Drawing Mini Marathon
The fourth week of the Prince’s Foundation Summer Programme supported by Painting & Patronge, from 11 to 16 August, comprised six days of intensive observational drawing, with free life drawing and still-life classes running through the day until 8 o’clock in the evening during the week and until 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon. All the art materials were also provided free. The life drawing classes were run by the painter Ann Dowker with the help of Greg Ward, who had taught drawing and painting on the Foundation’s Drawing the City course in August. Ann has taught for over 20 years, most recently at the Byam Shaw School of Art, and at the National Gallery, where she teaches drawing both from the paintings in the galleries, and from the model in the studio, as part of the Gallery’s imaginative education programme. All the Mini Marathon life classes took place in the Drawing Studio on the top floor of the Foundation. The still-life class was run by Gus Cummins RA, admired for his dynamic paintings of still-life constructions. It occupied the whole of the exhibition space on the ground floor. Gus and assistants spent the Sunday before the course erecting an extraordinary 10 foot high still-life installation.
The intention of the Drawing Mini Marathon was to promote and encourage the use of the Prince’s Foundation as an accessible facility for drawing, not just to those who regularly practise life drawing, but to artists, designers, architects, printmakers and students who want to take it up again or simply rarely have the opportunity to do any. The Prince of Wales’s Drawing Studio offers high quality booked and open access courses and masterclasses. It would shortly be launching its first term of courses in drawing, painting and printmaking, and the Mini Marathon would provide an excellent opportunity to invite people in from the immediate locality, Greater London and further afield to get a taste of what would be on offer during term time. It was publicised through the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) website, and via posters, put up in cafes, pubs, art shops and libraries, and mailings sent to art colleges and schools with sixth form art departments. News of it was also passed on by word of mouth. Unsuccessful applicants to the Drawing the City course were contacted, and some made special arrangements to take time off their studies to come to London and join the Drawing Mini Marathon. The response was overwhelming, with over 150 people attending during the week. Fortunately, there was a good spread between those attending during the day and the evening, with some also able to comefor only two or three days. To cope with such a demand, four life classes, rather than the anticipated two, were arranged in the Drawing Studio, so that it could take up to 50 students at any one time, each working at an easel or sitting on a ‘donkey’. Ann Dowker was an excellent choice to run the life classes. She is very experienced at dealing with all sorts of abilities and temperaments and is highly respected for her perceptive, down-to-earth approach. Her aim as a teacher is to extract from the students the unique manner and style of drawing each possesses. Accepting that there are numerous ways of drawing, she encouraged the students to find out their own particular direction for themselves. It was noticeable that all the drawings produced in her Mini Marathon classes were different. There was no particular house or studio style, or any cliched work: ‘Drawing is extremely important to my students. They wouldn’t be taking time off to come if it wasn’t. I’ve had photographers, video film makers and screenwriters. They value the process of drawing because it helps them to understand elements such as space (which is not empty), weight, mass and volume; how figures stand in space; how to establish things in a framework. The only way you can understand all this is by doing it, not by theorising about it. It’s about personal revelation in the end. From Rembrandt to Matisse, we know them by the way they looked at the world, the way they made a mark. Everyone has their own handwriting or way of walking. It’s the same with drawing. I try to knock away the formulas of how you can draw. There is a classical structure underneath drawing and it is important to learn these rules. It’s the equivalent of learning scales in music, or the alphabet and grammar. But they need to be thrown up in the air and converted to your own use.’
Ann does not feel that the aim of a student should be to leave a class with a good drawing. The primary purpose should be to come to learn something and get some experience: ‘We live in a world of “press a button and you get an image” with a camera or TV. These images are transitory and we don’t really have time to look at them closely – like sound-bite imagery. Drawing is a fairly slow process and very demanding, but it will always give you something back if you stay with it.’ When starting a class, she explained that she was not there to dictate or tell, but to suggest and offer alternatives. The responsibility for a drawing was not hers, but the student’s. Although they might forget most of what she said in the classes, she hoped what they did retain would be what they needed. She also advocated exposing students to a variety of tuition; some students, for example, would get more out of Greg Ward’s teaching than from hers. However, she demanded a serious approach from all her students. Classes were held in silence and no one was allowed to use a personal stereo or eat or drink. Her approach to the models was equally refreshing and personal. They were respected as working with the class not for it and considered just as essential to the whole process as the teachers. Drawing is mentally and physically challenging and the students were tested to the full by the different poses the models held, each of which could reveal an aspect of the grammar of drawing.
