OCA Study visit to the British Museum

This study day was an opportunity to visit the Prints and Drawings Study Room at the British Museum. The Bridget Riley Art Foundation wants to encourage students to draw from drawings to discover and explore their own experience and practice and it is free resource for all of us to enjoy.

We started with an introduction by the excellent Sarah Jaffrey who had chosen the drawings for us to work with around the theme of Environment and Still Life. There were a variety of works and she described each in turn and related it to the artist in question. These drawings have an intimacy about them as many were not intended to be displayed, so there’s a candour about them which is really useful to see. They also encapsulate a historical context; they relate to the subject matter of the time so we are seeing the world as it was for the artist.

Drawing drawings was quite strange as it makes you realise that how you move your hand and make marks on a sheet of paper is unique to you, so replicating this action to get a similar line as someone else was almost impossible. I wanted to see if I could translate the drawings into my own sketchbook: I found Frank Auerbach’s fast, sketchy lines much easier to copy than Henry Moore’s meticulous work but it was interesting to have a go. I also copied an excellent still life – pertinent as I have a lot of still life work in Drawing 1 and I find the prospect rather boring at the moment – by an artist called Frans Snyders. Here are my attempts:

Top: Henry Moore, Shelter Sketchbook Bottom: Frans Snyders, Game and fruit

It was brilliant to have the chance to really study the pieces up close and be able to draw in peace and quiet, and discuss what we were doing with each other and Sarah – here is a list of the drawings we had on offer:


Having been to the talk about the importance of drawing on Friday it was great to expand on the topic. Auerbach used repeated drawings to explore and make memories of a particular view in order to know it. And by blocking out an area, it conveys space. The drawings were usually thrown away after they’d been done so there is no sense of finesse or polish – just his interpretation of what he was seeing.

Moore’s abstraction of the bombed areas and edited detail of the people conveys the bleakness and vulnerability of the environment of London during the Blitz. His sculpting of the charcoal with a rubber gives nuance rather than accuracy and this is where abstracting becomes a great skill as it requires a knowledge of the essence of something, a distillation of the emotion to be represented in visual form.

Thomas Girtin’s panorama from the Southbank shows London from his viewpoint from where he lived in Southwark as a political gesture rather than the emphasis being always on the area north of the Thames.

Van Gogh’s experience of a place dictating his mark-making by using texture and organisation were some of the insights we gleaned from this exercise.

Drawing is an extension of observation, and forms part of working through expression rather than a finished product. I found the visit has deepened my appreciation of drawing as a versatile and personal activity and unique to the time and place when it is done. It has also given me lots of ideas about possible still life objects although I sadly might have to give the suspended dead animals a miss however fascinating I might find them to draw!



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