studies. I studied a series of ink drawings Sarah had made whilst dissecting an arm, trying to unpick the layers of marks to gain insight into their execution. To be able to handle the drawings in the flesh was a rare treat; the lightweight paper on which they were drawn lent the drawings an air of particular precious delicacy at odds with the confidence of their production.
I also looked through drawing made for Sarah’s most recent book ‘The New Silva’. I was surprised to find that they had all been made on A1 sheets of 370gsm Lambeth drawing cartridge so they could be laid out the size they’d appear in the book, alongside mock ups of the text. They must have been a pain to reproduce at that scale, but the effort that went into the production of the book shows through in the final outcome.
A studio day seemed like a necessary addition to the course, allowing us all time to reflect, as well as providing us with time to chat to one another and to Sarah. I worry I could have used the day more effectively, but equally I’ve gained a lot simply from the conversations I’ve had.
Students can be bad at motivating themselves, particularly on adult education courses. When given free reign in a studio after a tightly controlled program of study many people flounder and fail to use the time productively, or to appreciate the resources at their disposal. Most of my class mates spent the day visiting Oxford museums or drawing in the studio and Sarah went out of her way to ensure we all felt well looked after and felt supported in our own individual lines of enquiry; what more can a tutor do?
A thing I learnt
Sarah’s ink drawings were fascinating to study, since I’ve been experimenting with nibs and inks lately I’m going to try her particular combination of materials (Japanese drawing ink, Leonard 356 nib and the afore mentioned cartridge paper) and practice quoting some of the marks in her drawings to explore the potential of the medium.
To prepare for today’s sculpture class I went for a fried breakfast at a local café. The bad news is that it really didn’t hold up to the cooked breakfasts I’m used to in Brighton; the good news is that this was would be the first and last disappointment of the day.
What we did
We started the day with a brief overview of torso sculpture (‘top torsos of the past’) covering the Torso of Apollo, the Belvedere Torso and several more up to the present day with Eleanor expounding the good qualities of the sculptures on the projector screen and providing some insight into the practice of great figure sculptors, Michelangelo, Rodin etc. It is always interesting to see how the influence of great work trickles down through history.
Like yesterday we spent the majority of the day sculpting in wax. We had a lovely male model to sculpt from (Tom) who held an all day standing pose. We maintained consistent positions in the room, Tom rotated 30 degrees every quarter of an hour or so and we rotated our sculptures accordingly. This provided us all with the variety of views required to create a three dimensional response to the figure. Today's was by far the most ‘artistic’ activity; here is a rotated view of my wax figure as it stood at the end of the day.
I don’t sculpt much, neither did most of the rest of the group. The constant rotation of the model was very helpful and contrasted with other sculpture sessions Id been to where we were required to move around a static model. Eleanor’s input was fantastic and she sculptured along with us; I learnt some useful lessons watching her and listening to her advice. I was very impressed with everybody else’s work, particularly Gabby (who had the view opposite me) and another girl a couple of places to my left. By the end we had a really unique set of figures, inspired by the model but molded in the image of our individual creative intentions.
The life model/no life model problem. Eleanor was in the tricky position of teaching a class that required a model in a city where she didn’t have connections with life classes and so was using a London model who she didn’t know. There is always the risk that the model will have to cancel and I shared her trepidation in anticipating Tom’s arrival. It sounded like Eleanor had a sound back up plan for working without a live figure, which is the best one can do! Worst case scenario, perhaps we could have all drawn straws for the job. All was well, Tom was punctual and everything went swimmingly.
A thing I learnt
It was really useful to find out how Eleanor constructed the armature for the torso (Vertical dowel on a plywood base with horizontal dowels wired with a on through the center of the shoulders and the top of trochanter), it set the scale for the figure and provided a stable base on which to construct the figure.
This was our last day with Eleanor, and it has been an absolute pleasure working with her. I’m worried that I sound overly gushing in my descriptions of the classes, but with both Eleanor and Sarah’s portions of the course I’ve been hugely impressed by the quality of teaching and really cant find fault with any of it. Besides that, Eleanor is such a lovely lady, with a fantastic attitude to her work and art education.
This post is part of a weeklong diary, you can read the rest here:
Introduction, Day 01, Day 02, Day 03, Day 04
I was very excited about today’s class; we were having a change of tutor for a couple of days and would have Eleanor Crook (Nellie) teaching us for the Thursday and Friday classes. I’ve never met Eleanor, but I’m familiar with her work through Dr. Simon Hall, who used to run the medical art society at Brighton and Sussex medical school and her sculpture is just fantastic so I suspected we’d be in for a treat.
What we did
The day began with a lecture from Eleanor outlining the history of facial reconstruction, including some fascinating detail on how different cultures use human remains in sculpture.