Gus Cummins has a similar open-minded and constructive attitude to teaching. When creating his still-life construction, his aim was to make a compilation with exciting and varied objects, and unexpected juxtapositions, which could be interpreted in many ways. Care was taken to ensure that there was nothing which could fix the position or scale of objects, so that the students’ first challenge would be to work out what to actually draw. One could imagine it, for example, as a futuristic cityscape with vast spaces between the foreground, middle distance and far distance. The objects could be enlarged or simplified, extraneous or assimilated to other parts of one’s drawing. It could be treated very loosely or quite rigorously at the same time. Elements of the still-life could be exploited or rejected. The composition when viewed from any angle, was also full of perspectival problems. Gus had created a still-life which demanded continual questioning and decision-making, and which it would take some students days to get to know and understand its complexities.
Many of the objects which formed the still-life had been collected by Gus Cummins over the years, while some had been found in a skip near the Prince’s Foundation. He mixed traditional forms such as platonic solids with junk of all sorts, including parts of old machinery. His intention was to make the still-life mechanical rather then organic, and to get away from the traditional still-life arrangement. ‘I wanted a sense of rhythm and space, with forms suspended and floating in the air, so detaching them from their shadows,’ he says. Spotlights were used so that the shadows became a dynamic part of the designs. Some of the objects and solids were in alignment, whereas others were purposely placed out of alignment, so that the students would notice things about the perspective. Some rectangular solids were tilted, for example, so that they did not have all their vanishing points at the same level. String was tied at a notional eye-level across the four columns which defined the corners of the still-life, as it would help students tackling something objective to know where the eye-level was and to make it correspond in their picture. Gus Cummins also made intelligent use of reflection and colour, so adding further layers of tortuous complexity. Aluminium tubes and other metal objects reflected light, and pieces of orange cable and a blue hoop provided fast lines and neon-like streaks of colour.
Many students tackling the still-life spent the first few hours doing small pencil drawings. Gus encouraged them to work on a much larger scale and to use brushes and paint. ‘It’s different and difficult for most of them and they risk getting into an awful mess,’ he says, ‘but they mostly end up resolving their drawing problems quicker this way. It’s liberating and helps their drawing and expression as a result.’ The more the students worked on the still-life, the more intrigued they became. Some students, who had intended attending some of the life drawing classes, stayed with the still-life for the whole week. It was a catalyst which offered limitless possibilities.
During the week, apart from giving students individual tuition at their easels, Gus Cummins gave brief group talks using illustrations he pinned up on large boards. There were 19th century engineering drawings, which were aesthetically exquisite and transcended their original purpose; a complicated aerial perspective of the Victoria and Albert Museum, done purely from plans and elevations; a photograph of the Broadgate development near Liverpool Street Station, seen through a wide-angled lens to show what can be seen if the cone of vision is stretched; a drawing of a dodecahedron in shadow, by the late Norman Blarney RA, to demonstrate Alberti’s one point perspective system; and an extraordinary Uccello drawing of a chalice which looked like a computer-generated image. Like Ann Dowker, Gus Cummins was keen that the students should get to the stage where they could bend the rules or even make them up for themselves.
By the end of the week, hundreds of life drawings had been produced in the Drawing Studio and substantial large-scale drawings and paintings completed in the still-life class. As soon as the Mini Marathon was over, many of the participants were eager to find out whether it was going to be repeated the following year. The forth¬coming autumn classes held by the Drawing Studio, which had now shown itself to be one of the finest drawing facilities available to artists, rapidly filled as the word spread about the Prince’s Foundation amongst artists, designers and architects. Shortly afterwards, the Foundation decided to hold an exhibition, opening in November 2000, featuring some of the works produced during the four Drawing Together weeks.
Paul Davis-Poynter, Chair of the Arts and Culture Task Group of the Government’s New Deal for Communities project in Shoreditch, feels the presence of the Prince’s Foundation and the success of the Summer Programme is having an extremely positive influence locally. He attended the children’s performance of ‘Akanidi and the Colourful Stones’ and participated in the life and still-life classes during the Mini Marathon. ‘Drawing is crucial,’ he says. ‘It’s so rare to have a facility such as the Prince’s Foundation, and it’s great to have such quality of tuition going on for a week. It’s a centre of excellence. I’m a community artist and I want to take what I have learnt on to the local estates. It’s important to integrate what’s here with the community. The Drawing and the Imagination course for local children, which started the Summer Programme, was exceptionally well organised and inspirational. We have halls and empty buildings on the estates which could be used as studios. Art can be taken into the neighbourhood. That’s what I intend to do. And this course has inspired me to do it.’
