My first degree was in illustration before doing my Masters at the RCA back in the seventies. I’d always loved to draw but over the last twenty years, since the onset of computers, the only drawings I’ve done have been quick scribbles in a notebook and caricatures of friends at dinner parties after a few glasses of wine.
Of course it’s easy to blame the seductive powers of Apple and Adobe but I’ve felt recently that I need to take more responsibility and stop blaming others for my reliance on the computer and make more of an effort to draw the old-fashioned way. And so I enrolled for a one day drawing course at the RCA Alumni.
The world has changed. Not only do I now do most of my drawiing on a computer, but on the walk from South Kensington tube to Kensington Gore, the route itself had changed dramatically. The bottom half of Exhibition Road was now pedestrianised, hosting numerous coffee shops. The other half was in the process of being changed, though a fond memory remained – The Paper Tiger, London’s first Szechuan Chinese restaurant. It was here I had my first taste of spicy oriental food with Lynn Williams, a girl from the sculpture school, I really fancied. Sadly Lynn loved the sesame coated toffee banana more than me!
The old annexe of the V&A opposite the Science Museum, that used to house the Graphics, Illustration and Painting schools had been totally restored – the red bricks beautifully bright and red, the stone friezes and decorative borders shone like gold. When I was a student I remember the building as black as charcoal.
Arriving at the drawing studio I met other alumni students. I remembered Carlos from Graphics. And although Gillian was only one year below me, I found it hard to visualise the middle-aged lady as a fellow student back in the days, when on a Friday night we’d be down the refectory, knocking back beer and dancing to The Stranglers, The Clash and The Jam!
Anyway... the drawing course.
I’d decided in advance that I’d like to work with charcoal, get my hands dirty and really enjoy the proccess.
The courses were to run all week and I’m not sure how I managed it, but I’d booked the only day, there was to be no live model.
After struggling to set up my easel and a massive drawing board, we were each given 10 sheets of A4 paper and five kebab sticks. At a given signal we each dropped our sticks and wherever they landed, we then had two minutes to draw the resulting composition. This was repeated ten times accompanied by Stockhausen playing from a small portable CD player in the corner of the studio.
Twenty minutes later we each had ten drawings. We were then given five A2 sheets of paper and a bundle of five twigs! The process continued, though now we had double the time and a larger sheet of paper for each drawing.
We broke for coffee before we tackled our next challenge... the logs!
The refectory was the venue for the Fiday night disco, where every top punk band of the seventies appeared live – even Adam Ant, before he morphed into a Pop Prince Charming.
It was now a place with vending machines, a self service counter and a press button coffee machine.
The logs beckoned and A1 paper!
The logs were a challenge. Whichever way I dropped them, they skittered off in different directions and sat there looking dull, boring and dead! For the next half hour I went through the motions, eagerly awaiting the next exercise – the rocks.
A selection of old fossil-type lumps of differing shapes and colours were placed on a table. We weren’t allowed to drop these! We each picked one, drew it for five minutes and then passed our rock to the person on our left and so on.
All this was okay but I was getting hungry.
I went for lunch with Mark an architect and Anya a textile designer at the Enismore Arms – an old watering hole in my student days, adjacent a showroom that sold beautiful old classic cars. The showroom was gone and the Enismore Arms is now a gastropub. Over a pint and pretty good home-made burgers we discussed old times.
It was now 2.30pm and realising class had already started, we rushed back to find we’d moved to another studio.
It was dark, the only light from an overhead projector. In the centre of the room was a pile of sand and two classmates creating some kind of surreal landscape. We then had fifteen minutes to draw what had been created, before two more classmates jumped into the ‘sand pit’ and the process was repeated.
It was very dark and I found it all very difficult. The Stockhausen was driving me crazy! Bring back the kebab sticks!
Eventually I lay on the floor, very close to the sand and drew what grew to become a Martian landscape. I was tempted to draw planets in the sky and the Rover the Nasa Exploration vehicle trundling over a hill, but refrained from doing so.
Our final drawing challenge was to draw the patterns created by a melting disc of ice that slid about the surface of the overhead projector. I created what will be unintelligible to anyone looking at my drawing but I guess the objective of the day was to loosen up and not be concerned about the outcome but to enjoy the process.
I had enjoyed the day and I am committed to doing more drawing, but next year, I’ll book a day when the life model is there.