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Back to school… a day in the life of an Outreach tutor

Published 17 November 2014

Our Outreach programme has been bringing life drawing workshops to schools for over 20 years. Tutor Paul Brandford tells us what’s involved.

  • The Royal Academy’s Outreach Workshop Programme is once more up and running for the new school year and visiting schools and colleges across the country. Centred on either life drawing or portraiture, these workshops for students encourage an approach to art based upon observation, instinct and exploration.

    As an Outreach Tutor, getting up at 6am counts as a lie in! Carol (our life model, interviewed for the blog here) and I are up early and meet at Waterloo to catch a train to Strode’s College in Egham, Surrey. Not so far out of town this time, but last Tuesday was Leicester and next week sees a trip to Taunton, as Outreach takes us all around the country.

    We have no idea who the students might be: their personalities, their interests or their drawing skills, so the workshop is built to accommodate a range of abilities – a sort of journey through drawing that hopefully has something for everyone. At Strode’s, the students seem quite mixed: some outgoing, some reserved, some quietly confident and others hiding their nerves. You have to trust them to be able to get on with it, and when things become difficult, to resist the temptation to give up.

  • Strode's College Outreach workshop

    Strode's College Outreach workshop

    Photo: Paul Brandford

  • We spend the beginning of the workshop exploring what kind of language charcoal can create in quite a structured way, and how that might be applied to drawing the nude. Today’s students took on this challenge without knowing at that time where it might lead; from moment to moment they were amused, surprised and maybe even horrified, but always engaged. I like to display as much of this work as I can so that a range of possibilities can be cross-referenced or assessed. These lessons are then drawn on in further poses of longer duration, where students find what works for them without the safety net of direct instruction.

    We’ve been to Strode’s College a few times now; the teaching staff there are incredibly hospitable (and have the knack of offering teas and coffees at all the right moments!) They are just as interested in drawing and how the students are getting on as we are. A love of the subject is something we share with all the teachers we meet.

    As the day progresses, we play, speculate and provoke as much as we concentrate. Funny poses, suggested narratives and unexpected connections seek to refresh how the students might think about what it is they are doing. The idea that life drawing is static, humourless, or even academic is dramatically dismissed.

    At the end of it all, the students are pretty much exhausted, which in my book is a sure sign that they’d been working with commitment and energy. Drawings have been made, looked at and discussed, and a group of quite varied people have got together and created an experience, which, yes, was educational, but also uniquely memorable. And tomorrow, we’ll get up and do it all again…

    Outreach workshops can be booked through the Learning department for the forthcoming school term. Visit our teachers and students page for more information.

    Paul Brandford is an Outreach tutor