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Your creative future starts here:

Drawing skills and creativity with tutor Ilga Leimanis

Written by Yusuf Tamanna
Published date 12 October 2020

Ilga Leimanis has been teaching drawing and creativity short courses at UAL since 2007, including Introduction to Drawing Skills. She has previously spoken about delivering Art and Design Workshops for 16 to 18 Year Olds but today we focus on how her inspiring short courses could benefit you, whatever your skill level, from students and professionals to those looking to take their very first creative steps.

“My drawing courses will cover manual skills; you will learn how to draw from observation, learn how to see, and understand how to make it look right. If you have ever been frustrated that your drawings do not depict the subject, this is the course for you.”

Portrait photograph of Ilga Leimanis

How did you come to work in your field?

I have always had an interest in art and was fortunate to study for many years and then develop a career. My background is in painting and art history. When I moved to London, I was open to new opportunities and I was invited to help develop a manual drawing skills course for architects and engineers, which brought me into many leading offices, working with over 200 architects at Foster + Partners among others. I’ve learned on the job, and for over 13 years, have been testing and improving my approach to teaching drawing, distilling a method which gets consistently good results in a short period of time. Through my teaching experience over the years, I came to understand how it is possible for everyone to learn drawing and creativity skills.

Can you tell us about your own work?

As a painter, my last body of work was a large series of portraits painted from profile pictures on a social networking site, but for my recent solo exhibitions, I have explored drawing in various forms, including wall drawings, three-dimensional masks and prints for two shows at Five Years (2017 and 2019) an artists’ project in Archway, where I am a member and at Copper Beech Café in North Dulwich, where my second show, Around and Around, is currently on view until 28 October, 2020.

Painted portraits based on social media account profile pictures.

During lockdown, I worked together with my collaborator, architect Bidisha Sinha, on our design partnership, Architecture of Conversation. Our explorations have led us to launch our exuberant pattern collections and we have exciting new projects underway.

Between 2008-19 I had worked as one half of the duo Ortelius Drew, together with Amsterdam/Santa Fe based artist Doreen Wittenbols. We draw on location, have been commissioned for site-specific drawings and launched a European tour. It was exciting to draw together on the same pieces, back and forth until we agreed the work was finished.

Last month I finished writing my first book, Sketching Perspective for The Crowood Press. Over the years, many students have asked if I can recommend a book on drawing techniques, and soon I will have my own book to recommend. This is very exciting! Look for it in 2021.

Can you tell us more about Introduction to Drawing Skills and who should attend?

I have taught drawing and creativity courses in the studio since 2007 and online for the last 5 years. The online format is very successful, and feedback has been generous. Broadly, all my drawing courses will cover manual skills; you will learn how to draw from observation, learn how to see, and understand how to make it look right. If you have ever been frustrated that your drawings do not depict the subject, this is the course for you. We cover subjects including the objects, figure drawing, perspective or how to draw the spaces you live in and the portrait.

I usually demonstrate the concepts each class allowing for questions and the opportunity to test it out yourself, then homework review the following week is a chance for feedback and learning from the group. Students also have the recordings and slides to look at during the week.

Observational drawings of a building, pastel on paper.

What other courses do you teach and what can students learn?

My Expand Your Creativity course explores how to develop your creativity. I’ve taught the studio Idea Generation Processes course for about 10 years; it developed from my drawing courses when I realized how hard it was for students to let go and try something new and be creative. I came up with an easy method to develop potentially limitless new directions. My Idea Generation Processes course uses simple materials (2D and 3D) in addition to drawing. 5 years ago, I was invited to develop a workshop for UAL Academic Support taking the drawing element to explore idea development through sketching. Students across the university from art and design departments, as well as business and marketing courses have gained from this simple drawing process.

I teach various portfolio courses for teenagers and adults and my students have successfully gained places on Foundation, BA or MA courses at CSM and other schools in the UK. Other students and professionals develop creativity and drawing skills for many different reasons, including problem solving. Some are medical doctors, software designers, corporate branding and marketing professionals, textile designers and film producers, to name just a few.

I love what I do, and I have been invited to deliver workshops for a broad range of students and professionals, here in London, as well as internationally.

Which piece of creative work, in any discipline, do you think everyone should see and why?

I think inspiration is really fluid, always changing. There are many things I get excited about, for example, I love Instagram at the moment. I feel inspired by the artist, illustrator, fashion and interior design galleries I see.

It is a real treat to see exhibitions now, the most recent show I saw was at the Whitechapel Gallery’s “Kai Althoff goes with Bernard Leach” which is on view until January 2021. I try to see every show as an opportunity: what can I learn from this work? What connections can I make?

Abstract line drawing.

Can you name a favourite book, film or song that you would recommend?

This is a really hard question. At the very start of this incredible year, I began a mail art collaboration with three friends for a show in Los Angeles, which has since been postponed. We all studied together at Concordia University in Montreal and as part of the show proposal, my friend Melissa Manfull wrote about Homi K. Bhabha’s “The Location of Culture” which I started to re-read after all these years in preparation for the work. It remined me that reading is a life-long pleasure! Pick up any book, just read!

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?

Test out ways to experiment, draw, stay curious and always try something. Feel free to let go of perfection.

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