Marcus Cornish teaches sculpture and drawing at The Prince’s Drawing School and is the tutor of our class ‘Sculpting the Equine Head’ which currently runs on Tuesdays at Kensington Palace Studios.
What do you enjoy about teaching at The Prince’s Drawing School?
The students. It’s a really nice atmosphere and there’s a sense of community with the students, who come from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s lovely to see their different approaches and how they develop their skills over time. I live in Sussex so it’s also good to have a break from my studio and enjoy a busy classroom, and re-visit the museums in London with students. I enjoy teaching because it challenges my knowledge and encourages research, so I’m always stimulated and learning myself.
When did you know that you wanted to be a sculptor?
My father was a furniture designer and used to take me to the V&A as a child, where I spent a lot of time in the cast courts. So working in sculpture came quite naturally to me.
‘Ioan James’, Bronze
Life Size, Mathematical Institute, Oxford
What are the most difficult things about making a transition from 2D to 3D as an artist?
One of the hard things is that you have to defy your illusion of something, and grasp, recreate or construct in your head the actual surface and so one can feel that there’s a back to the thing as well as a front. It’s very analytical and you’re always thinking critically, using another side of your brain, not just recording tonal ranges of a form but understanding surface and volume.
Do you think sculptors have a certain way of drawing?
Not really. I don’t think there’s particular pattern to their approach. The good thing about drawing is that you can think and plan freely without having to worry about making mistakes and getting pinned down by gravity that challenges 3D materials.
But on the other hand there are some fantastic sculptor’s drawings that are very three-dimensional, as though they have been sculpted on the paper, not drawn. Michelangelo’s drawings are incredibly clever and I am still learning from the range of his work.
‘Views from a London Seam’, (fragment)
Terracotta, dimensions variable
If you could train with any artist in history, who would it be?
I’d quite like to spend some time with Marino Marini. And a Yugoslavian sculptor called Ivan Meštrović from the turn of the last century. But more especially the contemporary Czech sculptor Vlasta Prachatická, I love her work of people.
This term your students are sculpting an equine head. What are the main challenges when studying animal anatomy?
I think you have to see it as an extension, but with a different emphasis, from the analytical way of studying human anatomy. I like to make studies from the inside-out, working from the form of the skull. And from there it’s important to study real live horses, and those in sculpture at The British Museum. But using every angle, anatomy, life drawing and working from other sculptors, you’re able to pick up on patterns in the characteristics of the horse which you can use.
Bronze, Life Size Whippet
How do you use drawing in your own work as a sculptor?
It’s useful for planning, composing, and giving myself a distance from the object, a balance between the physical and conceptual. It’s also useful as a check. When I sculpt hollows into a form, they might feel right to my hands, but when I stand back I realise that tones are wrong or shadows fall in different places. Drawing with tone helps me more accurately understand the shapes, and make corrections. In terms of composition it may only take one drawing from one angle to provide an insight into what is not quite working with the whole sculpture. Drawing also helps me capture the core energy in a subject, which is really useful for generating a sculpture later.
I was lucky recently to make a drawing of an RAF pilot, Terry Clark from the Second World War and it was great joy to focus on drawing in itself, unattached to sculpture and being able to leave it and come back to it without worrying that it had dried out or wobbled or fallen over as could be the case with clay!
You can see more of Marcus Cornish’s work at his website.