Écorché Skull at the Ruskin Art and Anatomy Summer school

I made this écorché skull under the direction of sculptor Eleanor Crook, as part of an inspiring summer school at the Ruskin School of Art:

écorché head

Focussing on ‘Art and Anatomy’ the summer school included a generous amount of drawing time along with sculpture, lectures, discussions and presentations. I’ll be doing a few more posts on the summer school because it was an intensive and varied week from which I took away loads of actions that I think will interest you.

But first the skull:

Beheaded travelling hazards

Once I’d left Oxford the skull did get a few strange looks as I carried it on the train, wrapped in a supermarket carrier bag. Only one person actually asked me about it though. If you are socially inclined it would be a great conversation starter. (I take no responsibility for where any such conversations might end.)

I’ve been wanting to do some écorché sculpture for ages so I was thrilled when I saw this as part of the Ruskin course.

So how did we do it?

We started with a roughly 3/4 size plaster skull on a wooden armature which was pre-prepared for us. From there Eleanor took us through the key muscle groups on the skull, enthusiastically demonstrating the origin, insertion and function of each muscle whilst modelling it on her own demonstration skull in red clay.

Process and Practice

We went through muscle by muscle as a group. At times it was quite challenging to keep up and make sure my muscle covered the correct area with the right origin and insertions with the right profile. It was amazing how many question I suddenly had; does this flatten out across there? Is this rounder as it crosses that?

The head in progress

Overall it was great to see everyone follow along as Eleanor broke down something incredibly complex into small, manageable repeatable tasks that we as a class were able to follow and copy.

Learning Revelation

The thing that really suprised me and reinforced my project plans (more on this at the end of the post) was how well this new-found knowledge stuck. This was shown in an exercise the following day. Essentially it was an écorché portrait drawing (showing the muscles) of one of other course attendees:

I found I could accurately remember almost all of the muscles we had covered in the sculpture, despite having minimal prior knowledge of facial anatomy. I wish I’d done a similar drawing before the sculpt – so I’d be able to show a before and after.

Re-drawing the muscles the day after the sculpture

Physical memory and sequence

What stands out about the experience is that I can clearly remember sculpting the muscles and the order in which we made and applied them to the skull. All I need to do when drawing was recall where and how we began the first muscle.

Project Plans

I’m planning an écorché, more specifically an anatomy sculpture with one side just the bones and the other with the muscles sculpted over the bones. I’ll be posting about it step by step. It’s a very ambitious plan but I think it’s going to be an incredible way to learn, so llok out for some écorché project posts.