December 5th – 9th 2022

Royal Drawing School, Animation: Metamorphosis and Transformation, with the artist Jonathan Farr

Still buzzing and inspired after the week long stop motion animation course with the Royal Drawing School in London, online from my kitchen in Letterkenny, Donegal. This was part of the Christmas courses with the RDS, one week of classes, three hours per day. Our teacher was Jonathan Farr, an amazing illustrator and animator who has made a few music videos using paint on glass animation and has a really good sense of storytelling and movement. He is also giving me mentorship for my short animation at the moment and is really helping me figure out stuff.

I love doing short courses as it rejigs my brain and helps keep things moving. It also stops me being too attached to a particular version of myself and being too precious about my work. I think you have to be comfortable with failure and getting things wrong and not having a clue sometimes if you want to do anything honest and go deeper. Along with getting good and making beautiful things – that’s fine but I want to bring all sides with me – not just the shiny results. Well this is the type of thing I tell myself to encourage myself anyways haha.

This poem ties in with this idea I think:

Charles Olson


whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them

And the dirt

Just to make clear
where they came from

From Black Mountain Poems
An Anthology
New Directions, 2019.

But no matter what I’m working on, trying out different mediums really helps the flow of creativity and unlocks lots of ideas. I still have no friends where I live so this week of human connection, co-creation, and chat, was a tonic – and helped me remember who I am. It is ‘specially cheering to meet with people who are interested in drawing. And I’ve found that anyone associated with the Royal Drawing School are particularly lovely!

Day 1 – Thaumatrope, flipbook and a circular animation

We started off with a brief lecture on the history of animation starting with drawing illusions and suggestions of movements rather than a tv screen – things like cave paintings of wild boar with moving legs (best looked at with an accompanying cave fire!); ancient Egyptian sequential drawings on buildings to look at as you zoom by on your horse; ancient greek pots – give them a spin to see the lady dance…then the introduction of magic lanterns, flipbooks, zoetropes…how mind blowing would it have been to watch the first movie!

I love working in a way that I can hold the thing in my hand – see directly how things work and what’s happening – and feel into it. This week was all about basic basic basic animation and I felt like a few things clicked into place in my head about animation. I started to think I could do it again and it didn’t need to be so difficult.

We started with making a Thaumatrope (see gif below) – a two frame animation – two pictures drawn on either side of a round piece of cardboard and spun around. This was popular in Victorian times :)

We made a flipbook. Then animated the same sequence from the flipbook on a circle – move it one segment each time, and recorded it as stop motion (one image at a time) using Stop motion Studio Pro app on the phone, clamped into place above the image.

Our final exercise was to make a Drollerie animation – this is a medieval character  – half person, half animal. This one I made up as I went along (which you can probably guess!).

Day 2- charcoal animation, drawing a model

We looked first at the work of William Kentridge, the king of hand drawn animation. Click here to see his exhibition in London’s Royal Academy which was on at the same time as our class.

We had a model posing for us over Zoom. Our exercise was to make the animation as he moved, by making a series of drawings. so there was the one sheet of paper throughout and I drew and erased, pushed and pulled and took a photo at each change along the way.

For the composition we used the Possin’s painting of Cephalus and Aurora as a jumping off point. At the end we had to imagine the model transforming into something.

It was a very exhausting and intense few hours and it was so enjoyable to see and understand how to make something really fluid and flowy with minimal technology.

My mind felt very open as I was thinking of my little snail, my short animation that I’m still making, and wondering could I incorporate some of this way of working into what I’m already doing.

Day 3- painting on glass animation, self portrait

Today we started with looking at the sculptures of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt – the character heads with all the grimaces.

Our exercise was to draw a series of self portraits while we made a weird face, turn our head, and then at the end, add something from our imaginations.

So the set up was – a glass sheet to paint on (which I placed over my flat lightbox – this was optional); the phone overhead in a clamp, photos taken via the Stop Motion Studio Pro App; a mirror for reference, gouache black paint, tissue and water to wipe off paint, and cotton buds; a paintbrush; vinegar to clean off glass if the water didn’t work.

Day 4- animating with salt

We used salt to make the animation – it was really difficult to handle at first, and really frustrating, but then the more I did it the more I got in tune with it and was able to listen to it and feel into what was possible. But by then it was the end of the class. Ah well! I particularly like the bird and the whoosh of the wave at the end.

Day 5 – paper cut animation with sound effects!

We started with a simple one – drawing on a sheet of paper and moving it along as we went. Yes, it’s that simple!

Then continued with the simplicity to animate paper cut outs. This was so relaxing!! I loved how impactful the end result was too. Boom :)

These exercise were so simple and the results were rough and ready for the most part but have unlocked a lot of new ways of thinking for me. Hurray for the Royal Drawing School and I’m forever grateful to Jonathan Farr for making me love animation again.

Check out my insta story highlight of the week here.