This week saw the 6th Jocelyn Herbert annual lecture held at the National Theatre. The speaker this year was Rae Smith, the award winning designer of War Horse (2007) and wonder.land (2015) to name but a few.
The lecture series is aimed at providing views on design from a variety of sources. The lectures have been given by directors, writers and actors in the past and this was the turn of a designer to speak about the concept of drawing.
What was really lovely was that Rae had come to the Archive to view Jocelyn Herbert's sketchbooks and notebooks, which are contained within her collection in the NT Archive. Rae was particularly interested in how Jocelyn used drawing to think. Another artist this week has described to me how they use drawing as a means of thinking, which seems alien to me but it natural to some. Jocelyn's notebooks are full of her life - they contain shopping lists, phone numbers, to do lists, drafts of letters and speeches, sketches from her everyday life such as a hospital waiting room or cafe on holiday as well as the sketches for the shows which she designed. There is a great new video released from Tate Archive, featuring Rae Smith, talking about the value of sketchbooks.
In her lecture, Rae used those everyday sketches to show how Jocelyn used nature to create designs on stage and how she processed reality to make it into a 2D sketch. She then went on to show some of her own drawings and storyboards and explain how her drawings are used extensively in the rehearsal process alongside the work of the actors and creative team to give them a sense of what their work could look like and lead to. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the rehearsal room and sense what her creative process was like.
Rae then decided to show us where she thinks drawing is going in the future. I am not exaggerating when I say that the audience was absolutely astonished. I've never been in a crowd of people, including many students, who were so stunned. Rae demonstrated the Google Tilt Brush, which allows you to draw in 3D. Using a virtual reality headset and hand controllers, Rae took us into the world that she has created through hours of working with the software. The sheer scale of the designs that you can create was amazing and it's so exciting that you can get inside your characters to see what they see on stage. The potential of this software is difficult to get a grip on as it is so different to how we have been traditionally drawing for years. It is also a very different skill to draw in 3D and you can see that Rae has dedicated a lot of time to explore the possibilities of the software.
It was a very exciting way to end a lecture that had beautifully shown how Jocelyn Herbert's archive can be used to study process, how Rae works now and where she thinks theatre design, and indeed drawing in general, might be headed in the future. Now I'm off to ponder how I would archive that...