(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.
Teaching, drawing, writing and painting.