There were similar men-only sketch clubs in New York and Philadelphia, both of which are still active today, though perhaps with different agendas. Membership in the London Sketch Club included newspaper illustrators and cartoonists like Cecil Aldin and Phil May, profiled earlier on the blog.
Howard Pyle had a similar sketch club for his students, a stag evening with ginger ale, beer, food, and a sketch competition. The winning sketch received the drawing that Mr. Pyle did that evening.
The sketching activity wasn't focused on observational sketching, such as the plein-air practice or urban sketching we think of today, but rather pen-and-ink or pencil sketches of assigned topics.
|Sketch by Lawson Wood, LSC, courtesy BPIB|
Pamphlets from the Slade School of Art in London describe how to enter artwork in each month's competition. Sketches would be submitted on or before the first Monday of the month, and they must be marked with the member's number on the lower left-hand corner with no other indication of the artist's name. Monetary prizes were awarded.
Each month, the Slade Sketch Club assigned subjects in five categories. Here are some examples of topics:
Special Figure: (Pluto carrying off Prosperine, Rape of Europa, Atalanta's Race)
Figure: (A Ball Room, The Music Lesson, A Family Group, Reconciliation)
Animal: (The Chase, Milking Time, At the Zoo, Danger, A Market)
Landscape: (Windy Day, Winter, River Scene, A Ruin, Seascape with Stormy Sky)
Modelling (Sculpture): (Door Knocker, Clasp, Letter-Box, Lectern)
The idea is still good—though maybe we can invite the ladies and forgo the smoking. There's no substitute for hanging out in a clubhouse with other kinds of artists—painters, cartoonists, illustrators, animators—and drawing from the imagination just for fun, in a low-risk setting. When I was an art student, we had similar gatherings at the Golden Palms Apartment. Sometime I'll have to show you the "E.T. Sketchbook"—wacky drawings of "rejected concept sketches for E.T." by Thomas Kinkade, Paul Chadwick, Syd Mead, and others.
W.M.R. French, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, wrote about the importance of imaginative sketching in the context of a complete artist's education. "From the beginning," he said, "a student should practice composition or picture-making, even in a rude way, in the classes of illustration and composition. Memory drawing should be stimulated by the assignment of subjects for illustration in which the student relies upon material accumulated in his studies elsewhere. He should learn to present a given subject in agreeable form with regard to line, arrangement, and balance of light-and-shade. This study gradually develops until it eventuates in a completed picture."
Howard Pyle's Sketch Club on the Howard Pyle blog
London Sketch Club's current website
Slade Archive Project, which is archiving ephemera
Previous related posts: Cecil Aldin, Phil May, Drawn Together, Golden Palm
Quote by Mr. French from Art Education in America by W. M. R. French, "Brush and Pencil" Vol. 8, No. 4 (Jul., 1901), pp. 197-206