Drawing in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the British Museum

Yesterday, I joined a group of OCA students in a drawing workshop by Michelle Charles in the Print Room of the British Museum. This visit was facilitated by the Bridget Riley Foundation which provided drawing materials and whose project manager there, Sarah Jaffray, presented a selection of works chosen to show the importance of investigation and acceptance of mistake making in drawing practice.

The works ranged widely in style and included works by Raphael, Auerbach, Richard Hamilton, De Kooning, Hogarth and Bridget Riley herself. Seeing these works up close, outside the environment and lighting of a gallery, was a privilege of a rare order. After an introduction to each of the drawings, contextualising them, we had about 40 minutes to closely examine the works, discuss them and draw.

The works contrasted strongly in style and approach. Raphael’s  delicate drawing was placed next to Auerbach’s drawing of Ruth Bromberg, both executed in graphite. Whilst some might find Auerbach’s portrait of his friend rather brutal and repelant, I enjoy the energy and the sense of fearless exploration which I see in it; ‘every mark made, openly reveals its maker’s hand’ (as Masclen and Southern say of using a pencil (Maslen and Southern, 2011)) . It is this quality that attracts me to drawings over paintings.

This is my quick exploration of Auerbach’s drawing.

bm drawings (2 of 2)

I have got the tilt of the head wrong and that completely alters our understanding of the moment. In another drawing, I explored a tiny detail of a drawing by William Hogarth. This drawing had a different intention to Auerbach’s in that it is a study for a print. The drawing has an underlying structure of pencil lines creating a framework for perspective. Over this, he has drawn figures in pen. The scene is lively but the faces are barely suggested.

bm drawings (1 of 1)

These two works powerfully demonstrate how mood, attitude and even social status can be conveyed through the posture and the tilt of a head.

Bridget Riley has established her foundation to extend to current students the opportunities and benefits that she had as a student drawing in the Print Room of the British Museum. We were told that she examined and drew from the works of Seurat who she claims as a strong early influence, which seems quite surprising given the nature of her famous works.  The selection of drawings displayed for us included a preparatory drawing for one of her op art paintings. It was really interesting to see how drawing allowed her to work out her composition.

The point about even the greatest draftman making mistakes and struggling to find the truth of a subject is well illustrated by the trouble that wheelbarrow has given Hogarth. Auerbach is clearly never satisfied that he has full understood or definitively captured his sitter, because he drew Ruth Bromburg every Thursday morning for 17 years. He had other regular sitters who he also draws as repetitively, as he does the local landscape around Camden.  This detailed, exhaustive enquiry into an object, place or person (although not unchanging) seems to me to go to the heart of drawing as investigation.

Returning home, I was really tired but desperate to carry on drawing before surrendering myself to cooking supper.  In the first project in the course, I have been redrawing a corner of my kitchen which includes the expresso machine, so I quickly drew the area again trying to maintain the energy I felt in the Auerbach drawing.

bm drawings (1 of 2)

This drawing is in contrast to my earlier, more controlled drawing. Both are A2. Whilst it may not be as well observed or accurate, I do prefer the more energetic drawing. Hopefully, with a real discipline of practice, you could combine the two.

project 1 (1 of 6)

I would like to express my gratitude to the Bridget Riley Foundation for this wonderful opportunity.


Maslen, M. and Southern, J. (2011) The drawing projects: An exploration of the language of drawing. London: Black Dog Publishing London UK.

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