The majority of the day was spent sculpting under Eleanor’s guidance. One at a time we constructed the muscles responsible for facial expressions. I’m going to let the images speak for themselves; we used sculpting wax to model the muscles on to the plaster skull, which we’ll take home at the end of the course. We finished the day with a slide show of Eleanor’s work and snuck back into the studio for a quick bit of last minute modeling before Sarah returned to lock up. Here is a work-in-progress slide show of the skull and muscles I worked on...
It was great to do something hands on and Eleanor was a great teacher, easy to talk to and fascinating to listen to, with a great sense of humor. Reconstructing the face like this was a brilliant addition to the course.
All tutors teach with different rhythms; Eleanor’s has a slightly more laid back pace to her teaching, but with equal depth and competence. Sarah and Eleanor’s teaching compliment one another’s wonderfully and provide students with variety and the tutors a break from 7 days of teaching.
A thing I learnt
Once again, I learnt a huge amount today. Broadly, the most valuable lesson was to be able to construct the facial muscles physically, getting an idea of their size, direction and purpose through the tactile experience of making.
(This post is part of a weeklong diary; you can the introduction here, day 1 here and day 2 here)
After an administrative error led me to be upgraded to a better bunk at the hostel (sometimes I like to imagine my life as a board game and this was the result of a well timed ‘Chance’ card) I had an excellent nights sleep and made it to class on time, feeling like I was getting into the swing of the course.
What we did
Today was the day for musculature. As Gregor observed, with a bit of application you can teach yourself skeletal structure but with 640 skeletal muscles facilitating the extensive range of human movement, musculature is a significantly more complex area. The day consisted of a series of illustrated lectures, drawn onto the blackboard as Sarah outlined the key muscles of the torso and arm. It was a long day, fueled by plenty of tea and although I don’t have much to write about it here it was singularly the most informative days study I’ve engaged in since I was at school; doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it really was.
The previous two days had built up to prepare us for this very full day of information. This much too early on would have been too much, but as it was we learnt a huge amount at a manageable pace. This was exactly the kind of content I wanted on this course.
Sarah had a very long day of teaching: 7 hours straight, with just one lunch break and a few cups of tea. She did a magnificent job and taught the class with customary enthusiasm, managing the inevitable tiredness that sets in with such a long day very well. I was impressed with her generosity of time and attention, chatting to us in the breaks and at the end of the day when she was definitely due a proper rest.
A thing I learnt
The main thing I took away from the day was the ability to structure my own anatomical enquiry. Developing a system in which to structure learning can be as important as taking in discreet facts and todays class laid some strong foundations.
(This post is part of a weeklong diary; you can read the introduction here and first entry here)
I had a surprisingly good nights sleep at the backpackers hostel despite the heat of the 18-person dorm and woke refreshed and relaxed. A little too relaxed perhaps, as I only just arrived in time for class, having sat for too long in the coffee shop opposite the Ruskin School writing postcards.
What we did
The day started apace with a morning lecture on the skeleton. The lecture itself was a picturesque art school idle with attentive students clutching sketch books leaning forward in anticipation as Sarah stood in front of a huge chalkboard of notes, flanked by a male and female skeleton. Sarah led us through the fundamental qualities of the human skeleton with customary warmth and enthusiasm.
This was very much what I was here for; my knowledge of anatomy is acceptable, but largely rooted in the practical necessities of life drawing. As Sarah described the nature of the bone, cartilage and ligament I could feel the disparate fragments of my existing knowledge slotting into the coherent framework of her description. I just about kept up, looking, listening and taking comprehensive notes so that by the end, rather than being tired I felt thoroughly exhilarated. After a Q&A in which the class wildly speculated on evolutionary causes of male and female difference in the skeleton and Rebecca demonstrated the hypermobility of a trained ballerina by lifting her foot effortlessly above her head, we took a lunch break.
Post-lunch the day took a more sedate turn and we dispersed around the studio with two full skeletons and a half-skeleton of individual bones to make drawings as we wished. I made a study of the shoulder girdle, skull and ribcage viewed at an angle that I always struggle with in life drawing. After the lecture the drawing helped to compound the lessons of the morning and I made further notes to help coherently structure my learning. After a cup of tea chatting to Sarah and a bit of informal peer-critique with Rebecca and Gabby we went through to the seminar room to see Sarah’s work in the proverbial flesh.
Sarah’s drawings are huge; a single drawing covers most of the floor of the room. These drawings were made around 20 years ago and feature in her Anatomy for the Artist. Although the paper has faded and they are worn with travel and repeated unrolling the drawings are a genuine inspiration. They are made with compressed charcoal and white paint on Fabriano paper, stuck together in sections to form huge canvases for imaginative theaters of perspective and anatomy. They are an abstraction of reality, but have their root firmly in the observed world and demonstrate consummate skill in markmaking, composition and anatomical knowledge. They excite the same awe and curiosity I always feel around the work of John Freeman, my life-drawing tutor and brilliant etcher.
