For three weekends only, a public tour of the Houses of Parliament includes a free session at the drawing area set up in Westminster Hall. Artist Rachel Gasden looks to four mosaics in the Central Lobby (UK’s patron saints George, Andrew, Patrick and David) plus drawings from the public to create paintings for “The Big Draw at Houses of Parliament”, 19th, 26th October and 2nd November 2013.
Contemporary drawing highlights 1,000 years of history
Groups of visitors enter for the tour from Cromwell Green on the West side of Houses of Parliament, where one can get a good view of the gargoyles, statues and the architecture of this Gothic-themed Victorian building. This historic site was designed by Charles Barry (the same architect of Highclere Castle, also known as TV’s “Downton Abbey”).
Visitors are not allowed to take photos once the tour has proceeded past Westminster Hall… but taking notes is entirely okay, so I scribbled in my sketchbook as we went along:
The tour was about an hour, led by an engaging and knowledgeable guide, who shared lots of details of British history and how the UK government works (and even what happens if it doesn’t work). We learned about the Monarch’s role in government, both Houses (Lords and Commons) and evolution of Parliament over the hundreds of years. We talked about the buildings, too; apart from Westminster Hall, these date from late 1800s and are highly decorated in an exceedingly Victorian fashion (meaning, in the guide’s own words, “over the top”). Think lots of flowers, gold leaf and bright colours, particularly anywhere the Queen might hang out.
Campaign for Drawing sets up in Westminster Hall
Westminster Hall was built in late 1090’s as the palace and meeting hall for early British monarchs. About 800 years later, nearly the whole site was burnt down in 1834 by a Clerk of Works who thought it might be a good idea to burn two cart loads of Tally Sticks in the basement under the House of Lords. Westminster Hall is the main building to survive the calamity and The Big Draw event, led by artist Rachel Gasden, takes place here.
Members of the public are invited to join the Big Draw after their tour of the Houses of Parliament.
Provided with paper and drawing materials, and inspired by artworks from around Houses of Parliament collection, visitors have the chance to draw their own picture based on saints, kings and queens, dragons, flowers, decor… or whatever they like! Asle (above) drew a picture of her mum, the first person that came to mind when a volunteer suggested she draw a “saint”.
My contribution during the 19th October session of The Big Draw was a sketch of one of the many magical beasts guarding the entrances and staircases of the Lords Chamber and Westminster Hall. Traditionally, the unicorn represents Scotland while the lion represents England, and use of both in the emblem for Great Britain dates back to 1603 with the accession of James I of England who was also James VI of Scotland.
Big Draw events sponsored by The Campaign for Drawing are happening all over the world in 15 countries including England until 3 November 2013.
More information and links
- More about Big Draw at the Houses of Parliament
- Download Houses of Parliament – The Big Draw (leaflet) [PDF]
- The Big Draw and Campaign for Drawing – a UK-based charity
- Learn more about Rachel Gasden on her website
- Related article: James Bond and other characters perform for Big Draw event at Threadneedle Prize exhibit
Event details: Public tours of Houses of Parliament are most Saturdays throughout the year, Big Draw event on 19 October, 26 October and 2 November 2013. Paid admission, concessions.