The RISD Drawing Marathon 2023
Every year, two Drawing Year alumni are awarded a place on the intensive four-week Drawing Marathon at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence. Due to the pandemic, this is the first year since 2020 that we have been able to offer the opportunity to alumni and we're delighted that Edie Flowers and Eloise Lawson were able to go. Here Edie tells us about her time there...
What does it mean to you to be awarded a place on the Marathon?
It was a great segue to be thrown back into an intense learning environment after the end of The Drawing Year and a huge compliment to feel that my work was good enough to be considered for the marathon. On top of that, it was amazing opportunity to travel outside of the UK for an extended period without the stress of finding accommodation.
What were your expectations?
I generally like to stay open minded about new experiences and not focus on any expectations I might have in order to never be disappointed but I obviously expected to be doing a lot of drawing! I thought I'd get an insight into a different college system and working alongside students at a different stage of their education - a generational and culture change. And freezing cold weather!
How did the marathon surprise you?
I learnt a lot about drawing and light as we worked from morning to night with only natural lighting until the studios were pitch black. After these intense long days I would walk around the town at night in awe of the different light sources and light temperature and the different intensities of shadows in the streets cast by different objects; tree branches and leaves holding shadows which moved and filtered the light, and concrete objects; buildings or street lamps which cast heavy thick shadows that did not move. It was amazing to see the transition of drawing all day into night without the lights being turned on.
It was also a surprise that the marathon was so challenging to my practise; my work really took a step forward by being completely taken out of my normal environment. I love travelling and changing environment exactly for this reason - you can rebuild yourself and often you can reassess what is most important to you in your life and your practice.
What were your favourite days in the studio?
One of my favourite days of the marathon was when we were told we would be switching places in the studio to work on someone else's drawing. We had probably already spent about five hours minimum on these large drawings and we weren’t told how long we would be switching places for. At first I was devastated because I thought my drawing was going really well, and I wasn't sure what would happen to it or how to approach the drawing I’d been given.
I learnt about what I find important when working, what I was attracted to in representational drawing. It also highlighted where my own faults are - things I’m bad at or areas where I wasn’t taking enough risks. We weren’t told how long we would be doing this for so decisions needed to be made quickly and I found myself erasing and drawing much more freely than on my own drawing. I found afterwards that I stopped being precious with what I was making, understanding that I could always make the same marks again if I wanted to. This overall led to be being more adventurous and courageous and taking more risks with my drawing.
What was it like to study in a different institution, with new peers, new tutors?
In a way it was quite different from RDS where there are rolling tutors and different people in each class. The marathon was taught by one tutor and it was the same group of us working every day. The atmosphere was quite intense and you could see people improving with every drawing made.
What did you spend your time doing outside of the marathon?
Eating and sleeping mainly! Providence is a fairly quiet town, whilst there are lots of good eateries and a couple of bars we were usually exhausted by the end of the day. Sometimes, when we had free studio days, Eloise and I might go to one of the amazing university libraries or vintage shops. I was very relieved to be out of a big city and have some alone time in the evenings to think about the work I had made. I also had borrowed a good camera and spent a good amount of time documenting and editing photos which I don't usually do so it was great to dedicate time to that.
Coming from London where I’ve been for most of my life, I really enjoyed getting away from the noise. Saying this, there were lots of student social events and things to do locally - if you have the energy! And there were gym, music and cinema facilities on campus. On one of our days off Eloise and I went to Boston to see all the museums there which was a very easy and affordable day trip.
Is there anything else you think people might be interested to hear about...
I would say that this marathon, similar to The Drawing Year at RDS, is a life and practise changing experience if you allow it to be. I met some people here who I plan to stay in touch with - it was the first time I considered myself to be working and making contacts abroad. It was a very intimate experience of drawing and encouraged new ways of seeing for me.