Monday, May 20, 2013

about a unicorn and the nature of art

Unicorn. Old French, unicorne. Latin, unicornis. Literally, one-horned: unus, one and cornu,a horn. A fabulous animal resembling a horse with one horn. --The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle

Earlier this year I wrote a masters essay about drawing. In it I grappled (not particularly thoroughly it was only 5000 words) with some of the big contradictory beliefs about art that are around out there, for example:
  1. there is a RIGHT way to draw, paint, sculpt etc. you have to learn it and your work will be rubbish if you don't. (the right way is usually as realistic as possible - but there are different opinions on the route to get there)
  2. proper creative people ignore rules, they should only focus on EXPRESSING themselves, that's how good art gets made.

It's amazing how much we manage to believe these two contradictory things in our culture. 

(I'm getting to the bit about the unicorn don't worry)

One awesome thing about being an art teacher, is that I get to try my hand at new media and techniques, in the name of teaching myself so that I can pass on the knowledge. In the spirit of this idea I asked Alex to buy me a beginners clay sculpting course at the London Academy of Art as a Christmas present when they were on a voucher website last year. (yeah do not worry I did not pay the crazy prices listed on the website).

Now the London Academy of Art is very much a proponent of rule number 1 above, they teach drawing, painting and sculpture in a method inspired by the 'Old Masters'. 

This was all a bit trippy for me, coming as I was from the back of studying at the Institute of Education, where they are all about questioning the 'canon' and any notions of a RIGHT way to do ANYTHING. My own drawing education was also not particularly classical,  more a cross between Ruskin's emphasis on constant looking, and a more rule number 2ish emphasis on experimentation (exemplified by my drawing tutor at uni - the great Paul Osborne). But I decided to take it at face value as much as possible, in the spirit of understanding these things to make me a better artist and teacher. 

(we're almost to the bit about the unicorn, promise)

But apparently my non classical education had conveniently fitted me for classical sculpting as I whizzed through the introduction tasks and was pretty much left to myself for the next 4 lessons. We were only supposed to copy from their casts, so I copied a horse's head for my final outcome after reproducing an ear and an eye. I can't get rid of my desire to subvert these things though (must be that pesky creativity) so I decided to turn it into a unicorn.

The moral of this story is that there's more than one way to teach art, the answer to ALL essay questions is a little from column A and little from column B, and I made a unicorn out of clay.

Here are some pictures of it. 

initial stages of shape forming

Here is the unicorn with his daddy, the horse's head. They told me he is in the British Museum, but I can't find him on the website, if anyone knows where the original horse's head is I would love to know so I can credit it properly. I feel weird about copying it tbh, even if the roman/greek artisan who made the original is probs not coming after me for copyright. 

This is what he looked like when I brought him home after my last session.

At home in my kitchen and starting to refine. 

Added all the lines to the hair, this was very fiddly and even fiddlier to smooth down afterwards. I made him look less angry after this too. 

Finished sculpting

He now needs a week to dry and then I will paint him and then I will varnish him.

I am undecided to his fate. A part of me wants to keep him forever and the part which is in wedding debt for the foreseeable future wants to sell him. 


  1. I like how he is living on top of a tub of minature heroes. He is the true minature hero.

  2. Yes! although it is a long time since I ate all of those chocolates.