The RISD Drawing Marathon 2018
Alice Macdonald, Drawing Year 2017
The coldest I have ever been was the day we arrived in Providence, the day before the Drawing Marathon began. It was -25 degrees as we trudged through snowy streets and up a hill to find out where we would be staying. No other sensible person was out in that weather and the town was so deserted we wondered if anyone lived there at all (imagine a scene from the film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’). However we didn’t stay cold; luckily central heating in America is very good and we also received a very warm welcome from everyone in the university- both students and staff were incredibly friendly, offering advice, tours of the campus and inviting us to their tables for lunch.
The Drawing Marathon is part of a what is called the ‘Winter Session’ in the US; a period when students are encouraged to choose a different course from thier major and try something new. Therefore, we worked alongside a real range of students; from foundation to MA level, including painters, architects, illustrators, animators and sculptors. It was great to meet such an amazing group of people; we all had very different approaches and everyone had lots of advice to give in feedback sessions.
A typical day began with a large 5 x 7 ft drawing of the enormous still life set up that Gwen Strahle (Drawing Marathon Leader) had spent a week creating. It was made up of stuffed animals, plants, bones and other strange objects draped in fabric as well as a two life models. Sometimes we would wipe out a whole day’s drawing and start again, or draw on each other’s drawings or paint over them with gesso and draw over that. We had an hour’s break for lunch and then when the sun went down we could do a different drawing exercise such as drawing from memory or drawing each other. My favourite session was doing a self-portrait only from feeling our faces.
After dinner we would usually draw the life models in a different studio until we finished at 9pm. I ended each day exhausted and covered up to my elbows in charcoal. However, perhaps because Americans are very enthusiastic by nature or perhaps thanks to the amazing and never ending energy of Gwen, there was always a great atmosphere in the room, and to my amazement no-one ever complained or tried to sneak out of the classroom. If Gwen asked us how we were feeling someone would always whoop and say ‘doing great!’
The experience of the Drawing Marathon revealed to me just how much more there always is to learn about drawing and reinforced the importance of drawing in my practice. I feel like it definitely changed my drawing in some way. Although I always strayed somewhat from a direct representation of the set up that was in front of me, I have found that since my return, my drawings have a new sense of space to them. I have recently begun work on a series of large charcoal drawings in my studio, something I would never have imagined I would be doing.
With all the drawing we didn’t have much time for anything else but we did have three days in New York before the Marathon started and we had a chance to visit Boston on one of our days off. Both cities were really interesting and exciting and apart from eating in diners and going to jazz bars we also managed to see some incredible art in both, including an amazing Edvard Munch exhibition at the Met. I think the only other thing I have to mention about the trip is the amazing RISD canteen where we ate like kings every day: eggs, bacon and pancakes were made for our breakfast and ice cream sundaes with all the toppings were always available.
All in all the Drawing Marathon was an incredible experience and I feel very lucky to have been able to take part in it.
Joana Galego, Drawing Year 2017
Starting from the very beginning: I first came across RISD when searching for Universities where I could pursue Fine Art or Illustration. Living in Lisbon, a glance at the fees and the mere fact I’d never been to America made it seem very far away, but this didn’t mean I’d forgotten it. I love the work of a number of RISD alumni such as Nicole Eisenman, Laura Owens, Kara Walker, Francesca Woodman and Julie Mehretu, to name a few. You can imagine my excitement when I read about the opportunity to study drawing at RISD for two weeks amongst other students. Without thinking twice I wrote showing my interest to apply and I didn’t believe it was happening until I finally arrived in New York on a freezing night, a few days before New Year’s eve.
we travelled to Rhode Island to start the Marathon, we had time to explore
a snowy New York City. Both me and Alice started to draw everywhere, stopping
in cafes to draw and warm up before venturing into the cold again. We were both
wondering how The Drawing Marathon was going to be, feeling nervous and excited
at the same time. Were we prepared 12 hours of drawing every day for two weeks?
Having just graduated from The Drawing Year I was interested to see the possible shifts my work would take; the subject matter and the way in which I would use all the new information I gathered during the course. To be involved so intensively with observational drawing during The Drawing Marathon reminded me of the questions and problems I had encountered on The Drawing Year: how to express something through drawing from observation, how to make it mine. Is it positive to use it as a training tool, is that enough? I certainly felt it didn’t satisfy me enough if done that way. This led me to focus a lot on composition, how to crop the set up in my mind before starting a new drawing, how to sometimes manipulate what was in front of me just by a change of the viewpoint. Mostly these were frustrated experiments, which were punctuated by moments of excitement, learning and discovery. During the two weeks at RISD I developed a deeper an awareness of tone, the ‘sculpting’ of forms on paper through drawing, erasing and drawing again; the importance and beauty of what I’d call ‘ghost lines’ - erased marks on top of each other, creating a sense of movement and absence. These were a few of the things I thought about a lot working through those long days, challenged by Gwen’s conversations.
As the days passed we became more tired but the enthusiasm didn’t cease: it was motivational to see everyone’s work and the pauses for group critiques would always be important moments to look at our own drawings through a refreshing new perspective. We rarely stopped and the rooms were filled with the frenetic sounds of drawing, stepping on ladders to get to the top of the papers or walking back and forth to see the works from a far.
Although our days were very busy we still managed to tour the campus and visit some of the students’ studios. Alice and I would sometimes comment on the feeling that we had been at RISD for much longer than we actually had, enhanced by such a consistent routine, and building quick relationships with our friendly classmates. Needless to say it wasn’t without some sadness that I left Rhode Island at the end of our stay: a bittersweet mixture of wanting to stay a bit longer but also eagerness to get back to London in order to develop some new work in the studio, informed by those two unique and incredible weeks.