RISD Drawing Marathon 2019

March 6, 2019

Drawing Year alumni Nell Brookfield and Sara Anstis were awarded a place on the RISD Drawing Marathon in January 2019. Here Nell looks back at the weeks they spent in Providence. 


Nell Brookfield, Drawing Year 2018

On the 3rd of January 2019 I walked into a huge room in Providence filled with taxidermied birds, foxes, raccoons, skunks, owls, a bobcat, skulls, plants and tyres, rusting buckets, cloth draped from the glass ceiling and -amongst that inspiring treasure trove- life models; this would be our studio for the five-week RISD Drawing Marathon.

One hundred hours of non-stop drawing in two weeks. We started with huge observational charcoal drawings of the trove, of the life model, of fellow students, and from memory. We only stopped drawing to crit, eat, and sleep. Soon we all began to dream in charcoal. It followed us back to the dorm ingrained in our skin, clothes and hair, it kept us company on our towels and sheets and under our fingernails.


The first two weeks were challenging, exhausting and frustrating, at times, and hugely rewarding. I had never worked purely in charcoal, or from observation on such a grand scale. I never thought to draw a taxidermied swan next to a rusty bucket next to a life model next to a buffalo’s skull next to a cheese plant. It was thrilling.

After a while I entered into a new, less self-conscious state in which my decision-making felt more fluid; I began to see differently. The sheer size of the work forced me to pay greater attention to texture, shape, and tone, and pushed me to consider space and the relationship between objects in a way I had never considered before.

Now You See Me, 11x16.2cm, Pastel on Paper, 2019

Now You See Me, Nell Brookfield (2019)

Untitled (Cake) RISD 19 Nell Brookfield

Untitled (Cake), Nell Brookfield (2019)

Gwen Strahle, our teacher and administrator, was hugely helpful, endlessly supportive, and vastly kind throughout; she encouraged me at moments when I thought I couldn’t go on. The group crits helped me recognise and try to correct weaknesses and bad habits I was not aware of.

One of my favourite exercises was a self-portrait drawn only using touch. With one hand we felt the textures, lumps, and crevices of our face, with the other we drew what we felt. For my self-portrait (below) the only parts of me I did not touch were my eyeballs.


After two weeks we were set free to use the studios for our own practise, with intermittent crits. After working so intensely and on such a huge scale I surprised myself by immediately taking on the largest drawing I’ve ever done (below), with a new-found determination and confidence.


Please, No More Floods, Nell Brookfield (2019)

When I wasn’t in the studio I drew in the RISD Museum, which houses a collection from Ancient Egypt to Alice Neel. When I wasn’t drawing I’d walk around Providence, bright and cold with dramatic sunsets that always made me stop and stare.


I am very grateful to have had this experience which has strengthened my observational drawing, reaffirmed its central importance in my practise, given me new clarity about my work, and invigorated confidence to push myself further than ever I thought I could.

See behind the RISD Drawing Marathon here