The Royal Academy has stood on Piccadilly since the 18th century, forming the style of British art giants including JMW Turner and William Blake. I was here to review the chiaroscuro class. But there’s one tiny problem: I can’t draw for toffee. I’m too inexperienced for even a beginner’s class. I realised I was about to spend my evening rendering the poor model into sketches that looked more like fried eggs than human beings.
Before we picked up our charcoals, the evening started with a quick intro by an RA lecturer. Then we dove straight into the practical bit. The time was clearly structured: three sketches, each with its own objective. First, we do a reductive sketch, scrubbing a sheet of paper black with charcoal and rubbing white highlights out to make a figure. After the sketch when we each lay out our work, I glance around at other people’s work and pick up a few tips before we start the second exercise: the same pose, but this time on white paper.
By the third sketch I could see a clear improvement in my work and the one-to-one attention I got proved really helpful. It was also great to see in other students’ work how shape, shadow and tone (all mentioned in the intro) really work in practice.
The class wasn’t perfect: for a start, walking to the classroom past the bins kind of ruins the glamour of the venue. It would have been great if organisers had asked everyone to turn up ten minutes before class for a cuppa, and if the lecturer hadn’t lost ten minutes on a digression about warm and cold tones.
But in the space of two hours, I learned that contrast does the work for you, that identifying five tones in your sketch helps you structure work quickly, and that absolute beginners can double their abilities in two hours, given the right help. Expensive, but well worth it.
By Ellie Broughton