Saturday, August 1, 2020

Rokeby Remote Learning Course

An artist and researcher named Courtney Clinton has found a trove of letters and sketchbooks in the Rokeby Museum that reveal how remote learning was handled a century ago.

Sketch of Honeysuckle Tree Branch, 1901, 
Rachael Robinson Elmer (1878–1919)

In a series of blog posts, Courtney will narrate the artistic journey of of one student, Rachael Robinson Elmer, who learned to draw and paint by means of an exchange of letters, drawing exercises, and critiques from a master.. 

To involve the rest of us online, she has invited us to join into the learning process with a free 12 week drawing challenge. 

She'll give everybody two weeks for each exercise. Here's the link to her first blog post and challenge. Future challenges will include doing an old master copy, a still life, a portrait, an illustration, and more. It's a great way to learn to draw and paint while learning how people learned in the past.

I asked her a few questions: 

1. How was art instruction in Rachael's time different compared to now?
Teachers were much tougher 100 years ago! Rachael is 12 when she first starts the course and her teacher Ernest Knaufft is not afraid to tell her when her drawing is “not good”. To a contemporary audience he might come off as mean but it’s extraordinary to watch how quickly Rachael progresses under his instruction.

When you read through the letters you understand that his criticism is very focused on objective truths like proportions, structure and line quality. His critics aren't a personal attack. He is trying to help her train her eye.

2. How would you describe Rachael's outlook toward nature?
Rachael grew up in Ferrisburg, Vermont on a Merino sheep farm. She is very connected to the land. Her father is a nature writer and she seems to emulate his work in her diary. In her writing she describes multi day hikes she would take with friends. She also keeps an almost daily record of the birds, flowers and sunsets she sees.

3. Can you tell us more about her process of doing nature studies, both in terms of practical techniques and mental approach?
Throughout her life Rachael kept up an active sketchbook practice. Rachael makes studies of both the individual parts of nature (branch of flowers, tree trunk, etc) and larger landscape scenes. Beside her sketches she often makes short observational notes. This tells us that her engagement goes beyond mere representation and is a kind of study of nature.

4. What would you like modern art students to get out of this project?
There is a narrative that exists that pits art theory against creativity. I lean into some of the philosophy that informs art theory to try and show how [the act of] engaging with the craft of drawing can actually inspire creative ideas. Beyond the lessons, the project also shares Rachael’s artistic journey. My aim is to demystify the life of an artist and give young artists a kind of path to follow.

5. Are there any other instructional books or resources that people can explore to help with their progress?
The books that influenced the form of this project are Color and Light by James Gurney; The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed, Fundamentals of Drawing by V.A. Mogilevtsev; and The Drawing Course by Charles Bargue. These books are designed for self directed learning. What I love about all of these examples is their use of images and drawing as the central tool for instruction.
Check out Courtney's Rokeby Remote Learning Course
and Courtney Clinton's website


E Snook said...

Project Gutenberg offers Harold Speed's book as a free e-book.

debraji said...

Rachael Robinson Elmer died of the Spanish flu in 1919, at the age of 40.