The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford - John Ruskin, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Samuel Prout, JMW Turner
I’m most familiar with Victorian writer, art critic, draftsman and watercolorist John Ruskin for his critical defense of the fledgling Pre-Raphaelite group of painters, vital at a time when their ideas and approach were at odds with the prevailing values of the Royal Academy and the British art establishment in general.

His defense of their ideals is unsurprising, given that they were largely influenced by his own writing, particularly his elevation of “truth to nature” as a high ideal for artists in the midst of aesthetic philosophy that demanded idealization in artistic interpretations of the world.

That philosophy, and Ruskin himself, first attained prominence with an essay in Modern Painters in 1843 in which he defended the work of J.M.W. Turner.

Ruskin was also the author of a treatise on drawing entitled The Elements of Drawing, that is still relevant and continues to be reprinted and valued today.

Among his other accomplishments, Ruskin was a professor of fine art at University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing, which continues today as The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (usually referred to as simply “The Ruskin”).

Also associated with the university is the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, which has placed online a resource titled The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection at Oxford.

It features digitizations of much of Ruskin’s collection of almost 1500 works that he assembled for use in his school. The collection includes drawings and watercolors by himself and a number of other artists as well as prints and photographs.

You can browse and search the collection in several ways, but the best introduction is probably the highlights assortment of 50 objects.

The objects listings have pages describing the works (click on “Details” for medium and size), and most are linked to larger versions of the images.

(Images above: top six: John Ruskin, bottom three: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Samuel Prout, J.M.W. Turner)

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Olivier Tossan

Olivier Tossan
Olivier Tossan is a visual development artist who grew up in Paris, lived an worked in Berlin for 12 years, and is now established in California where he is working for DreamWorks Animation Studios.

Tossan has a springy, lively style, particularly in his character designs, that he embellishes with a dark palette accented with highlights of brighter light and more intense color.

The design of his website unfortunately sacrifices display of the art for cleverness and isn’t as effective a showcase as one might hope. You can find additional work, more straightforwardly presented and often larger, on his blog. There is also a small portfolio on the Creative Talent Network and you can occasionally find his work at Gallery Nucleus.


Ingres at the Morgan

Ingres at the Morgan, graphite drwaings of ean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Throughout my life I’ve been fortunate to experience a series of wonderful “Ah-Ha!” moments when I’ve come across a new genre or artist that made me feel like I was opening my eyes on a new world.

Discovering the graphite portrait drawings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres when I was an art student was one of them.

Ingres (pronunciation here) was a renowned French neoclassical painter and one of the finest draftsmen of the 19th Century, if not of Western art in total.

Though he drew in most traditional drawing media, chalk, “crayon” and pen and ink, it was his graphite on paper portrait drawings that wowed me. They have an uncanny presence and weight that belie their actual technique.

Ingres was primarily a portrait painter, and is considered one of the best in the history of art.

His portrait drawings have that amazing character of faces rendered with such skill that they have a palpable personality, but lead your eye into economically rendered bodies and hands that are clearly lines on paper.

I love the sensation produced by the contrast of responding to a drawing as a personality, and within the space of the same drawing, responding to it as a drawing.

I’m not sure if my description is adequate to explain what I mean, but I think anyone who has experienced what I’m trying to describe will recognize the delight it can bring to those who love drawings. (For another example, see Rubens’ portrait drawing of Isabella Brant.)

It also astonishes me how tight and detailed the faces in Ingres’ portrait drawings look on first inspection, but how freely they are actually rendered when viewed more closely.

I’ve been lucky to have seen several of Ingres’ drawings in person; these are relatively rare opportunities as works on paper cannot be exposed to light for long periods without shortening their effective lifespan. Several of those occasions have been at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which counts several excellent examples of Ingres drawings in its permanent collection.

Those in the area can still catch an exhibition of sixteen of them titled Ingres at the Morgan, that is on display until November 27, 2011.

For those who can’t get to the museum in person, the Morgan has a terrific online feature, in which the drawings can be viewed in full-screen zoomable versions. The page of thumbnails is here. When viewing the detail page for an individual drawing, look for the inconspicuous “Full Screen” button at the right of the row of controls under the image.

There is also a nice accompanying feature on Ingres’ drawing materials and methods.

Ingres’ drawings may make you think differently about the capabilities of the humble graphite pencil.


Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It

Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It
Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It is a 20 minute documentary about the well known cartoonist and satirist filmed by his son, Leo Sorel.

In it the cartoonist discusses his career, his freeform, direct-in-ink drawing process and his degree of self criticism. There is also commentary from some of his famous contemporaries and younger artists who have been influenced by his work.

For more, see my previous post on Edward Sorel.

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Dinotopia 20th Anniversary Edition

James Gurney's Dinotopia 20th Anniversary Edition
Originally released 20 years ago, Dinotopia: A Land apart from Time was the first of artist/author James Gurney’s acclaimed and popular illustrated adventure story books placed in the same mythical land.

Presented as an adventurer’s sketchbook, which the author has “found”, the story resonates with some of the sense of wonder and discovery to be found in classic 19th Century adventure stories.

The original edition has been out of print for some time. Dover books has released a new 20th Anniversary edition, with images digitally scanned from the original transparencies and 32 new pages of material, including sketches, photos and unused plates and a discussion by Gurney of the creation of the original book.

Those in the U.S. can order signed copies directly from the author.

Here is Gurney’s post about the new edition on his blog, Gurney Journey.



Pythagasaurus is a wonderfully realized CGI animated short about “…the Mighty Pythagasaurus, the fabled tyrannosaurus practiced in the skills of trigonometry and long division”.

The short is directed by Peter Peake and animated by Pascale Bories, with wonderful voice characterization by Bill Bailey, Martin Trenaman and Simon Greenall.

Not exactly what you would expect from the preview images (grin).

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