Issue 211
Winter 2019/2020

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Jan 25, 2020

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Drawing: a lost art?

Frances Anderson finds an encouraging answer in Edinburgh

IN OUR technology driven world, the simple, and not so simple, skill of drawing, has been in danger of disappearing. Drawing has been dropped from many art school curriculums, no longer deemed necessary or indeed fashionable. However, privately run art schools are re-introducing this historical skill, to students hungry to learn the time old and timeless art of putting pencil to paper.

Quietly tucked away in a New Town Edinburgh basement, hundreds of students are busy learning to draw. The venue, The Edinburgh Drawing School, founded in 2012 by Fiona McCrindle, offers a range of classes including landscape, still life, floral and portrait subjects, calligraphy and illustration, and of course, drawing.

A professional artist and experienced gallery director, Fiona's first degree was in Clothing Design and Technology, before completing both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art. A chance encounter then led her to running a contemporary art gallery in Edinburgh for several years, before starting the drawing school.

Why did she start the school? "A combination of some traumatic changes in my personal life and a clear vision of what the school could achieve, encouraged me to make the leap to leave that post and start my own business in 2012," she explains.

"I'd been thinking about the lack of observational drawing being taught at the big four Scottish Art Schools, and seeing the consequences first hand, (in both the artists and the customers' worries) when chatting to folk in the gallery, so the idea had been formulating for a while, and as I say, some trauma in my personal life gave me the push I needed to get started.

"Initially it was very small scale – I contacted a couple of artists/tutors who I'd had in mind to do some teaching, bought some equipment, and organised small classes in various hired halls. I did everything from learning how to build a website, to moving all the kit around the city in taxis, to keeping basic accounts. It was difficult but I was fairly single-minded. We don't receive any public funding, but we've survived, and continue to grow."

I ask why she thinks drawing is no longer on the curriculum of many art schools, and not as valued as it once was.

"This is a good but complicated question which would require an essay in response! Basically the shift in teaching at the schools went from observational (looking at something and learning how to draw or paint it) to emotional (thinking about that thing and how you would like to represent it). And here's the scathing bit… ..The problem with that approach was that the students didn't have the means/tools, or the knowledge, to express it with drawing, as they hadn't been 'taught' in the traditional sense.

"So it basically opened the doors for some very poor art (passing as 'edgy'). The cult of the individual that we see in today's culture also influenced the direction of this flow away from the tedious nature of actually being taught something towards a much more personalised expression (which didn't necessarily need any skill to present)."

How important does she think drawing is as a skill for artists? Fiona responds:

"Drawing forms the bedrock for pretty much all 2D artistic endeavours. Having a sound knowledge of drawing gives a knowledge of form and composition, and hence gives the freedom to then expand in any direction, even if that direction isn't obvious 'drawing' as such, (for instance into abstract painting). It allows the artist to intuitively assess composition, negative and positive space, flow etc., to create a certain harmony and competence in whatever their style of work.

"The School appeals to a wide range of people – we run very successful kids classes for ages 8 years up and our adult classes range from young professionals through to retired folk looking to reclaim their artistic heritage from traumatised school days!

"We've had students who've been with us from the beginning, and students who've gone on to change their lives on the back of their art – leaving jobs, going into full time art education, exhibiting artwork and so on!"

Mike Conway, who is retired, says: "I came to the first class with no skill in drawing and low expectations of both the process and myself. To my surprise I have experienced that the fundamentals of drawing can indeed be learned. That is a huge thrill and even more surprising to me than the learning of the craft has been that drawing has simply changed the way I look at the world around me. I notice things and how they sit in their place, whether it's a tree in the landscape, or just a kettle on a worktop. None of this existed in my world before I was taught how to take time, really look at what is in front of me and with pencil and paper set out to capture it."

Suzi Harris moved to Edinburgh in 2017 and signed up for a life drawing class. "I didn't have any formal training in drawing and enjoyed the challenge so much I'm still doing the classes today. It makes such a difference having a proper studio to work in and to work alongside others in a friendly and supportive environment. It's made a big difference to me and my art work."

"No qualification or experience is needed to attend our classes." says Fiona. "We aim to appeal to both absolute beginners, and to professional artists. The school offers a creative and inspiring environment where artists of all abilities can mix, taking encouragement from both the tutor and each other!

"It's all hugely gratifying, and seeing our students excitedly grow and develop is really the motivation for keeping it all going in these difficult times."

Edinburgh Drawing School – 13A Great King St, Edinburgh EH3 6QW Tel - 0131 556 0971



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