Oxford embraces the art of drawing

Can you draw? Of course you can. Anyone can draw. If you can pick up a pencil, pen, or any other material and make a mark on a surface, then you can draw. Which is what the international art event, “The Big Draw”, is trying to prove, lasting for the whole of October and encouraging adults and children alike to do just that – pick up any material and make a drawing in any way they choose, of anything they like.

Set up in the year 2000, The Big Draw was launched by the Guild of St George, a charity founded by John Ruskin. This year, the O3 Gallery on the Oxford Castle complex was one of 1000 venues to take part in the creative campaign. Inviting anyone into the space, people were encouraged to make a drawing on site with the materials provided, or to bring along a drawing they had made elsewhere. Everybody’s work was then hung inside the gallery alongside everyone else’s drawings, for all visitors to see. Whilst the campaign lasts for the whole month, the gallery ran their drawing workshop for one week, concluding with a special ‘Future Footprints – Draw Your Dreams’ event that collaborated with Oxford Castle –  Unlocked.* People were invited to draw on the actual paving slabs around the complex, colourful worlds, diagrams and cartoons spilling in chalk all over the usually bare stone ground.

And this is what it is all about. We are living in such a digitalised age, and it is so important to embrace the key universal language that is drawing. It is relevant to a human’s expression, and not only for that of artists. Children love to draw, and do so with the carefree attitude that so many of us lose as we develop a more analytical approach of living in the world. Drawing is used in therapy, in diagrams at work or on posters in schools. People doodle when they are on the phone, squiggle images when signing birthday cards, or ink shapes over lecture notes when they should be listening. Colour, line and form are found everywhere, and The Big Draw only seeks to encourage the social and cultural engagement that drawing brings to those of us who wouldn’t normally give it a second thought.

There was an excellent turn out of drawings at the O3 Gallery itself, with a variety of images hanging from its circular walls. A drawing of some modest tonal shoes was evocative of the paintings by artist Lisa Milroy, a young boy smiled with his head tilted coyly to one side, and there was one rather beautiful line drawing of a reclining man that had been repeated over itself several times. The winning drawing was a depiction of the Oxford Castle site, wittily highlighting the exit routes (making reference to the site’s former identity, Oxford Prison) by Kieran McLean. With the theme being hopes for the future, it seemed to comment on the passing of time and the world’s increasing digitalisation, wondering at the possibilities of our imminent inventions.

Even though 45 drawings were made for the gallery and 222 people turned up to the ‘Future Footsteps – Draw your Dreams’ event, there is questionably still room for more enthusiasm. There is a real lack of confidence in the general public when it comes to drawing, but drawing is not limited to, and should not always be, a photographic representation that has taken an artist hours to make. Any simple, detailed or energetic gesture counts, and the subject matter can be moulded playfully – an image of a teacup is often just as compelling as any profound portrait, for example. The O3 Gallery certainly succeeded in promoting the regard for drawing in Oxford this year, but let’s see if next year they can beat this year’s achievement, and persuade even more people to start expressing themselves through the unanimous art of drawing.

* Oxford Castle – Unlocked (Visitor Attraction) is open daily from 10.00am to 5.30pm (last tour 4.20pm). Admission prices: Adults £7.95, Children £5.95, Concessions £6.95. Groups of 10+ people are offered a discount – please call 0845 0706255 for group information and booking. Oxford Castle – Unlocked opened on 2 June 2006 and gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the real people who lived and died throughout the site’s turbulent past. Visitors are able to walk through the ancient buildings and experience the stories that connect the real people to these extraordinary events. Throughout Mary Foulkes’ exhibition at the O3 Gallery, Oxford Castle Unlocked will be hosting their annual ‘Ghost Fest’ which includes  a historical tour of the Castle, guidance and advice from paranormal experts, explanation and use of paranormal investigation equipment and participation in vigils, experiments and séances. For further information visit: