Drawing Workshop at the British Museum

Yesterday, I was privileged to join a study day organised by OCA  in conjunction with the Bridget Riley Foundation. The Foundation’s Project Officer at the Museum had again selected an interesting group of about 12 drawings, on the theme of environment and landscape, for us to examine in detail and draw from. She gave an excellent introduction to the works and their relevance to their time and to each other.

The works we looked at are listed below, together with my quick sketches:

Artist: Barbara Hepworth
Subject: St Rèmy: Mountains and Trees I, 1933
Media: Graphite on paper

It was interesting to feel how her marks started much tighter and more controlled at on the left and became freer moving to the right. Some of the loopy contour lines are repeated for the right foreground and the hills in the background, and that feels almost like a signature, a line completely natural to her.

Artist: Frank Auerbach
Subject: Study for ‘Another Tree in Mornington Crescent’, 2007 
Media: Charcoal, coloured crayon, felt tip pen

I really wish that I had had coloured pencils with me to try and record how he used colour to record density of mass. Here, I have tried to use weight of line for the same purpose, but, of course, he used both. I really like the way both Auerbach and Kokoschka used coloured pencils; I explored this a bit in Drawing 1 and must revisit it.

Artist: Thomas Girtin
Subject: Eidometropolis (Blackfriars bridge and St Paul’s), 1800-1801
Media: Pen and brown ink, with watercolour; squared for enlargement



Artist: Henry Moore
Subject: Shelter sketchbook
Media: Pen and black ink and graphite, with wax crayon and watercolour

Artist: Paul Signac
Subject: Still life with bowl of fruit,1926
Media: Charcoal and watercolour


Artist: Jan Breughel the Elder
Subject: A tazza-shaped vase with flowers tumbling over the bowl, 1583-1625
Media: Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

In both the Breughel and Snyder drawings (Snyder being a pupil of Breugel’s) are, at first glance very detiled, controlled and representational, but close observation of details shows how gestural, free and assured their drawing was.

Artist: Gabriel de Saint-Aubin
Subject: The interior of the artist’s studio, 1780
Media: Black chalk

Artist: Frans Snyders
Subject: Game and fruit, 1594-1657
Media: Pen and brown ink, over black chalk

Artist: John Napper
Subject: Dried plants, 1958 (no image available)
Media: Black and pink chalk, touched with bodycolour and white

Artist: Eugène Louis Boudin
Subject: Groups of figures near Planches, Trouville, 1866
Media: Graphite, with watercolour

Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Subject: La Crau from Montmajour, France, May 1888
Media: Brown ink drawing over black chalk

This is an immense, unbelievably detailed drawing, in ink, using a variety of nibs. The foreground looks like a reed pen used very freely and the far distance is very fine, precise marks using, I imagine, a fine steel nib. Then chalk under-drawing can be seen. He has put, if possible, even more detail into the distance than the foreground. I find the drawing of the train naive compared to the rest with less well observed perspective and proportions. This may of been because he could only observe it briefly as it passed, or that he was consciously or unconsciously recording how discordant he found it in the environment. 

Artist: Margaret Stones
Subject: “Helianthus Annuus” drawn at Kew Gardens, 1973 (no image available)
Media: Graphite and watercolour

Meticulous, scientific record drawings.

Subjects which were touched on in the discussions included the different purposes which drawing and making studies can have, how sketching on location effects choice of size and media, the differences in ways of looking before and after the invention of photography, and how different artists approached the analysis and portrayal of mass.

I found it particularly useful to discuss how, as an artist, I might approach copying a work and the different things I might be trying to explore and understand by doing so. For instance, I might be trying to understand their choices about weight of line or how marks are used to build mass. Our guide advocated copying a work multiple times, copying details, copying lots of works by the same artist, copying, copying and copying to understand and appreciate.

It was a real privilege to see and examine these works close up, especially the Van Gogh.  My personal favourites were the Signac and the Auerbach but everyone enjoyed being introduced to the work of John Napper.

After the study visit, I decided to visit the current exhibition ‘The American Dream‘ looking at contemporary and modern printmaking in American, and which I have written about here.



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