Drawing from Drawings at British Museum

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

Drawings are the Important to my work. And it is a good idea to use used the British Museum to work on preparatory sketches and studies, inspired by the objects from Greece, Egypt, China and Assyria. Drawing enables me n to experiment more freely and spontaneously with line and form before realising my concrete ideas.

We had a chance to see the Print and Drawing collection as part of the Bridget Riley Art Foundation (BRAF) Programme at the British Museum. 15- 20 drawings were selected specifically for reference us ( MA painting students). I Know how drawing is essential to Riley and her work when she states in the essay that, for her, ‘drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out – the first thing that I discover is that I do not know’, Riley’s essay ‘At the End of My Pencil’, published by the London Review of Books in 2009.

A key purpose of the programme is to research the drawing practice of emerging artists to the old masters from history, specifically by university art students. Through this programme it is an attempt to bring students into the Prints and Drawings Study Room to take inspiration from drawings. And this happens through curating and leading workshops, and selecting works from the Museum’s rich drawing collection, one that stretches from the fifteenth century to the present day.

Initially talking about one of my favorite drawing among the collection yet very different from my drawing practice is Degas’ pastel drawings of dancers which are among his most well-known works, Similarly, like this one Dancers Practicing at the Barre, is a study in oil paint on green paper made in the 1870s. He often went backstage to capture the strenuous training required to perform in Parisian ballet.

The artist is known for his vivid ballet studies, capturing the swift movements of the dancers. This sketch was made using thinned-down paint, allowing Degas to work quickly.

This study was one of twenty drawings selected by Degas and his friend Michel Manzi for reproduction in colour in the album 'Degas: vingt dessins, 1861-1896' (Paris: Michel Manzi, 1897).

Decades of haunting the classrooms where the dancers practised inspired a large body of drawings in a range of media and formats. The BM drawing is an early example, executed in thinned oil paint on a brilliant green paper and comprising two spatially unrelated studies of a dancer stretching at the barre. On the left Degas captured the pose in a rapid sketch, allowing her head to be cropped by the sheet of paper and pausing only to study her right leg and foot in white paint mixed in with the black. He laboured longer over the figure on the right, the position of her back and head expressing the strain of the exercise. It also appears that the proximity of the two studies on the present sheet gave rise to the idea for the composition of `Dancers Practising at the Bane` (1876-7).

Another work that for me folllorws the same sense of free flowing lines is of Picasso’s modern drawing from the British Museum collection.

Picasso, seated nude and head of a woman, a preparatory study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Bodycolour and watercolour, impromptu sketches and compositional studies such as Picasso’s working out of his ideas for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, are shown alongside works that are complete in themselves. Some drawings are intended to provide a template for the final product, others to capture retrospectively something executed in another medium.

To Conclude all the works in the display demonstrate the diversity of artistic experience that drawing can unlock. In drawing from drawings for about an hour after the discussion gave us time to able to examine and explore these drawings in our own artistic process from a different perspective. Much more than direct copying, and I think such responses are pathways to encourage drawing practice today.