Fast Sketches on Slow Art Day

Watercolour sketch of Liza Dracup's work 'greenfinch' - a collaged archival photographic print

Every year, one day in April, people all over the world take time to slow down and look at five works of art, slowly. Slow Art Day takes place in galleries and museums internationally; from New York to Shanghai, from London to Helsinki – and about 200 other places in between, scattered across the globe. One of these venues is Cliffe Castle in Keighley; last year was the first time they hosted Slow Art, and 5 people came – on Saturday the place was buzzing with almost 50 enthusiastic art-watchers – and quite a few sketchers.

My favourite of the five selected artworks was Liza Dracup’s ‘Greenfinch’, which fascinated everyone because no-one really understood the technique. (See the original online here.) I loved it so much I spent rather longer than the allocated 10 minutes, getting completely absorbed – and then had to rush round to try to give the other four selected pieces a fair deal before we all gathered to drink tea, eat cake, and discuss. This is the other enjoyable part of the day – listening to each other’s thoughts and feelings about the artworks, and learning some more about what we’ve all been slowly looking at.

I whizzed past the enormous and sumptuously gorgeous portrait of an Italian opera singer in stunning pink satin whose name I forget, because I’d indulged myself by looking at it for a long long time only the day before, and set myself stoically to sketching Queen Victoria by Lowes Cato Dickinson. The room where it’s hung is small and I couldn’t get a good view for the crowd, but even allowing for that my drawing was pathetic (perhaps through lack of enthusiasm) and things didn’t really perk up when I found the next piece, a fantastically detailed painting of an elaborate baroque interior with the diminutive figures of the Emperor Napoleon lll and Empress Eugenie, by Guiseppe Castilione.

There was only one thing to do – concentrate on tiny Napoleon and his Empress, and in the process somewhat surprisingly I found myself getting drawn into the painting and lost in its own world. It’s strangely three dimensional and gives you the weird feeling that you could be looking through a window into a separate but solid reality. I could only photograph it from an angle, and it’s poorly lit, but drawing it made it far more interesting than I could have imagined.

Only five minutes to go, and I scuttled back to the entrance hall and two gigantic 1890’s Chinese bottle vases, porcelain and enamel and a rather horrible mixture of sky blue with wishy-washy yellow and coral pink. Not really my cup of tea but again, once I started drawing, I started to get seduced by the shape and intrigued by the decoration. What are those squiggly things around the middle that look a bit like bats? I didn’t have time to sketch them recognisably, but it turns out that they may in fact be bats after all – red bats. A monk from the Buddhist centre is coming in on Tuesday to help with some interpretation…..

Ten minutes spent looking at a work of art either seems like the blink of an eye or an eternity, depending on what you normally do in galleries. There are times when I flash past a painting or a piece of pottery without a second glance because I don’t much like the look of it. But there’s so much to see, when you stop and stand and stare. And some of it very surprising. It’s good to be challenged this way; I should do it more often.


13 thoughts on “Fast Sketches on Slow Art Day

  1. Slow art – what a great concept! And you are absolutely right, if we force ourselves to slow down and pay attention to a piece of art that may not have caught our eye we can really gain something from really looking closely and absorbing.

    1. Slow Art Day has become one of the highlights of my year. Check it out and see if there’s a venue near you for next year. Or start one yourself – because it’s really simple to do and people love it! It’s also a wonderful feeling knowing that lots of other people are doing the same thing as you on the same day all over the world! 🙂

    1. It’s always in April and always a Saturday (I think maybe the first Sat of the month) but the date changes; if you go to the website at you’ll find all the details, including support and how to organise. It’s a wonderful thing to take part in and it would be great if you could organise it at your library next year! The website lists all the venues that have done it so far and it’s interesting to look them up to see the different things they’ve done. There are probably many more venues that don’t appear because small groups organise themselves independently and do it all on a more ad hoc basis. Do let me know if you get it together – I’d love to know. Does your library have a website?

  2. Great sketches, and such a good idea to take art slow(-er). Last time I went to a museum everybody seemed to rush throug but not really look. But I guess they go and tell everybody something like “oh yes, I’ve been there, wonderful exhibits!”

  3. It takes a different mind set, but to slow down is an amazing moment. Not to look at something as “I like it and want it” but I appreciate the art and effort. This is a wonderful post and I really appreciate what you captured in your sketches.

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