Louise Reynolds discusses how her experience of studying at the Royal Drawing School encouraged her to develop a daily drawing practice. She outlines the benefits she experienced while drawing everyday and discusses the drawing materials she uses. Along with this, she also offers tips and encouragement for artists looking to create more drawings themselves.
Header image: Work by Cai Arfon Bellis (left) and George Williams in their studio (right)
Studying at the Royal Drawing School
A daily drawing practice has become an essential facet of my practice as a current student on the Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School (RDS). Prior to the course, drawing was mainly a means to an end for planning my paintings. Now it’s become a way of thinking through doing, seeing keenly, and continually opening up an exciting range of dry media for making finished works. Here I will underline the benefits I’ve come to realise from maintaining a daily drawing practice, and explain some ideas for how to implement this into your own work.
For context we are a selective group of around 30 students who yearly are awarded a full scholarship to take whichever classes offered by the school we think will develop our personal practice best, as well as a studio space for personal use. As a cohort we are encouraged to engage with observational drawing in the life room, galleries, museums, and in the streets of London, as a source of inspiration for developing our own language and process through mark making. People join the Drawing Year from a wide variety of experiences and artistic backgrounds which makes the culture of the group exciting to be a member of, and there is a wide spectrum of methods taught at the school by a great variety of artists. For instance, within the subject of life drawing alone, you could pick an academic class looking at scientific anatomy, or go for one that’s more experimental about transforming what you see through imagination or method.
Overall the school facilitates growth through challenging our previous methods of making and encouraging development through both technical and experimental learning. I believe that drawing in this consistent manner can be beneficial for all artists and I’ll explain the key ways in which this has enhanced my experience as an artist so far.
Drawing to Find Time
Oftentimes in our ‘out of house’ classes we are working in very busy areas of London. Drawing consistently in these environments is a grounding experience and allows time for prolonged looking, since these are places you’d usually pass through very quickly. For instance, when drawing in bustling landmarks like the British Museum, on a normal visit you may stop and look at an artefact for a couple of minutes before moving on. But with this routine for prolonged looking and drawing, you spend enough time before things to allow you to appreciate the human hands that have crafted them, drink in the energy of the space around you, and embrace being still for a moment in a city that’s always moving. This isn’t to say that all of the individual work we make is prolonged, but spending whole days focusing on looking, recording and investigating the things we find most interesting about a place or object or artwork is incredibly introspective.
Initially I found this process quite staggering as there’s a vulnerability with drawing amongst the public and having your process be seen by potentially hundreds of people, but through time this self consciousness dissipates, which is an important lesson in artistic confidence itself. Oversaturation is a huge problem in the art world, and on Instagram we almost have too much freedom to scroll past artworks in seconds with barely any engagement with them. By stopping to draw with intention and focus you immerse yourself in the subject and can understand it on a deeper level, be that a painting from the National Gallery or a view of St Paul’s Cathedral. So drawing every day isn’t purely for developing practical skill, it’s also just as much about adopting a visually appreciative, and focused mindset.
Daily Drawing as a Catalogue of Development
At first the sheer volume of drawings I produced every week was overwhelming, but now I have a catalogue of works to refer back to and find inspiration in. Even if at the time I felt I’d made a bad drawing, it’s only in hindsight that the value of this work can really be appreciated. Often the briefest of drawings is now just as important in generating my personal work as the most prolonged studies. At the beginning of the course we were encouraged to never throw out any of our work, and this advice has been so valuable since we have a record of our development, and are able to surprise ourselves with the things we can rediscover in drawings that were made months ago.
The constant practice of drawing observationally has also technically sharpened my ability to make work, and even when I’m not working from life I feel I now reach conclusions quicker than before with this newly refined skill. Drawing daily has especially affected my personal practice in terms of speed and breadth of imagery as I’ve collated a new subconscious, and physical bank of works to spring from, purely from consistently making. I find myself picking elements of drawings I’ve done in classes and focusing on the parts which I enjoyed the most, which could be something as simple as the quality of light or particular pose of the body, and choosing to develop that further.
