The Big Draw: A week of drawing projects at Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent

In November 2014 I was commissioned by Muf Architecture Art and The National Trust to develop three invitations to draw at Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent, for The Big Draw.

The first made use of a 15-metre long still-life I set up. This was composed from various natural materials found within the park, and objects from the house’s handling collection. Accompanying text:

What are we looking for?

Knole is surrounded by an extensive park containing many different species of tree. Throughout its history this woodland has been an important resource for the house, providing fuel, building materials and food. We’ve made a huge still life out of a range of this material, as well as wooden objects from Knole’s handling collection. This represents aspects of the cultural, material, functional and decorative nature of wood. Artists, archaeologists, designers and botanists all use drawing, but are likely to look at this collection in very different ways. Artists might be interested in the aesthetic and social significance of the materials; designers might choose to look for decorative patterns and shapes, botanists might be interested in the various characteristics of different species, and archaeologists might want to prioritize recording precise sizes and shapes of the artifacts on display.

What are we drawing for?

To make a good drawing we need to look really hard at what we’re drawing, but we also have to decide what we’re looking for. What interests you most about the wooden objects and artifacts on display? For example, do you like the patterns and shapes, the traces of human actions, or the botanical variety? Help yourself to paper and pencils. What kind of drawing will you make?”

The second invitation used a two metre squared map OS map of the deer park as a base, onto which people were invited to add their own texture rubbings. This map was also used as a starting point for the Park Map that I developed with Muf the following spring. Accompanying text:

How might the texture of Knole enrich a map?

The surrealist artist Max Ernst was inspired by the worn grain of the wooden floor in his studio, which to him suggested a landscape of strange creatures and forms. Using thin paper and a soft pencil, he captured these textures with a technique called ‘frottage’, which is the French word for ‘rubbing’. In his drawings, wood grain is transformed and suggests not only wood itself but also paths, rivers, buildings, fields and skies. Ordinance Survey maps are a reliable way of navigating the landscape, as they clearly mark buildings, boundaries and landforms. However, they tell us little about the textural qualities of a place. Could Max Ernst’s technique be used to enhance our map?

Why not try frottage yourself?

Using the wax crayons and thin paper provided, we invite you to explore the park and to gather textures to add to our big map of Knole. There are lots of different areas- thick woodland, open lawns, grassy vallies, roads and buildings. What textures would you like to use to represent them? When you return to the Orangery, trace the shapes of the parts you’d like to represent, cut them out, and add them to the map. If you’d prefer to keep your rubbings, please do!”

The third invitation introduced metalpoint, as this is a medium that is safe enough to be taken into the sensitive interiors of the house’s showrooms. Accompanying text:

Did you know that graphite wasn’t discovered until the 16th century?

Graphite is the substance inside a pencil that makes a mark. It’s convenient for artists because it can make both crisp lines and soft areas of tone, it can produce a wide range of greys, and it can be rubbed out. Before 1500, no-one knew about this versatile material, so artists instead used charcoal,chalks and inks to make drawings. However, these have disadvantages as they can be smudgy, messy, and not very portable. Metalpoint was another alternative drawing method, in which papers were painted with substances that formed oxides when metals- commonly silver- were later rubbed on their surface. Metalpoint has the advantage over other techniques of being clean, dry, fine, permanent and durable. It was therefore often used by artists recording what they found and saw away from the studio and when they travelled abroad.

Why not try metalpoint yourself?

We’ve primed (pre-painted) pieces of card with ‘zinc white’ paint, and made them small enough to easily fit in the palm of your hand (up until the 20th century, paper was an expensive luxury so sketchbooks were small for both economical and practical reasons). There are a range of ordinary metal objects available to draw with, or you could use your own keys and coins. While exploring Knole House and park, we invite you to image seeing it as a Renaissance-era visitor might have done, and to make a metalpoint record of your journey. “