In 2007, I co-founded the Bristol Drawing School with Graham Woodruff, as a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of promoting drawing for professional artists within their practice and to provide inspiration within the community involving disadvantaged groups such as the homeless and issues surrounding mental health.
Our plan was to provide an unashamedly high quality programme of exhibitions, courses and workshops in a professional dedicated space partly inspired by my time at the Royal Drawing School in London and a desire to have access to the same facilities in Bristol. We invited artists and the tutors from all over the UK to run courses and workshops, curated exhibitions dedicated to drawing practice, and quickly started catering for around a 100 students each week.
What we perhaps didn’t initially realise was just how much the core activities of the Drawing School would play a strong role within the community of Bristol and surrounding areas. Through the provision of education in a professional but supporting environment they have seen clear and very rewarding improvements in the quality of life the courses and workshops generate for those involved.
We also put on a number of community events to encourage people to take up the simple and rewarding activity of drawing.
These included a number of free come and draw street studio in various shopping malls as part of the national Big Draw celebrations. These fun events included entertainment from Rose and Brian Popay from the very fine Fine Artistes who encourage passers by to sit down for a while and draw a still life, or take part in a large collaborative drawing of Bristol. We always got a huge response with people of all ages overcoming the initial reluctance to take the time out from their frantic shopping and draw us a picture, some stay for only a couple of moments others for a number of hours!
Other events included workshops for groups such as the adult learning group, art + power, and drop in drawing classes at festivals.
In September 2011, the Bristol Drawing School moved to the Royal West of England Academy, Clifton, enabling it to offer an expanded programme using the space that the academy provides, and I stepped down from active involvement to concentrate on my own practice. In 2016, it was rebranded as the RWA Drawing School and it continues to thrive in its new environment.
Notes on Drawing 1
Drawing has always had a major contribution to my work; it gives me the knowledge of the human form from which I can then make sculpture. When I sculpt it is never directly from a particular drawing but from my imagination, however it would not be possible unless I drew from observation, from life.
Recently as I sculpted, the models I have been drawing are there, small details of their form that must seep in and reappear in the sculpture, a curve of a hip or the way pressure is exerted on flesh.
I think drawing gives me the confidence to think that the mark you just made was the right one, it quickens up the pace of the sculpture, frees it up some how. I have said often it’s like a pianist doing exercises, they have to be done and then with that knowledge you are free to experiment with more confidence.
But I think drawing is not just an exercise for the main event, drawing from observation has an honesty about it, the lines you don’t realise you are making, the mistakes, the corrections, sometimes when you go back to look at your drawings it is as if you cant remember being there, its your drawing but you were somewhere else?
For me drawing is fundamental to my work, it seems to lighten me somehow, its difficult to explain. All I know if I do not draw my work becomes stylised, stiff and awkward; the energy seems to drain from it. Its not something I notice happening but somehow it becomes harder to work, it slows and is difficult to get right. Then I start drawing again and it is if someone has greased the cogs… the machine starts whirring and spinning again at full pace, anything is possible.
Notes on Drawing 2 : On drawing opening you up
The Bristol Drawing School for me has been like the opening of a door, what I have often thought and talked about drawing, is now coming to fruition.
If you have difficulties working or getting into work after a period away or something, drawing leads you back into creativity, and for me that drawing is observational drawing. One of our tutors recently said while we were talking about life drawing; your imagination can never be as infinitely interesting as what is actually out there! So therefore drawing is an exploration of what is there, like a discovery.
I was talking with Joanna one of the models about life drawing and how much I was enjoying it, I was saying how relaxing it was as you had to concentrate on the drawing rather than all the other menial annoying jobs that you should be getting on with. It seems to transport you away from those and make them somehow less important. It is so good for me to start the week like this as it just sets me on the right attitude, it does not get the jobs done but it makes me realise what is important.
She was saying how you have to be open when you are drawing, and its only when you are open then you are open to new ideas that come in from elsewhere. It is so true, it is so easy to be set in your ways the way you work, the approach to your work, what you can expect from it.
I am not saying drawing has some magical power but that is what it feels like sometimes, really really looking opens you to see more and more, I had been drawing all day Friday and then on the way into town in the evening just walking along a rather mundane road, the bus and then a van seemed to be a shape rather than a bus or a van. Walking over the bridge in town all the lights were incredibly colourful, like I had never seen them before.