Michelle has just begun her second term of The Drawing Year, the one-year postgraduate programme at The Prince’s Drawing School with a full scholarship for all students. We caught up with her to find out how she’s finding the course so far…
Looking back to the start of your first term last Autumn, what was it like beginning such an intense course?
I remember coming home at the end of every day feeling like the cells in my brain had been permanently re-adjusted! The start of The Drawing Year was an incredibly exciting period – each week feeling like a month – I was learning so much! I was used to drawing for whole days but this was different – the level of engagement was unprecedented for me. Whereas before I was working in a self-directed manner, now I was in a critical environment where the very idea of how to set about making a drawing was being challenged and I found I had to adjust my methods of working in order to deal with all the questions that were being raised by such ideas. Each day brought with it revelations and discoveries. It really felt like a new door had been opened. Everyday I think: “This is the best place in the world!”
What were you looking for when you applied? Did you feel there was something missing in your practice that could benefit from drawing?
I was very excited by the prospect of deepening my study of drawing. I wanted to test myself further, to move beyond line and learn to use tone, colour, light and shade to record more fully what I see and sense. I felt inspired by the School’s philosophy and approach to practice-based enquiry and wanted to embrace that vision. It was my intense desire to learn to the very high standards set by the School, to challenge myself and to add a richer resonance to my work. I had reached a stage in my own work where I realized there was only so far I could go on my own. The distinguished artists who teach at The Prince’s Drawing School are among few in the country that are willing to share knowledge that is so hard to find elsewhere. I knew there would be a great deal to learn from them. In joining The Drawing Year I have also had the privilege of being part of a group of students who are all inspired by drawing from life.
Study from a Life Drawing class by Michelle Cioccoloni
Which classes did you take last term and how did you pick them?
I chose studio-based classes such as Figure Space Form and Life Drawing: Human Anatomy in order to deepen my understanding of the human figure. I also signed up for Challenging Interiors since I wanted to attempt drawings of complicated architectural spaces. As the title suggests, this was a challenging course, but I learnt so much in the process and I got a feel for the general shapes of a building, learning to focus on the big ideas rather than small detail. I also chose a class called The Emergent Subject which I really enjoyed. In these sessions there was constant movement: each week we would have different dancers performing wonderful choreographies inspired by paintings in the National Gallery. This was one of the highlights of the term. The body in motion was incredibly dynamic and evocative, but hard to draw. Another class I took was called The Line of Beauty, which was a broad study of marks on paper, spanning calligraphy, the study of Indian miniatures and studio-based classes in which we were made aware of the importance of the paper we were drawing on: the fact that both the mark and the blank paper act together in order to bring the drawing to life.
Have you been introduced to any new methods, approaches or ways of learning?
I found that everyday I was being introduced to new ways of thinking and working. I made lots of terrible drawings in the process but the feeling was truly liberating. When you let go and stop being precious about what you are doing, that’s when you stumble upon ideas you would never come across otherwise. It was a strange and bewildering feeling. I also wrestled with new subject matter. Some of the out of house classes were held in places I would never have considered before, but having the pressure to produce drawings forces you to respond. In the process you really learn new things about who you are, finding what interests you in anything that presents itself before your eyes.
What was the most memorable drawing experience of last term?
I particularly enjoyed drawing at the Alexandra Palace Allotments. It involved getting up at 5 am in order to make the most of the short winter days. Once outside the temperature was very cold and I drew with a hot stone in my left hand to keep warm. It taught me stamina and persistence. If you are able to push through the difficulty of being in a tough environment, you may discover amazing things. I think I made some of the most interesting drawings in those sessions. I learnt that pure drawing is an incredibly conceptual activity, since you are thinking all the time, digesting and editing the outside world one bit at a time.
How have you responded to the variety of tutors?
I believe that the tutors at The Drawing School are among the best in the country and I have found the range of opinions wildly stimulating. I am always measuring what they are saying against what I think at the time, and trying to find a connection between the two. It ‘s a wonderfully critical environment to be in. I am able to tackle areas that need improvement and address weaknesses in my way of drawing. I am amazed at how generous the tutors have been with their help and support.
Drawing of a head by Michelle Cioccoloni
Can you tell us about something unexpected that you did, or that happened to you, last term?
On the first day of The Line of Beauty class we were told to draw the model by putting down marks of equal size and weight -using the letter ‘W’. The marks weren’t allowed to become figurative in any way (i.e. follow the outline or shape of the model). As soon as that started to happen we were told to start again. The marks were only allowed to be markers for space. The aim was to activate the sheet of white paper in order to get the white of the paper to pulsate with energy. This was such a difficult idea to grasp and then execute, that it took us a whole day to work out a solution. I have been made intensely aware of the paper I am working on – things that I now think about all the time when I’m drawing but that, up until recently, I wasn’t even aware of.
What are you hoping to get out of this term?
At the start of Term 2, I feel I am now able to navigate the challenges much better since I have become familiar with working at the intense level required. The most exciting part of it is how the new ideas are feeding into my own practice – the drawings I do in my own time.
This term I have chosen classes which are quite different from the ones I did in Term 1. I have signed up for Drawing at The National Gallery and Drawing at The British Museum. In both of these classes I am learning to interact with the collections of these two fabulous museums. Drawing from the paintings and objects is really fascinating. You begin to think about who made them and the act of drawing allows you to understand them on a very profound level.
Do you feel differently about drawing now, as you go into the second term, than when you started the year in September?
Since being at The Prince’s Drawing School I have shifted my whole way of thinking about drawing. This has been thanks to the wide range of activities I have been involved in: lectures and forums with distinguished writers and critics, visits to see special collections to view original drawings by Old Masters (The British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Windsor Castle), and drawing in many places in London where I hadn’t been to before. The most important aspect is the high standard of the teaching staff. Through the highest possible level of engagement with the activity of drawing, I am learning to see what a marvellous activity it is – simply to look and try and understand things as they are.
What are your aims for the remainder of the year?
My aim is to continue learning through a constant process of drawing and thinking and be able, not only to absorb the lessons I am learning, but to apply them to all that I do so that it becomes a natural instinct. The amount of input can sometimes be overwhelming, but I can see how these moments will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel so happy that I have the privilege of studying what I love in such an inspiring environment .
Drawing London at night, a pub scene, by Michelle Cioccoloni
You can see more of Michelle’s drawings on her blog at
Applications for The Drawing Year 2013-14 close on 28 March 2013. For information on how to apply visit click here