Sharon Mulberry-Rookes: Running With The Ball
In the Foundations Drawing course there’s a modest exercise in which students are asked to turn three circles into balls through shading. Some students may recognise it from an old version of Drawing One. It’s a deceptively complex exercise as successful solutions need to take account of reflected light and complex shadows, especially if there’s more than one light source. Most students do the three drawings and, perfectly reasonable, move on to the next exercise.
Sharon Mulberry-Rookes had other ideas, recognising the potential to follow this thread a little further. In addition to the requisite three-ball image, she has filled a book with sixty-three of these images, in all sorts of media. It starts with a pencil drawing, but by the final pages she has drawn with ink, coloured pencil (in all sorts of colour combinations), paint, fineliners, and charcoal, made a collage and drawn on other collaged sheets.
The marks she has used are varied too. Some are woolly and scribbly, but others are subtle gradations of tone and colour. In her learning log she writes that some of the marks are taken from Cy Twombly’s work, which produces ‘an effect much like a wire knitted ball’. I like that Sharon has deliberately borrowed a mark from another artist and used it herself. Twombly doesn’t use his calligraphic marks to express volume so using them to do just that liberates them from one approach and creatively applies them to another. It’s also been a spur to her writing and reflection.
I like the palpable sense exploration, too. Each blank page is a challenge, daring Sharon to run out of ideas and requiring her to come up with yet another way of fulfilling the task. Working in a book with a set number of pages sharpens this somewhat, but also puts a pragmatic boundary around the task.
It’s always exciting when a student takes hold of an exercise and pursues it further than the course requires as it reveals something of their interest and approach to making. By challenging herself to complete much more than the course asks for something profound has been produced, but something useful too. It’s a reference work to which Sharon can continually refer.
It’s easy to forget that these modest exercises can seed something ambitious, taking a student on a journey far beyond the acquisition of a technique. That might not happen for every student and, indeed, there may be exercises that a committed student might want to skip over to get to something more exciting. Treating the course document as a framework for learning and not just as a ‘shopping list’ of things to do shows a mature and critical approach to learning. Sharon has been attracted to a particular exercise and made something more personal and involved from it. Interestingly in the same submission, she was less interested in another exercise and only made a couple of works related to it and, crucially, wrote about this lack on engagement in her log, too.