Artists and OCA tutors Cheryl Huntbach and Bryan Eccleshall have written a wonderful new course for foundation drawing students. Here we ask them a little about how they approached writing it and what the course has to offer students. The resulting conversation will be published across two blog posts.
How does Drawing from the Past differ from, for example, the other Drawing Foundation course?
Bryan: Well, the biggest difference is that it isn’t a ‘how to draw’ course. Instead we’ve focussed on how making drawings of art works can help students understand those art works and also as a way of getting inside the heads of the artists that made them. In short, we encourage students to use drawings – lots of different types of drawing – as a tool of research.
Cheryl: Whilst not a ‘how to draw course’, students will learn something about the process, and visual language of drawing, through focusing on the art works of others, rather than by generating their own ideas. This allows them the time to immerse themselves in the process of drawing, ‘as if’ they were the artist, which I think is an interesting perspective to studying the work of others. The research through drawing process, fosters a slowing down and thereby, a much closer inspection of the art work. The idea being that through taking time, to notice and reflect, students will gain particular insights on the art work that might not be gained through reading alone.
Can you expand on that a bit?
Bryan: When we were asked to put this course together, the idea that making drawings of works of art was central to the thinking. In my own work I’ve made closely observed drawings of works by Caravaggio, Picasso, Bosch and others. Making drawings slows the eye down. It’s easy to look briefly at a painting and ‘see’ it. We wouldn’t flick through a novel and claim to have read it, but because all of a painting is visible at once – or seems to be – we think a glance can be enough. Slowing down and really immersing yourself in a work reveals so much. Drawing is a way of disciplining that experience.
Cheryl: Yes, I also think that fostering and engaging with discipline is something that runs through the course. As an artist and tutor it is the engagement in committing to a methodology and process which I find crucial. There are specific projects that reflect connections with my own systems and iterative methodologies and the haptic joy of making marks on paper. Reflecting back on my own experience at undergraduate and postgraduate study, I felt a lack in the representation of women and diversity of experiences, such as class, and this is something that I felt needed greater visibility.
What are the benefits of drawing works of art from reproductions, that is, from such a distance?
Bryan: Often we can feel hurried or crowded when in galleries. Barriers and cameras can also prevent close inspection. It depends on the work, of course, and what we want to get out of the experience of looking. There isn’t necessarily one method. In my own practice I’ve pored over high resolution images and drawn them. That’s drawn me in to noticing things that it would be hard to see when encountering the work ‘in the flesh’. But making those drawings has enriched the encounter when it did happen as I was familiar with elements of the piece. It’s perhaps important to state something we’ve made clear in the course material, that the methods presented in this course are not intended to replace but to supplement or complement more conventional research methods.
It’s called Drawing From The Past. What does that mean?
Bryan: We’ve defined the ‘past’ as anything before the 21st Century, but a few more recent works have crept in. I think Michelangelo is about as far back as we go. Most of the work discussed dates from the Twentieth Century.
Cheryl: When we first wrote the course, we talked about the importance of students making their own connections with work from different historical, as well as contemporary, contexts. We looked at how we might help them to forge links between works from different periods of history and culture. Having a rich diversity of artists was definitely important very early on in our discussions and the course reflects this. To provide a way-in for students we devised a number of themes and concepts in order to help students propose links between artists and their ideas. This is quite different to the traditional, chronological approach to art history and we feel it is more welcoming for a wide range of students. It was also a priority for us for students to feel enabled to respond from their own authentic experience and to trust their initial responses in drawing from the art work. In this way they are finding-out and engaging with the work from where they are now, with their own lived histories, not by following received wisdom.
Bryan: I think it’s important for budding artists to engage meaningfully with the art of the past as well as more contemporary work. We ask all of our degree students to look at the work of others and to use that work as a kind of guidebook or map. Students who complete this course and then go on to degree level study ought to have a firm grasp on how to engage with that work.
So, drawing’s at the heart of the course. What else are students expected to do?
Cheryl: Students are asked to write their immediate responses to looking at the work, before and after making the drawing, and reflect on the act of drawing. As with many courses they are asked to reflect on what they are learning and to seek out other methods of drawing that might enrich their understanding of the work.
Bryan: As I said earlier, this isn’t a ‘how to draw’ course. Writing about the experience of drawing is important too. Students are asked to think about what the act of drawing has revealed to them that might not have been immediately apparent. Basically, we’re asking that students write about the experience of making as a way of understanding art. This also gives them a chance to assess the effectiveness of the methods they’re using.
Cheryl: The course asks students to use a variety of methods to visualise what they are learning about art works and specifically how they might foster connections within an artist’s collection and across history. A student might draw diagrams, use mind maps, or other drawing tools. In effect we are asking students to use drawing as a method of research in direct observation, seeking visual information, visualising their thinking, communicating their findings to make connections between what they know, and what they are still finding out.
Image: Bryan Eccleshall. Graphite on Paper. 2014.