Drawing from The National Gallery: Ekphrasis Exercise

April 28, 2020

Here Ann Dowker, Drawing from The National Gallery tutor, introduces the idea of Ekphrasis - the dramatic, vivid and imaginative description of a work of art; a painting to a poem or a piece of music, that we can use to inform and enliven our drawing.

A bacchanal (after Poussin)Stephanie Forrest.jpg

For this exercise, you will need to nominate one person to describe a work of art. The National Gallery has an impressive online collection including many familiar, and many probably unfamiliar works available to be viewed in high definition. 

Many 16th century Renaissance artists used the Greek texts to inspire their paintings, as there were no actual Greek paintings found with the exception of wall paintings. The other important text used were the Tales of Ovid which contain the most mesmerising physical descriptions of the Greek myths. The visual arts, including sculpture, painting and architecture, were strongly influenced by these texts; the word evolved into the image. This is clearly in evidence in The National Gallery's collection, a major example being Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne engravings.

Firstly, you will be offered a description which you will make into a drawing or painting. For those describing, look at the painting as foreground, middle ground and back ground. Point out the major interest in these areas: is the ground flat, does it undulate, time of day, busy or calm. You can register any of this by your reaction to the work which will be unique.


For those drawing, it is up to you to interpret the description. The only definitive point you should adhere to is the format or the shape of the picture. For example, a painting might be rectangular, square or circular. 

You can use any drawing or painting materials; graphite, charcoal, gouache, watercolour, oil paint, or even clay.

Once the work has been completed, the painting in question can be 'revealed' and the whole work drawn or painted. Studies can be made using drawing, painting, sculpture, collage or even monotypes.

It will be interesting comparing your idea with the one the painting presents to you once it is revealed. You will have learnt from the work and feel as if you own it.

Drawing from The National Gallery starts on Tuesday 12 May. For more information and to book click here

Artworks from top: Stephanie Forrest, Ella Walker