RISD Drawing Marathon 2020

March 3, 2020

Every year, two Drawing Year alumni are awarded a place on the intensive four week Drawing Marathon at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. This January Jordan Cook and Jake Grewal flew to the US and here Jordan reflects on his time there.


I was curious to what know what was going to come from this new adventure, how it was going to challenge the sort of work I was making on The Drawing Year. What was going to change? Now back in Essex, with most of the charcoal washed away, and drawing muscles stretched, it seems like a good time to reflect on my time in the States.

I arrived in Providence on the first day of the year, with every possible layer wrapped around me. The Vice Dean of RISD warmly welcomed me and Jake to the school and showed us where we needed to be. We entered a room filled with a whole jungle stretching through two rooms. Every inch of the studio set-up found a furry friend sneaking around a corner, jumping through heaps of plants, skulls and clunky scraps of metal. It was all sitting there patiently, waiting for us to come in to draw. 

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There was no easing into the Drawing Marathon; our first drawing started as an A3 drawing and ended as a 5ft by 6ft tonal drawing, using the whole room as our subject. The first day set the rhythm for the next two weeks. We worked on the bigger drawings all day and took breaks for crits, meals, and, you guessed it... more drawing! Twelve-hour days of drawing began feeling like any other ordinary day; we dreamt in picture planes, line, texture and tone. 


A favourite drawing exercise of mine was a life-size self-portrait using only the touch of our skin and clothes to guide our way through our drawing. It was a major psychological test; trying to describe the inner feeling of touch, while externally drawing on the paper. It became a kind of dance and was beyond anything I'd ever experienced before.

The darker drawing-room helped me push through some blocks in my work. The warm afternoon light would be swallowed up by 4pm and I had to use a torch to see what kind of damage I was doing to my drawing. It became the most exciting time for me to work, where full mistreatment of my drawing would open things back up and allow me to play. The process felt important to me, working in a way where I was half in control of the materials, and half letting the materials do the work for me. 

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I stopped expecting so much from my drawing and began loosening up. I started using the space entirely differently to how I was before; letting the space around each object describe the forms for me, rather than drawing each individual object.


One of the many highlights from the month was a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I found a favourite Degas painting of mine, Duchessa di Montejasi with Her Daughters, Elena and Camilla (c.1876), and some great works by Mary Cassat, Alice Neel and Giacometti. I started to see things in the paintings I hadn't really understood before, and it felt like I had really grown in such a small amount of time.


After a refreshing break, the next two weeks of the marathon focused on our studio practices. I was eager to explore the new materials I'd been wrestling with in previous weeks and wanted to take full advantage of having a big space to work in. I laid out three sheets of paper around me and created a huge mess of gesso and collage to have to deal with. I was excited by the physicality of a mixed media drawing. It forced me up and down ladders carrying arm-fulls of push pins, pva-glue and torn paper to draw with; I had to extend myself to make this thing work. 


I was interested in the way that collage and drawing brought together seemed to go beyond the illusion of the drawing and seemed to exist more in the space of the room. It maintained the rawness and unfussiness of drawing while appearing more sculptural in form. 

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I feel as though the muscle memory of this special place will stay with me in my work for a long time now, and I am immensely grateful for this unique experience. Thank you Gwen Strahle for your constant support and guidance throughout the whole month, and Rhode Island School of Design and The Royal Drawing School for organising such a spectacular start to the year!

Please have me back!     

Follow Jordan on instagram _jcook or visit his website www.jordancook.co.uk