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  • Writer's pictureWill Topley

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For nearly 15 years now, I have been teaching drawing and painting at the Princes Drawing School – or, as it should now be called, the Royal Drawing School, since the Queen recently awarded the school Royal status.

 This didn’t get all that much coverage, but that may be a good thing given British press’s have a habit of finding fault rather that looking for the good. They do after all have to make money and it seems that the public have a taste for bad news with salacious details. Prince Charles receives a great deal of unfair criticism from the British papers but he has in fact created more jobs for young people in this country than anyone else. His critics achievements are often fairly questionable..

The Royal Academy was given royal status in 1768, followed by The Royal College of Music, The Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the last arts establishment to be granted Royal status was The Royal Ballet and that was over 50 years ago so we are in the most prestigious company.

The Prince’s Drawing School was founded by Prince Charles and Catherine Goodman in 2000 in response to the decline of the teaching of drawing in British art schools.

The Prince is a great boss and he hasn’t micromanaged the school, he just provided the impetus and support.

When I was teaching Art in a secondary school some years ago I went on an A Level exam marking course. We, that is, a few hundred Art teachers, met in a large hall, and the atmosphere was charged. Partly because putting an empirical value on a students body of work is a contentious issue but mainly it was the battling of egos. To paraphrase “Little Britain”, everyone thought that they were the only artist in the village,

 Many teachers of art feel that art should be done their way and take it personally if anyone wants to do something else. There are a number of small Independent art schools around the world, – some have been started recently, others have been about in one guise or another for some time – and students of these schools seem to produce work very similar in style to that of their fellow students. I have to say that the Drawing school does not seem to have a house style. There are over 75 teaching members of faculty and probably as many styles of work. I think that the Director of the school, Catherine Goodman is largely responsible for this, she has been great at picking and orchestrating the large team of tutors to give a dynamic yet balanced approach.

One statement that I read of a small teaching atelier opined that art took a wrong turn a little before 1900 and that they would like to go back to the golden age before that wrong turn. I personally don’t think it is viable to dismiss all that has been created since the turn of the 19th century and find that idea somewhat boring. I really enjoy the work of many 20th century artists, particularly those who have worked outside the mainstream, for instance Edward Burra whom it would be hard to better for imaginative quality and insight..

Burra - Izzy Orts 1937

Burra – Izzy Orts 1937

It is in the philosophy of Drawing School to see drawing as a part of contemporary art as opposed to in opposition to it. We are all adding stuff to the big pond that is art today.

Tetbury Poster

Tetbury Poster

Recently, I was asked to give a talk about the Drawing School to the Tetbury Art Society. I was to do this in conjunction with Michelle Cioccoloni who has been a student at the Drawing School. The talk would be at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ home in Wiltshire, and I was to talk about my work and my experience of being a teacher at the drawing school while Michelle would talk about her own work and the school from a students perspective.

The drawing school have a power point slide show they use for talks but as I was talking about myself at the drawing school I needed to redo the slides with examples of my own work (enough of do this me talking about myself, what do you think of me?)

Trying to make sense of the events in your life is not just an indulgence, it is essential step in moving forward and I found the act of remembering how I had got to where I am now caused me to think about a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about.

I ran through a series of images of my paintings showing examples from the last 35 years and used them to describe my career and some of my thoughts on the importance of drawing.

Slade Photo WT

Slade Photo WT

I was greatly saddened to hear that the my old art School; The Slade had given up the use of models to teach drawing and that drawing from life was not really taking place there any more. It had had a grand reputation in the past and a tradition of drawing that was famed world wide. In the last 30 years they have abandoned all that but apart from business management I don’t see what they have to teach. 

Fees at British Universities get higher every year and of course you wonder what the students are paying for. It doesn’t take much to start up a private art school and give better value for money. You don’t get a degree but you can learn something. Drawing is something tangible you can teach. It is also of value. Drawing is the way we make sense of the world when we first try to understand. May people stop drawing but it would be of value to anyone and you would never be without something to do. With a pencil and paper you can feel that you are communing with the world about you and resolve many a problem of form and design. An art student who can draw can always do a portrait, design a card or a logo, draw a house or illustrate a text or book, paint a mural. Most of these things are not that well paid but they are practical use. Being visually literate is of course useful in industry and enhances our lives. In the world of conceptual art; many are called but very few are chosen. Those not chosen are not really suited to as much. They may become art teachers in schools but of course would not be capable of teaching anyone to draw or even look. How depressing is that​? A whole generation of art teachers would teach the next generation that drawing is unimportant, mainly because they wouldn’t have it in them to demonstrate otherwise.

Of course one of the major points of the drawing school is to teach the next generation. So to Michelle. I hadn’t met Michelle before the talk but we had plenty of interests in common, one of which was the use of silver-point and she had brought some examples of her drawings to the talk. Here is a link to her site

She spoke very well on the subject of coming to the drawing school to learn to draw She had previously studied for a degree at Chelsea School of Art and told us all how much more she had actually learnt on the drawing year compared tor her years of study at art school up to that point. As you can see Michelle draws beautifully and she is one of an ever growing number of good draftsmen who are emerging from the Drawing School and who will carry the torch for drawing into the future. They have great deal of ability and an infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing.

The problem is they may want teaching jobs at the drawing school and I’m not ready to leave just yet!

Michelle and I had a very enjoyable day hosted by the Chairman of the Tetbury Arts Society, Gill Ashley and her husband Roger. Photos are not allowed at Highgrove but this is a shot of Michelle and me after lunch at the nearby Hare and Hounds Hotel

WT and Michelle Cioccoloni

WT and Michelle Cioccoloni

I don’t drink alcohol, the red flush in my face is a bit of left over bronzing from our recent trip to Barbados. More of which anon.

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Kendra Dolan
Kendra Dolan
Aug 30, 2021

This is a ggreat post

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