The Process & Function of Drawing

Professor Stephen Farthing is UAL’s Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Drawing. His research into the processes and functions of drawing has been used to inform a qualification for schools and further education institutions across England, and has been developed into a successful online course.

Through projects such as Drawing From Turner(2006) at Tate Britain, Farthing has examined whether the making of transcriptions or ‘redrawings’ from the drawings of high achievers can teach us anything about learning to draw. The publication and exhibition Leaf to Leopard (2007) saw him analysing John Ruskin’s 1857 teach-yourself-drawing book The Elements of Drawing, and questioning whether Ruskin’s curriculum had any currency within curriculum design today, concluding that in part Ruskin’s course still had relevance. This idea was developed by Farthing in the AHRC funded project The Elements of Drawing (2010) in collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University.

Through his research, Farthing has investigated drawing as an activity that goes beyond a fine art context. He has analysed its use within different disciplines and sectors, including mathematics, cartography, science, design and statistics.

First examined in his inaugural UAL Lecture Dirtying the Paper Delicately (2005), his work has created a way to classify drawing so it can be seen as a

‘compendium of possibilities, not simply as a craft subject attached to the past by the life room and the future by digital modelling.’

Educational impact

Working with UAL’s Awarding Body - the only specialist art, design and creative industries awarding organisation – Farthing developed his findings into their Level 2 and 3 Awards and Certificates in Drawing, accredited in 2010. The qualification has now been delivered by providers ranging from FE Colleges and HEIs to sixth forms and adult learning providers, with over 10,000 students within England now having achieved one of the qualifications.

Online educational tools

The Elements of Drawing project, enhanced the Ashmolean’s website showcasing the collection assembled by Ruskin to support his teaching of art and drawing while Slade Professor at Oxford. For the project Farthing created an online drawing course made up of nine films, based on Ruskinian principles, utilising objects in the Ashmolean’s collection, writing the scripts, selecting featured, drawings and presenting the lessons. Not only does the course take the museum’s collections to a wider audience, but it has proved a valuable resource for artists, with over 300,000 downloads of the lessons on iTunes U.


Follow this link to go to more information aboutView all of Stephen's research