Therefore daily drawing is also important due to the volume of works produced through it. Having a library of images already appreciated by your own hand and mind is an effective point of departure for making new work as it’s already been engaged in a process of making that is personal and unique to you. Regardless of how you feel about these daily drawings directly after making them, they’re all already deeply more involved in what enthuses you as an artist than any reference photo pulled from the internet.
Drawing Materials & Grounds
All kinds of art materials are used at the school, but in our classes charcoal, pencils, pastels and ink are probably the most popular across the board. This can, however, change widely depending on the class we’re participating in, and experimentation through mixed media, collage and alternative materials is encouraged. Most people work on loose sheets of paper, though we are encouraged to modify them in order to enhance the drawing. Be that extending a drawing with several sheets, or ripping it down to a custom size, and potentially preparing it with a ground such as gesso or a wash of colour to enhance the surface for making. Through consistent practice it’s become very clear that the chosen ground is just as important as what’s applied to it in the overall finish of a drawing.
In out of house classes some people carry sketchbooks or drawing boards to work on loose sheets of paper, but it’s really up to personal preference and the goals of the class. This means we’ve all produced a wide range of sizes of work, which has been beneficial for me to stop myself falling into a routine of working with certain formats. Through making with a variety of media and paper types and sizes, only then can you identify the specific benefits each holds for your own style of making. Personally, I’ve found a new love for mixed media drawing, combining pencils, pens and inks together to create a complex surface, and I never would have found this without being open to trying it all.
Royal Drawing School Facilities and Environment
The Royal Drawing School building in Shoreditch is where we have our in-house classes, which has large studio spaces, lined with windows, easels, and paper ready for our use. Drawing in a space with natural light is a very different experience to one that’s artificially lit in terms of mood and colour, and in classes both are utilised depending on the tutors goals. There’s also a variety of props and fabrics that can be used to enhance the life room setting, which helps to engage my imagination in the setting of a work. Furthermore, having the option to work on an easel, a donkey, our lap, or on the floor, leaves us free to make in a way that feels natural to us. There’s also a printmaking workshop downstairs which we have access to for etching, and it’s filled with books and prints on the walls, making it an invigorating place to work. This altogether has made me realise the importance of having flexibility in the physical environment in the studio, and objects of inspiration closeby.
The studio culture in the building is exciting as you often have several classes ongoing on the same day. Since our classes are open to the public to join, part of the joy of the course comes from the people you meet. There’s a very nurturing energy to the school, and often I find myself learning from my peers in these classes. As Drawing Year students we also have access to personal studios where we further develop the work made in our classes and our own personal practices. We also have a core day once a week where the Drawing Year group is brought together for a class with different tutors each session. This gives us the opportunity to come together as peers and work alongside each other when we may not otherwise catch people in our chosen classes.
Drawing daily has been an invigorating step in developing my work, through a renewed ability to look with focus, enhanced technical skills, constant inspiration by making, and a new appreciation for drawing materials and surfaces. As a current student I’m excited to see how participating in the Drawing Year will continue to affect my practice once I’ve finished. Although it’s taken being at the school for me to make these leaps, I’d encourage all artists to draw as regularly as possible from observation and imagination, since draughtsmanship in a consistent routine starkly reveals both your personal identity through mark making, and endless creative potential.
For any interest in applying to the Royal Drawing School, the deadline for application for the upcoming 22/23 Drawing Year is the 28th April at 12pm.
Further Reading on the Jackson’s Art Blog
Everything you Need To Know about Drawing Paper
Inside The Sketchbook Of Kay Gasei
A Hundred Times Looking – Observational Drawing As Meditation
For Those Who Love To Draw: Four Artists Test Our Drawing Materials
Inside The Sketchbook Of Jessica Jane Charleston