Antwerp Academy’s Drawing Marathon is for everyone


You don’t need experience or even skill to draw what you see: horses, ballerinas, swordsmen, gymnasts, and much more

24-hour marathon underway

This morning, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp opens its doors for the 24-hour Tekenmarathon, or Drawing Marathon. Classes were cancelled, so staff and students could all take part, and the general public was invited to participate as well, regardless of experience or ability.

“Drawing is all about looking, paying attention, focusing, and then directing what you see to your hands and the materiality of the paper and the pencil,” says Johan Pas, the dean of the Academy. “Basically, it is something that everybody can do, but by not drawing a lot of people think they can’t draw or have no capacity whatsoever.”

The aim of the Tekenmarathon is to challenge this idea, and to share some of what happens inside the Academy with a wider public. “By providing an inspiring, welcoming atmosphere we hope to open up drawing as an activity for people who do not normally participate in artistic events.”

What makes the Tekenmarathon special is this mix of art school activity and spectacle

- Dean Johan Pas

This atmosphere is quite different from the conventional idea of a drawing class, with silent students concentrating on a bowl of fruit or a shivering life model. The Academy’s last drawing marathon, in 2018, saw a camel being led through the halls to act as a model. Then there were ballerinas, acrobats, musicians, pole dancers, bondage, and someone in a gorilla suit.

A short film of the 2018 Tekenmarathon makes it seem like a non-stop underground party. “These were just some aspects of the event; it wasn’t 24 hours of partying and eroticism,” Pas assures us. “During the day, it was much more like a school, with people focusing on models, drawing, and sharing their ideas and imagery. That’s what makes the Tekenmarathon special: this mix of art school activity and spectacle.”

This year the bill includes horses, gymnasts, skaters, fencing, tattooing, anatomical dissection, and a selection of artefacts from the Africa Museum. There will be drawing in real time, digitally projected onto the walls of the Academy, and the chance to draw in virtual reality.

Part of the evening will be live-streamed by Radio Centraal, and there will be a digital connection with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston, which is holding a parallel drawing marathon. And after a night of drawing, there will be breakfast, and awards for the most interesting work.

As well as opening its doors to the public, the Academy wants to use the Tekenmarathon to create a greater feeling of community within the school. “It brings together people from different studios – the painters, the photographers, the fashion designers – and they share their different ideas about drawing by drawing together.”

While some art schools give drawing a low priority, or have dropped it altogether, it remains essential for the Antwerp Academy. “It’s part of our tradition, but we also feel that, for young artists and designers who grew up in a digital world, the physical act of seeing and drawing without digital tools is very refreshing and helps them to be more in touch with their image making,” Pas says.

Because of the programme, the atmosphere, and all the different people who show up, it’s a much more dynamic and shared activity

- Johan Pas

For the students, the Tekenmarathon represents a different environment for drawing. “In class you draw together, but you tend to be focused and wrapped up in what you are doing. Here, because of the programme, the atmosphere, and all the different people who show up, it’s a much more dynamic and shared activity.”

Having to deal with moving models is a particular challenge. “At first it’s strange that your model will not stand still, but then the whole procedure of perceiving and drawing becomes something else,” Pas explains. “The model moves, and you as the person drawing move as well.”

And sometimes the tables are turned completely. “What I saw last time was that people were making drawings of people drawing. Everyone becomes a model and a person drawing at the same time.”

Photos: FB/HBDA/Tekenmarathon