Monday, November 17, 2008

Life drawing in the Royal Academy Schools Life Room

2 minute life drawings (from the mirror)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

On Saturday afternoon, I did a life drawing workshop in the Life Room at the Royal Academy Schools. To be honest I really did it to be able to see this famous Life Drawing Room and to sit on the benches sat on by very many famous British artists - such as Turner and Constable - who studied at the Royal Academy Schools.

What's the room like?

Life room, Royal Academy School
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • It's a large rectangular room - painted white with a red curtain running the length of the wall behind the model
  • Lighting: At the back of the room is a slanted rooflight running the length of the room which provides a north light coming from behind the student - the ideal lighting for drawing and painting. Overhead there is a semi circular run of spots available to light the model. Also on the back wall there are what look like rather old lights which can be positioned by students drawing in the back row - obviously for lighting their work.
  • Easels: There is room for a few easels, however their placement is limited by the benches......
  • Bench Seating: The benches used in the room were transferred from Somerset House, the original home of the Royal Academy Schools, when both RA and schools transferred to Burlington House in 1867. The rail in front is a good height to rest a drawing board against. There's a shelf under the rail which provides space to put drawing implements. The benches provide room for a lot of students to be in a semi-circle around the model and for all to have a good view.
Bench seating in the Life room, Royal Academy Schools
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • Casts: Drawing from casts was one of the main ways students used to learn about the body and its anatomy - how it works. There are casts outside the room in the main corridor and around the room (see top). The west wall has a number of boxes containing casts of heads which you can see in the main picture. The most surprising cast though was the full sized horse which apparently came from the studio of Stubbs! (Although I'm wondering whether it might have come from Munnings who was a President of the RA)

Casts in the Life Room, Royal Academy Schools
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • Mirror: The south wall has a mirror. As I was sat in the front row near the middle, I found myself drawing the image in the mirror on a few occasions as my position sometimes meant I wasn't far enough away from the model to be able to see comfortably (ie without a crick in my neck). The addition of a mirror though is one which brings a whole new experience to life drawing. I've never before done life drawing before in a room which had one and I think it would be a very welcome addition to any life room.
If you want to know more about the Life Room take a look at:
I'd like to thank the Librarian at the Royal Academy for the abovementioned references.

The workshop and my life drawings

The workshop was run by Francis Bowyer who teaches at the Royal Academy Schools on a regular basis. The model was absolutely first rate - in fact I'd go so far as to say I've never had a better life model before!

We did the normal sorts of exercises which many tutors use in relation to life drawing:
  • 'quickies' to get warmed up,
  • drawing with our 'wrong' hands (I'm pretty awful!),
  • drawing from memory (a continuous process of refinement) and
  • 'blind' drawing where you continue to move the pencil while looking at the model - and not at the paper and drawing from memory! Apparently we were all really good at the latter! However he did say he used to have a student who could do it for 20 minutes so I think I certainly have room for improvement in that department!
Life Drawing - long pose #1 (from the mirror view)
29cm x 42cm pencil
on cartridge drawing paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The workshop emphasised placing the model within a structure rather than drawing an isolated form - and we did a couple of long poses. I must confess I've drawn models like this for years as I always use the verticals and horizontals surrounding the model as a way of measuring from a fixed point (I'd be lost without the verticals and horizontals in the studio where I do my 'drawing a head' class at the Princes Drawing Shool!). I guess I must also get a lot of practice at doing this from my drawing of people in interiors.

I very much enjoyed Francis's style of teaching. He offers enough information for people to understand why they are being asked to do something and how to go about it. He also drew out the experience of doing something - noting, for example, how we all slowed down as we began to draw in ways which were unfamiliar. At the same time he tailors his comments to the apparent skills of the indiviudal who is drawing (which happened to include one lady who had never done a life class before!) and speaks quietly to individuals so as to not interfere too much with the concentration of the other people drawing. All that plus comments about the quality of the drawing by various renowened artists and a smattering of art history!

I'd certainly recommend a workshop with Francis Bowyer if you ever find one listed.

Future events

If you think you might be interested in the educational workshops and events run by the Royal Academy of Arts, check out the education page on their website. There's a whole range of activities for different people from different age groups and with different skills. For example, here are the links to some of what's available:
If you're interested in the RA Schools and the style of teaching take a peek at the RA Schools website and the statement about teaching.


  1. I am so jealous, That must have been a wonderful day. Thanks so much for telling us about it though. Now I want to go to the next one :)

  2. You aren't alone. There were people travelling to the workshop from all over the UK

    I'll see if I can find out if and when they are holding another one. There's nothing listed at the moment.


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