The first St John’s Sketchcrawl

Resident Tutor Emerald Grimshaw tells about the first ever St John’s Sketchcrawl which took place in November.

When the academic stress of university life builds and you can’t seem to escape from the mounting pile of deadlines, one thing that helps me to relax is drawing. I have found that taking an hour to do a quick sketch in the Cathedral or on the bank of the River Wear at the end of a busy week really helps me to get some perspective and realise that however scary a looming essay deadline might be, there is a big and beautiful city on our doorstep, teeming with other people on their own adventures and beautiful old architecture, just waiting to be captured with pen and paper.

This term I organised the very first St. John’s Sketchcrawl to share my love of drawing with the students at St. John’s College. I designed a route around Durham, which included visiting the churches: St. Mary the Less and St. Oswald’s, as well as the classic viewpoint by the River Wear that looks out to Prebends Bridge.

I also wanted to introduce artists and their unique styles to the John’s students to inspire their sketches on the drawing tour. I created a slideshow to present the work of artists including Norman Cornish and Denis Creffield. Cornish is a famous artist from the North-East who is most well-known for capturing mining communities & the lives of miners and Creffield produced an impressive series of charcoal drawings of all the major cathedrals in England, including Durham Cathedral.

Included in this slideshow were also a number of new drawing techniques that the students may not have tried before, such as continuous line drawing and using viewfinders to help pick out details in a space. Continuous line drawing is a style of drawing where you do not take your pen off the paper until you have completed the sketch. This technique reduces the fear of making a ‘mistake’ – you can’t stop to erase something, you have to keep moving forward. The viewfinders we used help focus on the detail of one part of a subject. Viewfinders are a helpful tool when you are overwhelmed with choices of where to start when you sit down to draw.

“I had so much fun on the Sketchcrawl! My favourite part was when Emerald taught us about different art styles and techniques. I also enjoyed learning about the history of each of the spots we went to on the tour. I got to learn more about Durham!”

Grace Chiu

On the 17th November 2022 the St. John’s Sketchcrawl set off from the LRC, despite the threat of rain, and our first stop was the chapel of St. Mary the Less. The place was empty and we spent a peaceful half an hour just exploring the space with our viewfinders and embarking on our first sketch. Everyone chose a small detail of the chapel to focus on, either the spiral staircase, or an ornate stone carving, and then all that could be heard was the scratch of pen on paper.

Next, we visited Linton Lawn and standing there, on a path we had all walked so many times before, we looked around with fresh eyes to find inspiration from the buildings of our college, or the steeple of St. Oswald’s Church on the other side of the river.

Then we went onwards to Prebends bridge and broke out the charcoal. The Johnians perfectly captured the arches of the bridge, and their reflection in the still water below.

Our final stop was St. Oswald’s Church. As a band set up for a concert that evening, we wandered around the ancient church and stopped off in different pews to draw the arched ceiling or the font or the newly-renovated organ.

Along the way the students incorporated the new techniques and styles I had shown them into some fabulous continuous line drawings of each other in the style of Cornish, bold charcoal drawings of Prebends Bridge reminiscent of Creffield’s Cathedral sketches and some gorgeous drawings capturing the detail inside St. Mary-the-Less and St. Oswald’s churches.

After the Sketchcrawl, I curated a small exhibition of some of the sketches of Prebends Bridge and St. Oswald’s Church in Crossroads. This exhibit was opened on the 30th November for guests to visit after the Advent Formal. Being able to share the incredible drawings done by our Johnians with the whole community was a great way to celebrate the talented artists we have in this college!

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