Sarah talks candidly about her work, her progress from huge imagined anatomical theatres to the small botanical studies of her more recent books and laboriously rendered landscapes of her recent collaboration, The New Sylva. She is generous with her input and invites us to examine the drawings and leaf through her sketchbook, even to photograph her work. When the day finishes the class lingers, still sifting through the piles of prints and books laid out for us. I eventually leave feeling thoroughly inspired.
The day was well balanced, with just the right amount of anatomy lecture, balanced with application of theory and Sarah’s own examples.
Sarah provided fascinating insights into the process of putting together her books with DK and more recently, Bloomsbury. Reflecting on my own experiences I found her approach fascinating and a useful insight.
A thing I learnt
I learnt a LOT today. The demystifying of the names of various bones was particularly valuable, as was the conceptual separation of the Axial and the Appendicular sections of the skeleton.
(Read my introduction here…)
As a student of drawing I’m attending this course to learn more about anatomy; as a tutor I’m seeking out exemplary classes taught by exemplary tutors to help me improve my own teaching. With this course the expectation is pretty high; Sarah Simblet has written the definitive contemporary book on anatomy for artists and the Ruskin School (part of Oxford University) is one of the most prestigious centers of art education in the country, in addition to that the course costs around £1000 for seven days.
My first impressions are excellent. The building feels totally appropriate for the course; it is light, spacious, and suffused with a sense of history. Sarah greets us all individually and refreshments are in ample supply. Sarah is warm and welcoming and her introduction eloquently delivered, setting the tone for the days teaching.
What we did
We begin drawing right away, great! No time to get self-conscious. We’re working from a full-length skeleton, making a detailed observational study on A1 paper in HB and 4B pencil hour. Sarah provides a loose brief for the exercise, providing one to one input. Everybody is fully engaged, the room is pleasantly quiet, but for the scratching of pencils.
After lunch we launch into a larger-than-life study of the ribcage. This time we are given clear direction on the attitude to take: this drawing is not an exercise in rib counting so much as an attempt to capture the feel of the ribcage. We are encouraged to think of it like a vessel, a pot. The exercise is simple but challenging and I’m pleased with my initial progress. Sarah pitches her 1:1 feedback perfectly and whilst being kind and encouraging throughout she provides me with solid, honest feedback and well considered criticism. She’s right; my sternum does look like a caterpillar when it should look like a sword blade. I am given a route to improve my drawing and encouragement to see it through, with added anatomical context.
Drawing is a very physical act and having begun the days travelling at 5am I was flagging a little by the afternoon ‘History of Anatomy’ lecture. It was fascinating, well-delivered and hammered home Sarah’s consummate knowledge and passion for her subject. After an hour and thirty minutes I was happy to end the day without questions, but kudos to my classmates for their enthusiastic hand raising.
First and last impressions of a course are key and this course has started on the right foot. I was warmly greeted and have finished exhausted, satisfied with the day’s classes and looking forward to tomorrow.
Whilst giving conversational feedback Sarah managed to cover a whole list of key lessons in drawing; all the best drawing tutors I know drop a ‘tick list’ of key points into classes and conversations. Top marks to Sarah for subtle delivery of some critical points.
A thing I learnt
The sternum has three sections, the Manubrium, Sternum and Zyphoid, representing three parts of a Roman dagger: handle, blade and point. Sternum is not latin for caterpillar.
I’m currently studying for an imaginary PHD. Like my imaginary BA and my imaginary MA there is no formal course structure, no set curriculum and no accredited body to award me my grade. I don’t actually hold any qualifications above a Foundation Art and Design diploma from UCA Farnham, I have however spend the past 7 years putting myself through a rigorous program of informal training in the arts and have had the privilege to learn from a plethora of excellent tutors, peers and artists.
My imaginary PHD involves me allowing myself to spend/lose several thousand pounds and to devote several months of the next few years pursing my interest in drawing in greater depth than my regular work requires. Alongside my own drawing and painting I am undergoing a comprehensive survey of drawing literature and attempting to study with or interview all of the writers, teachers and artists who’s work I most admire; I’ll be writing two more books on drawing with Ilex Press (‘Life Drawing in Fifteen Minutes’ and ‘Draw’) and will be continuing my regular teaching at Draw but the ultimate outcome of my ‘PHD’ is as yet undecided. Suffice to say at some point I’ll be fraudulently referring to myself as Dr. Spicer.
This lengthy pre-amble is intended to introduce my impending blog posts on the first structured course I’ll be taking as part of my study, ‘Art and Anatomy’ at the prestigious Ruskin School of Art. The course is an intensive seven day summer school taught by Dr. Sarah Simblet (she’s got a real PHD), author of ‘Anatomy for the Artist’ published by Dorling Kindersley.
I’ll be blogging my way through the course for the rest of this week; each post will contain anecdotes from the day, some of my drawings and my take on the day’s class, both as a student of drawing and as a tutor. You can find out more about the course itself here.
Teaching, drawing, writing and painting.