This past summer I participated in Graham Nickson’s Drawing Marathon at the New York Studio School (NYSS) in June (June 6-17th).
NYSS originated in 1963, and offers an in depth certificate program and MFA degrees in painting, drawing or sculpture. NYSS resides on West 8th St, NYC, in a building that was the original home of the Whitney Museum of Art.
The drawing marathon is a two week intensive program to which one must apply and be accepted. The school also offers painting marathons and sculpture marathons. I came to think of the whole program as taking my drawing vitamins. Matriculating students are required to participate in at least one marathon each year. Many outside students also participate. The students represented a wide range of age and experience levels.
Graham Nickson, who has been Dean since 1988, instituted the drawing marathon, as well as, a highly regarded evening lecture program. NYSS offers painting, drawing and sculpture studied in depth, debated energetically and created with passion. “We strongly believe in drawing.” (Nickson)
Each day began in the studio at 9 am; the 36 enrolled students were assigned spaces equipped with easels and small tables in 3 different classrooms. Drawing assignments were made early in the day with modifications or extra steps in the process added as the day progressed. We drew the figure models (3 in our room) each day.
Two other faculty members assisted Graham Nickson in explaining assignments, processes and making visits to each of the students for personal feedback sessions.
Usually at 5:30 pm drawing would stop and we would gather at 6pm in the critique room. Students scheduled to be critiqued would hang their drawings on the wall and discussion lead by Nickson would ensue. The opportunity to have one’s work critiqued was rotated throughout the marathon. Not every critique included every student’s work. At the end of each day I enjoyed being “used up.” The day long projects challenged me to observe, change, adjust and then do it all again.
We worked in charcoal on paper for the majority of the assignments. Black and white acrylic paints were used occasionally but charcoal and erasers ruled the two weeks.
The program emphasized the importance of using negative space to develop solid compositions. Keen observation, making corrections, and showing the struggle were parts of the learning process. The marathon was well organized and worth the two weeks of dedication. Nickson remarked, “Looking is easy, seeing is hard.” The drawing marathon helped this artist to learn to see.