I ended 2014 drawing, and drew again for most of New Years Day. It's good to start the year on the right foot. Here is my favourite drawing of the year so far, a three hour charcoal drawing of Lana from the Saturday long pose. I've also uploaded some drawings from 2014 here.
Tonight was our monthly Drawing Circus, themed around the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec. Emma did an excellent job of designing the set and styling the models and Frankie, Beth and Laura Kate O'Rourke excelled themselves with posing to the theme. I was surprised how much I enjoyed drawing with uplighting and we even had announcements in French for Clementine. I had a lovely evening, here are a few drawings.
Facilitated by a generous donation of nibs and a holders from David, regular of our weekend life drawing classes, and inspired by Shelley's constant media experimentation I took a dip pen and ink away with me on holiday to Cornwall in June. It has become my material of choice for the summer, re-enforced by seeing some of Sarah Simblet's downright impressive dip pen work for The New Sylva. Although I'm still working out my preferred ink, paper and nibs this initial dip into the world of ink has whet my appetite.
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.
(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.
The week of the 14th April was my first back after being away. Monday night’s Egon Schiele themed Drawing Circus proved an unmitigated success, seamlessly planned by Shelley Morrow and attended in force by the glitterati of the Brighton life drawing circuit (Paul Cemmick, Mark Harrison, Geo Parkin etc, even Graham Hanney made it along). The nights drawing was preceded by a surprise interview with the charming Boogaloo Stu in the insalubrious surroundings of the Juice FM headquarters on North Road; we talked Speiegeltent Drawing Circus on air and off air reflected on the compromises that accompany the commercial success of the Proud Ballroom.
Monday’s literal Circus was a prelude to a metaphorical three-ringer of a Thursday. An 8am life drawing gig for Tom & Nic’s Heart FM breakfast show (life drawing on the radio?!) provided a lively opening act. The big cats came next: my long time student Simon continued his current cat obsession in our morning 1:1 drawing class, breaking out the oil pastels for the first time in months.
The afternoon took on a more serious tone in a two hour meeting with between the tenants of New England House and Nick Hibberd, head of Brighton & Hove City Regeneration, where he received an overdue grilling on the council’s ill-conceived plans to redevelop our beloved studio complex.
I had time to play ring master (holding an off-program life drawing class in the main studio for my Creative Future students) before running away to The Old Market to celebrate the third birthday of my favorite Brighton theatre with an ambassadorial reception of Brighton arty-types.
Finally the acrobats: courtesy of TOM we all reveled in an hour of gravitationally inverted delight watching a performance of ‘Leo’ which left me with a smile, distorted proprioception and an unrelated craving for sweet potato chips.
[Pictures from the week]
Compressed charcoal drawings... Johanna 15 mins / Johanna 1 min / Laura Kate O'rourke 3 min
Classes... Portrait class at Cass art / Simon's class at Draw / Drawing Circus at The Old Market
Teaching, drawing, writing and painting.