The Summer Programme successfully promoted the Prince’s Foundation’s commitment to skills-based teaching, provided high quality classes, helped to establish the Foundation as a community resource, and raise its profile within the arts. For all who attended Drawing Together, irrespective of age and background, or whether student, teacher, organiser or visitor, it had been an invigorating experience.
Artists and students reflect on the Drawing Mini Marathon
‘I finished art school two years ago and haven’t done any life drawing since. I was hoping to set up a life class at my studio because there are other artists there who want to do it. I saw a poster locally about the Mini Marathon and thought it would inspire me to get on and do it.’ HANNAH SIDA, artist
‘I liked working on the still-life because it was so difficult. I’ve learned a lot about perspective, something I should have done when I was a student. I only got one lecture on perspective in seven years as a student. The still-life was a huge challenge. A week was not enough to tackle it.’ DAVID ANDREWS, artist
‘The Prince’s Foundation is far and away the most beautiful place I’ve done drawing in. There’s a huge vibrancy, but it’s not squashed. It was magnificent to have four models and such a variety of critical observations from the teachers. I want to sign up for future classes.’ HEATHER FARRAR, artist
‘The atmosphere was intense. There was a feeling that you could spend all week sharpening your eye and aiming for something. The teaching was very good. Greg Ward tunes into people very well. He’s succinct and always has something useful to glean from your work and reflect it back.’ JULIAN BOLT, computer reprographics
‘It’s a good experience coming to London and working with different tutors and models. I go back to art college in a couple of weeks, so it was great to get back into drawing before starting. It was very useful drawing for a whole day. There’s not the pressure you find at art college where you know the tutors. You can try things out and not worry about it.’ CLAIRE STRINGER, student at Glasgow School of Art
‘I did both the life drawing and the still-life and learned a lot. I went to Goldsmith’s College in the 1980s and life drawing wasn’t encouraged on the fine art course. There was an emphasis on conceptual work. Drawing is important. It’s like walking or meditating. It helps me think in a different way. It’s time out from what I do for a job but it also feeds into it.’ JO NEYLIN, artist
7 haven’t drawn like this since I was a student at the Central School . The still-life was very hard and very exciting. It’s challenging to put down ideas in a two-dimensional way. Normally I’d build models or design installations. My work is all 3-D. I have come out from the week with the still-life feeling that I’ve challenged areas in myself I didn’t know about. People are frightened about putting things down on paper. You feel exposed. There’s a great sense of achievement after a class here.’ POPPY MITCHELL, theatre designer
I found out about the Mini Marathon from a poster in the Bricklayers Arms pub nearby. I wanted to come because my work is sculptural and to do with the human figure. I haven’t done any life drawing for five years. It’s given me a new angle for my own work.’ ROBERT GOODWIN, artist
‘I did both classes. I haven’t drawn or painted since I was at school 17 years ago. I’ve been trying to draw the objects in the still-life where they are and get the perspective, and use the structure to trigger off the way I see things colourwise.’ KRISTIAN SCOTT, photographer
‘It was an inspiration and it took me back to my time at art college, which was a time I adored. I ought to do life drawing more.’ ZANDRA RHODES, fashion designer
‘It was wonderful. I loved it. I believe drawing to be at the root of all good design.’ HELEN DAVID, fashion designer
‘I work in an office around the corner and found out from a poster locally. I’ve never done life drawing until the class on Thursday evening. It was hard. I could see what I wanted to draw but I struggled to put in on paper. My time here has got me thinking about going to art school.’ KATIE BROWN
‘I went to the City and Guilds Art School and I am a cabinet maker. I don’t sketch enough but the course has helped me sharpen up my drawing skills. The still-life I did on the course is my very first painting.’ JEREMY HAGUES, cabinet maker
‘I haven’t worked as an artist for four years because of children. I have been trying to get back into painting. The week of classes has been very beneficial. The tutors have been extremely helpful and it has been nice to have such a relaxed atmosphere, so you feel easy and encouraged, not daunted. It has also been nice to see so many different styles of work.’ LAURA FABER, artist
Drawing Mini Marathon. 11-16 September 2000