Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sketch Clubs, Circa 1900

In Ye Good Old Days, artists formed social events called "Sketch Clubs." The purpose of these social groups was conversation, smoking, music, comic speeches, and imaginative picture-making.

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


Lindsay Gravina said...

This is a great idea.

mirana said...

We do this once a week at a local bar, with a different sketch theme each time. Last week was Mythology. The location isn't my favorite (it's very small, loud, and dark), but it is nice to socialize and conceptualize in a very loose way.

Daniel New said...

I'm very interested in those E.T. drawings... I've always thought you and Syd Mead's drawings/sketches looked very similar (not so much finished paintings). If you compare your drawings from The Artist's Guide to Sketching and his drawings in the Bladerunner sketchbook they look almost like the same person. I've always found that fascinating and wondered if there was a common shared teacher or favorite artist between the two of you. Did you two know each other and/or draw together in the early days?

Kurt Ankeny-Beauchamp said...

James, if you've not heard of this, I suggest that you google "Drink and Draw" because these little clubs are very much alive in cities and towns all over the US, and they're much more inclusive, often bringing in talents from circus acts and cosplayers to model for the group, and sometimes just a get together of artists drawing from their imaginations, as these seemed to be. Women and men, young and old are all welcome, and of course they seem to be run by cartoonists, animators, and concept artists, depending on the region of the US.

Tom Kelly said...

Yes the term sketch group has metamorphosed into a "Drink and Draw" group. I know of a few here in chicago where I'm based as well as I'm regular member of the main chicago comic book and Illustrators Drink and draw group.
As the article states is a great way to compare notes and be active amongst like minded individuals. We meet in the back room of a local bar which is cool to us they keep it well lit and is a very relaxed environment. We bring busy work or take part in themes, and share info on tools and techniques. My group has painters,pen and ink artists,video game concept artists,comic book artists such as myself, and even sculptures and jewelry makers. It's a very valuable resource to help stay a well balanced artists in touch with the world around themselves.

Gail Howard said...

In Amsterdam we have The Open Draw, a regular meeting for sketchers, designers, illustrators, drawing artists, painters and beginners with ambition of all ages and nationalities.
We provide a whole host of materials free to use and all activities are drawing based, encouraging work from the imagination.
The social setting in a welcoming environment helps the artists to relax, share and connect. We encourage our artists to present their work to each other and host workshops, life drawing sessions, exhibitions and more.
We also collaborate with a film and photography group and The Amsterdam Urban Sketchers for more outdoor activities.
The regularity of the sessions helps the artists to connect and sustain relationships, which often fruit into collaborative work projects.