RDS Recommends with Nikki Gardham

May 28, 2024

Nikki Gardham is a painter, born in Essex, now living and working in London. She graduated from The Drawing Year in 2013 and now teaches on our Public Programme and Young Artist courses. Here she takes us through some of things that have inspired her recently...

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Portraiture inspiration

How many times have you been to the National Portrait Gallery since the refurb and rehang? Despite it being a busy place, it is possible to find a quiet(ish) corridor or stairwell and get lost in life on the walls. Portraits by artists previously neglected are now up to enjoy - it’s a pleasure to find one or two new friends each time I pass by the NPG. And it’s free! I’ll also be popping down to Victoria Miro to see portraits by Boscoe and Geoffrey Holder’s, open from June 1st, just in time to get some new colour portrait inspiration.

1. Ray Strachey

Ray Strachey by Unknown artist, oil on board, 22 in. x 16 in. © NPG

People and paintings in books 

My favourite stories about people in recent years are by Elizabeth Strout and Nina Stibbe, both of whom create portraits of exquisitely odd, funny and very believable characters. For great writing on artists and art I love Olivia Laing and Ali Smith – whose mesmerising ‘How to be Both’ topples you literally into the world of paintings.


The beaches in Wapping 

I love the hubbub in the city but isn’t it amazing, in a city of 9 million, to turn a corner and find yourself alone or with a few other people. Walking down one of many sets of stairs to the river in Wapping you might be the only person on the ‘beach’, but the history of the city is under your feet. Mind the tides.

3. Wapping beach B

Sir John Soane's Museum 

Draw interior inspiration from Sir John Soane's Museum – the home of the architect and collector Sir John Soane. Gawp at all kinds of wonders from antiquity, slapped up from floor to ceiling. It’s free, you just walk up and wait your turn.

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Garden Museum 

For a horticultural fix head to the Garden Museum –  set within the old St Mary of Lambeth church, it’s a superbly calming place. Inside, it tries to explain our need to cultivate little patches of land through objects, installation, drawings and paintings. It often has wonderful exhibitions too – currently showing ‘Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury Women Outdoors’, curated by Dr Claudia Tobin who also curates the School's lecture series.


Townhouse cafe

One of my favourite places to visit, near the Royal Drawing School, is the Georgian streets in Spitalfields. I like to take a wander, then drop in to Townhouse cafe, Fournier Street, opposite Nicholas’s Hawksmoor’s Christchurch. It has a small gallery space through the courtyard and downstairs a 300 year old kitchen serving tea in pots and cakes for the weary.


Nikki is teaching on numerous courses this summer including:

Drawing a Head

Summer School: Painting Portraits and Self Portraits

Drawing Flux and Flow: Watercolour and Ink

Young Artists Portfolio Preparation

See our full programme of Pubic courses