Thursday, November 01, 2007

A 'Day to Draw' at the National Gallery

Listening to Sarah Simblet
8" x 11", pencil in Daler Rowney Sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday was the last day of Big Draw month and the last day of various events with the National Gallery had been running in conjunction with the Ruskin School of Art - and I was there.

Gerald Scarfe - Drawing Blood

I attended the lecture by Gerald Scarfe - who is one of the Patrons of Campaign for Drawing and the Big Draw. His talk was the last in a series of the Diversity of Drawing lunchtime talks which formed part of the overall Diversity of Drawing Programme which a major Big Draw event.

I've attended all of them and it's been a really excellent series of talks about drawing from a number of different perspectives.

Gerald Scarfe is a satirical cartoonist who draws cartoons for The Sunday Times and the New Yorker. In addition, amongst other things, he has designed sets and costumes for plays, musicals and operas in plays, operas and musicals in London, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit and Sam Francisco. He has also produced drawings and graphical design for films (working with Pink Floyd on 'The Wall'; drew the title sequence for 'Yes Minister', worked with Disney on animated characters and style guidelines for Hercules) and has drawn stamps featuring comedians for the Royal Mail.

Gerald Scarfe's extraordinary designs for Mozart's The Magic Flute can be seen this year in performances at the San Francisco Opera between 13th October until 3rd November.

San Francisco Chronicle - 15th Oct 2007: "Scarfe supplies a wonderful pasteboard snake, and a bevy of hybrid characters from a crocodile-penguin to a fetchingly elongated ostrich-giraffe".
Gerald Scarfe website

The lecture was packed out with people of all ages and backgrounds. I heard somebody say later that there must have been about 350 people there. He talked about his career and how he approached his drawings and where he gets his ideas from. He then drew three cartoons figures at the end. A very astute young boy in the front row who was obviously a Scarfe fan got to ask the first question at the end and promptly asked for one of the cartoons to keep!

Here's a synopsis of some of the points he made.

Gerald Scarfe - comments on drawing

  • children can draw without thinking, then we get older and more self-conscious and lose the ability
  • people say my drawings are on the dark side....I always portray myself as a Jester
  • he has produced drawings which publications refuse to publish and his cartoons generate quite a few comments
  • when you are being attacked in the press you know you've arrived
  • computer graphics don't look the same as 'real drawing' (he showed us the differences between original drawings for animated characters and the way they were drawn for film and the differences were very tangible)
  • he tried to use animation in a poetic way in 'The Wall'
  • "animation is magic - drawings that move"
  • sometimes he works with lights and his drawings are projected - as for the Magic Flute in San Francisco.
  • "People always ask how do you get the ideas. It's desperation. Panic. Money really..."

How Gerald Scarfe draws

  • he always works on very large pieces of paper
  • he stands over a table and usually draws from his shoulder using pen and ink, dip pen in one hand and small bottle of ink held in the other while he draws.
  • he first gets the main shape down on paper before the idea evaporates; then he goes back in and adds the detail. He waits for the ink to dry and then adds in colour. If he's made a mistake he will 'white' it out with white paint
  • if he's producing a large drawing involving different figures he may use Photoshop to assemble a drawing image for publication from different originals.
You can also see Gerald Scarfe draw in the title space of the Campaign for Drawing. Just wait and you'll see......

Drawing Workshops

The Day to Draw was the culmination of the Diversity of Drawing events. It started with a workshop at 12 midday and was programmed to finish at 8pm although I didn't stay to the end. There were lots of good things about the Day to Draw and some aspects which were maybe a bit of a surprise and need to be tackled differently if this event is run again next year.

The Big Draw doesn't do a lot of events specifically aimed at adults or people wanting to develop more advanced drawing. The 'Day to Draw' event was one of a few being held in London.

Model adopting the pose of Saint Sebastien
16" x 8", pencil on cream paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The Drawing Sessions were all programmed to last one hour and all took place in the galleries - which meant (given the size of the National Gallery) you needed to leave one early to catch the beginning of the next one.

I attended a couple of the Drawing Workshops which focused on:
Each had a representative of the National Gallery's Education Department explaining about the Drawing and then one of the Ruskin tutors explained their part and the drawing task.

The good news was that there were an enormous number of people attending the Drawing Workshops. But this was bad news also in my view as numbers turning up were well in excess of what the organisers appeared to have planned for - not least because there weren't enough stools to go round for each hour long workshop and some of the workshop content did not work so well with very large numbers. I'd say the numbers were at least double those which had been expected.

This is maybe not surprising as the event was open to all as are nearly all Big Draw events - after all their purpose is to promote Drawing! However the downside is that if numbers attending become excessive, then opportunities for participating in a meaningful way must start to drop for at least some of those attending. My guess is it probably affects those who have least experience the most which would be unfortunate if this is the case. The design of one of the workshops certainly meant that the time for drawing was reduced to relatively little for some people - which is not ideal for those new to drawing.

Personally, I think the day could have been better if it had mixed events requiring registration (but no fee) with ones which were drop-in and open access. Like the two day intensive drawing workshop run the previous week for young people aged 12-17, I'd have liked to see prior registration being used for at least some some of the workshops so that these could have been tailored to specific groups with different backgrounds instead of mixing everybody up. Groups of adults for prior registration events might include:
  • adults who are completely new to drawing;
  • adults wanting to tackle more advanced drawing techniques and
  • adults in art school wanting to learn something about how to tackle drawing from paintings in the National Gallery.
As it was the content and timing seemed more set up for people with prior experience of drawing. Prior registration would also have provided the benefit of informing the logistics and organisation of the events by giving some clue as to possible numbers and the quantity of supplies required plus it would enabled some evaluation of who the marketing of the event was reaching. An opportunity to feedback on the event would also have been nice!

Talks about a painting

Later in the afternoon, I attended one of what I think are regular 10 minute talks about a painting.

Copy of Degas 'After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself'
8" x 8", coloured pencil in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The one chosen for the 31st October was Degas 'After the Bath, Woman drying herself. This was a fascinating insight into the drawing and I certainly learned a few things I'd not know before and could not get from the website - such as the meaning of a bath being present in the painting and why paper might have been joined to the piece.

I spent the rest of the afternoon making a study of the painting in coloured pencils for, I think, the second time. I didn't have time to stay for the second 25 minute talk which was about the cartoon by Leonardo da Vinci - which is a rather different cartoon from those done by Scarfe!

Drawing at the National Gallery

I spoke with some of the organisers and apparently there are regular drawing events at the National Gallery although unfortunately these were not mentioned in the brochure for the Diversity of Drawing programme nor on the website pages associated with the associated events. I'll be looking for more information about such events in future.

I'll include all of the links to Big Draw blog posts during October in one summary post (next post) for those who'd like to read more my experiences during the month.



  1. oh again I'm envious!! I think Scarfe is brilliant and the whole day sounds great fun and interestingly challenging.

  2. It was certainly very refreshing to see both the resources going into supporting drawing - and then to see the vast numbers who turned up all wanting to draw!

    I wonder whether all the art galleries were doing days like this during October or whether it was just the National?


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