John Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing

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Eagle’s Head (common golden) From Life, John Ruskin

 

I came to this via the oca website and process.arts and I feel like I found it at a perfect moment during this drawing course. The nine short videos on Ruskin’s basic principles of drawing, as developed for his students, are presented by Stephen Farthing RA.

The following statement is taken from The Ashmolean website (http://ruskin.ashmolean.org/welcome) that holds the 1470 works of art that Ruskin carefully catalogued for his students.

Ruskin established his Drawing School at Oxford in 1871. He intended it not for the training of artists, but of ordinary men and women, who, by following his course, ‘might see greater beauties than they had hitherto seen in nature and in art, and thereby gain more pleasure in life’. His method required the student to master the rudiments of technique – outline, shading, colour – through a carefully directed course of lessons in copying both works of art and natural specimens.

I found the prescriptive approach surprising but useful, the following are my shorthand notes of what I want to keep in mind right now:

  1. Practice…”but also look at real drawing, see how it’s been made  – we don’t draw the way we do today just because we invented it yesterday”
  2. Lines can be changed and improved – remember that if you rub something out, it doesn’t mean you are reinventing – you are improving.
  3. Tone gives volume and depth and a basic rule is darker = closer to the viewer
  4. Toned paper can provide the mid tone. It can receive both light and dark marks
  5. Relating to the use of ink – working quickly will transfer the energy of your body, giving an atmosphere and rhythm. Brushes can be more lively and lyrical than pencil
  6. Many good drawings are done as a result of measurement and any drawing that becomes part of a pattern, needs to be measured.
  7. When adding colour to a pencil drawing, apply sparingly, carefully and in layers
  8. Field Notes (sketchbook): observe, make notes
  9. Creativity is invention, the making of new things

BBC: Making Their Mark: Six Artists on Drawing

Maggi Hambling, 1990

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I knew the name Maggi Hambling before watching this, but really nothing more than the name. This documentary didn’t clear much up for me, it’s not intended as a biography but a look at what the act of drawing means. I found Maggi Hambling fascinating; she comes across as extraordinarily charismatic, at the same time both terrifying and charming.

The way she talks about the drawing process is inspiring. She succeeded in  explaining what is a very instinctive thing.

I wanted to find out more about her work having seen this but I can’t really get a sense of it online. She seems to have such a wide range of subjects. Looking at the BBC Your Paintings slideshow it’s the portraits that stand out, particularly those of Frances Rose. Ultimately her sketches move me most. They follow how she speaks about drawing – from eyes to paper via her body.

The sketches of her father are beautiful. She’s captured that moment in old age where the body is shrinking, the sap is sucked out, the body is caving in on itself. Her father has even shrunk down on the page. I can feel what it would be like to take his hand, devoid of strength yet full of intention. She knows he won’t come back from this point, she is collecting his last movements. It’s very human, very touching.

Father, Late December 1997 1997 Maggi Hambling born 1945 Presented anonymously 2002 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07835

Father, Late December 1997 1997 Maggi Hambling born 1945 Presented anonymously 2002 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07835

“The point about drawing is a sort of circle has to go on between the model, which is the truth, being received by your eyes, by your whole body through your arm to the instrument you are using to make that mark….every mark is dictated by the subject. The subject is in charge of you and in charge of the marks that you hope to discover. This is incredibly important otherwise the model might as well be in one rom and you in another.

If you take your eyes away from the truth, then you are working from memory, and this is how the lies begin”

“Each time you draw you must be in the state of mind and heart….as if you’ve never seen a knee or eyebrow before…..bring theses many incidences together”

“Eyes working through the subject, around, through the subject…eye really working like a lightening dart…”

“If you ever feel you know how to draw then there’s not much point in doing it”

 

Andrew Marr’s A Short Book About Drawing

 

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After I read this book I signed up for the OCA course. Or maybe because I read this book I signed up for the course. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr Marr. It’s a quick read, and it’s mostly about his relationship with drawing; about how important it is to him and about how it makes him feel, but also about its place in the world. Drawing makes us more interested in the things around us, it encourages us to really look, and to see the familiar as we have never seen it before.

The book is littered with his drawings, watercolour, pencil, iPad, and I get the sense that drawing is a kind of meditation for him. He talks about flow, about time standing still, and happiness. He also touches on the modern twin malaises of ‘too much stuff’ and ‘not enough time’ and suggests that drawing is a way of getting back in touch with what matters – creating with our hands, making something out of nothing – in the way man has done for 40,000 years.

The book is as charming as Mr Marr himself; he talks simply about the joy of drawing, while being self-deprecating about his own talents. I found it immensely encouraging, it reminded me of how I used to feel when I was a kid and found time to draw – endlessly, on anything and with anything.

And the line that I’ll post-it note to my forehead? “Failure in drawing is a failure in skill; but more often a failure in courage”.

Andrew Marr’s book is published by Quadrille Publishing 2013