27 October 2015

Drawing in London museums

"Drawing Tuesday" has been going for a year, starting with my anticipation of a course I'd signed up for, called "Drawing in museums". When that course didn't run, I decided to go drawing anyway, and since October 2014 at least a dozen people have joined me at various times and venues, some consistently and others as their schedules permit.

We've drawn, one or more times, in -
  • Wallace Collection - armour 
  • - furniture 
  • Wellcome Collection 
  • V&A - glass gallery 
  • - medieval gallery 
  • - ceramics gallery
  • British Museum - Assyrian gallery 
  • - Korean gallery 
  • - Islamic gallery 
  • - Japanese gallery
  • - Barkcloth exhibition 
  • Natural History Museum - minerals 
  • - spirit collection 
  • Horninam Museum 
  • Museum of London - downstairs 
  • -medieval gallery 
  • Docklands Museum - top floor 
  • Imperial War Museum - WW1 galleries & central court 
  • Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood
  • Maritime Museum, Atlantic gallery
  • Science museum - Flight gallery 

Other possibilities for future Drawing Tuesdays -

  • Hunterian (Royal College of Surgeons) 
  • National Gallery 
  • National Portrait Gallery 
  • Somerset House 
  • Sir John Soane's Museum (your necessities must be transferred to a plastic bag)
  • Bank of England Museum
Some appealing places aren't open Tuesday mornings -
  • William Morris Museum, Walthamstow 
  • UCL Museums - Grant Zoology Museum 
  • - Petrie Museum
"Tuesday is drawing day" - Tuesday is the highlight of my week - I look forward to it and, through writing up a blog post each time, look back on it. The time spent writing and reflecting allows me to do my own evaluation, even if not all of that makes its way into the post. ("Never point out the things you did wrong" - !) Well, you can probably read between the lines...

One of the "best bits" is the time spent absorbed in the drawing, especially when it works. Though even when it's going wrong, and you carry on regardless, you often find you break through "wrong" and it starts to go "right" in unexpected ways.

Another "best bit" is the chat, especially the focused-on-drawing (or art) chat, that takes place over coffee/lunch. I have gained so much from this, and from seeing what objects people choose to draw, what media they use, and how they do it.

On the other hand, drawing conditions in museums can be difficult - especially when the drawing itself isn't going well. We do try to find well-lit, quiet corners, but sometimes the light is bad; sometimes the noise and the flow of people (so many people in some places!) is disturbing. It's not always easy to ignore a cluster of schoolchildren standing around discussing what you're doing! (But goodness, these kids need all the encouragement they can get...)

Making close contact with museum objects, and thereby with their makers, their context, their traditions, is for me extremely satisfying. Drawing the objects, or a collection of objects, is very different from taking a photo, or even from doing some research on the object or topic. What you draw may live in the museum, but it becomes yours. Your sketchbook becomes a museum of your own ... a sort of cabinet of curiosities, collected for your own reasons.

For some people, choosing what to draw proves difficult. There are so many possibilities; and sometimes you're determined to find something that will fit into a theme that you're working on. One approach is very simple: start anywhere. What you do will lead you on - maybe to something similar, or maybe you decide you want something completely different. After all, you've committed about two hours, hardly a lifetime! - and even if you're not satisfied with what you've done, you're getting an inkling of why that might be, and what you can change next time.

When you do a sketchbook course, you're told not to tear any pages out, even if you really hate what's appeared on them. A lot has been written on the importance of "learning from failure" - perhaps less has been written about the pleasure of looking back and realising that now you can do better, or can avoid the pits that you fell into, back then. But guidance on reworking your sketchbooks is less clear. There can times when it's good to revisit a subject, and times when it's better to move on. I have some pages that I'll return to "one day", don't we all?

Some practical things that have emerged so far:
- "blind drawing" is a great way of warming up and getting your eye in 
- a camera is so useful for getting a closer view of an object - take a photo and zoom in on the screen (drawing from the screen isn't "cheating", imho)
- when you show your work to other people, you look at it differently yourself
- looking at your work upside down can reveal things that need changing

My time in Berlin confirmed that it's exciting to go to a new city and see new museums, new objects, new ways of arranging them. Back home, though - it's wonderful to have (free, at the moment) access to London's wonderful museums ... and there's so much yet to be discovered in them.

Drawing elsewhere
On Christina Laurel's blog you can read about her contribution to her museum's (Greenville County Museum) regular activity:
"Sketching in the Galleries session .... The Museum provides Sunday drop-in opportunities that are free and open to the public, no preregistration required. During the sketching Sundays, visitors sit on stools, are loaned sketchpad and graphite pencil, and are treated to a mini drawing lesson from 2-3pm. Each week is different, with offerings of music, history, film, and demonstrations. Duke Energy is the series sponsor, but it is the Museum that should receive credit for initiating this level of community engagement. Bravo!"

I'm keeping an eye open for more of these.
The Big Draw at Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey


Sandy said...

Have you tried the fashion gallery at the V+A. fabrics and the way they drape on a figure can be a real challenge. Especially when having shapes we aren't familiar with how they wear.

magsramsay said...

I've learnt so much through this experience.
Today I went back to the ceramics gallery at the V&A and drew some oil lamps then rewarded myself with coffee and cake in the Members Room. Missed having the company though.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Such an enjoyable post for one who has followed your drawing sessions & does some sketching herself. Such a good explanation of the why of sketching for those who do, those who don't & those who wonder why they should.