Sunday 8 February 2015

Drawing at the British Museum

Above: I should point out that the mummy Tamut was actually a priest's daughter, not a temple singer; I confused my mummies there.

Sometimes when you go around a museum, the visitors are just as interesting as the exhibits. As someone who always feels a bit self-concious drawing strangers up close and personal, being in a museum is the perfect alibi to do so undetected. You can stand by a display (preferably with your back to a wall, as people are always nosey and look over your shoulder) and sketch out the scene in front of you. Whenever someone interesting comes along to look at the artefact, I immediately start incorporating them. Normally they're too engrossed to notice, but if they do look up, I just go back to drawing the actual object, or details of the room. An added bonus is that people tend to stay still slightly longer than they would if just walking around in the street, so you have more time to capture their pose.

When I wasn't drawing, I was browsing around the museum, and I came across a rather different example of urban sketching - in the Napoleon exhibition there was displayed several watercolour sketches done by an anonymous (and, as the British Museum put it) "accomplished amateur artist" of the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo. The surrounding villages are shown, a typical scene almost, if not for the wounded troops making their way through, while in the background, naked corpses lie, stripped of valuables and abandoned. 
The drawings are dated 2 days after the battle, but the sketchbook itself ended up in an attic in Ireland and was not found again until the 20th century.

I find it oddly gratifying to see evidence of so-called "amateurs" in action throughout the ages; people inspired by events around them to get out their sketchbooks and record it as best they can. Sometimes, as in this case, they end up being valuable historical documents, but I don't believe that was the goal, nor should it be. Simply that by observing, we are able to make sense of things a little better. And that for me seems like a good enough reason for being a little less self-concious and to start sketching more!