The raven has landed…

Draw with us at the Tower!

Art Macabre are delighted to be able to announce a new collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, creating together a series of after-hours drawing events at the Tower of London. Ahead of monthly events, launching in Spring 2016, we’d like to invite you to part of a preview event, introducing the Drawn at the Tower tutoring team and the experience of drawing after-hours at this unique, historical landmark site.

Drawn at the Tower with Art Macabre

PREVIEW EVENT: Rebel Queens and Killer Kings

Tuesday 24 November 2015, 6.30-9pm

@ Tower of London

Tickets £20 (includes drawing materials, paper and a drink). Tickets purchased here.

Unlock your drawing potential and discover the scandalous romances and rebellions of medieval monarchs at this after-hours drawing event at the Tower of London. Inspired by Isabella the “She-wolf of France”, and her tyrannical father-in-law Edward I, create your own portraits in the unique and dramatically lit Medieval Palace with tutors Jake Spicer and Sue Dray.

From an enthusiastic newbie to a seasoned artist, Drawn at the Tower is designed for adults (18+) of all levels and abilities. Tutoring will be available.


Drawn at Tower is a new creative collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Art Macabre, inviting participantsto use drawing to explore stories from the Tower of London’s remarkable 1,000 year history. From royals and rogues to ravens and rituals, each event will illuminate the Tower’s dark past. Drawn at the Tower is directed and designed by Art Macabre, and delivered by a team of tutors and artists including Jake Spicer,Sue Dray and Lozzy Bones, to create an immersive experience. Be among the first to experience this unique after-hours drawing series at the Tower of London that will run regularly from spring 2016.

About Art Macabre

Art Macabre inject a lethal dose of theatricality and curiosity into drawing. Directed by Nikki Shaill, Art Macabre specialise in creating immersive drawing events in unique spaces that bring together elements of narrative, performance, music and theatrical themes. Since 2010, thousands of participants have enjoyed drawing from both the imagination and observation.


Please note access to the Tower of London site will be restricted to a different part of the Tower for each event, and does not include access to the Crown Jewels or whole site. This event involves using steps around the historic site and is unfortunately not suitable for wheelchair users or for people with limited mobility. Please note that chairs are not provided to sit on during this event. If you have particular seating or access requirements, please contact 0844 482 7777 or

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ART MACABRE TURNS 5 this Halloween!

We can hardly believe it ourselves, but this October 31st 2015 we will mark five whole years of macabre mark making! Yes, Art Macabre Death Drawing salons are proud to celebrate that we’ve been running our events for 5 years now.

To celebrate this occasion, we’ll be:

  • Throwing a Halloween birthday celebration – a joyfully macabre shindig on Halloween even itself! So keep Saturday 31 October free for dressing up, dancing, DJs and drinking fun with some of our bestest Art Macabre family, friends & fiends. KEEP THE DATE FREE! Details and venue TBA very soon…
  • Creating a zine – called ‘ART MACABRE: DIY or DIE’ to acknowledge in the true DIY spirit that we started with our roots in Ladyfest Ten. It will be for sale for a bargainous price. Featuring black and white artwork and prints by School of Skull participants and some of our favourite Art Macabre artists. Including some pages designed for colouring in!
  • Holding the Summer School of Skulls exhibition – our third exhibition, following on from the success of our previous exhibition earlier this year ‘The Dying Art’, we’ll be exhibiting the artwork and sketches created and inspired by the 13 participants in our Summer School of Skulls programme. Work produced on the theme of Death and Skulls – there’ll be prints, drawings, textiles and more – created and inspired by trips to Wellcome Collection, Barts Pathology Museum, Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiousites and Grant Zoology museum amongst other places.
  • Looking back at 5 years of Art Macabre with photo archives and favourite events memories shared online, plus exciting announcements released for 2016!


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Summer School of Skulls: Day 5

So sad that it is the final day of the Summer School. It has been such a privilege to spend this time focusing on my drawing, developing my creativity, visiting AMAZING places and hanging out with some really brilliant people. For our final day we were installed in the upstairs room of the Star by Hackney Downs pub. It was a lovely relaxed end to the week, we chatted, made artwork and had a few drinks.

Today was all about developing the drawings we had created during our week. Nikki had brought loads of amazing material including lino and ink, fabrics and thread, paints, pens and loads of skull pictures for collages. I work a lot with textiles and embroidery so was instantly drawn to the fabrics but also really wanted to do some lino printing. I adore printing and embroidery takes ages, so I decided lino was the way to go.

printingI looked through all of my drawings. The ones I was most pleased with came from Bart’s Pathology Museum and the Grant Museum. These were the skulls that I had a bit more time to draw. I love these drawings, but I wasn’t sure the detail and texture captured would work as well in a lino print. I decided to go for something simpler and bolder. I was still really drawn to the creepy double baby head that I drew at Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Wonders, so decided to revisit that.


It was really fun to have free reign to choose whatever materials we wanted to work with. Lots of people choose to work with the lino, but there were also drawings, painting and mixed media pieces being created as well. There was a fantastic creative buzz, with everyone chatting about the work they had created during the week and planning for the exhibition that we will be putting on in the autumn!

We had a bit of a break halfway through the day and were very lucky to have the brilliant Joanna Shears come and speak to us. As well as being a taxidermy artist, Joanna runs a website talking about death. She was so inspiring and spoke to us about being death positive, planning a funeral that is a celebration and meaningful (as well as how to do it without encoring huge costs). She is very passionate about eco burials and DIY funerals. She is currently making patchwork shrouds from vintage fabrics. We actually had a demo of how to shroud a body, with Nikki volunteering to be the corpse!


shroud2I found Joanna’s talk so interesting. I have been interested in funeral rituals for a long time but had only just found out about the concept of natural burials. Inspired by Joanna I have been doing a bit more research and started to plan for what I would want when I am gone. She encouraged us to write a plan so that our family were sure about what we would what. I found her death positive attitude really inspirational – I think it is really important that we are able to talk about death openly. After all, without death we would have no life. It is something we will all face and it makes no sense that it is such a taboo.

I am so sad that the Summer School week has come to and end, but there are some very exciting plans ahead. We have been talking about an exhibition, so I have taken away the prints I have done and are going to be developing them further over the next few weeks.

It really has been an amazing experience to dedicate this time to my own creative practice. It has made me realise how much I have missed drawing and how it should form an important part of my work as an artist. I have learnt to look at things better, and loved learning about some fascinating objects by really studying them closely. I am also really happy with the progress I made, from my first skull sketch at Victor Wynd’s to my deer skull at the Grant museum yesterday. It’s also been brilliant to spend time with people who don’t think you are weird for loving skulls and skeletons! I have promised myself that I must keep drawing, and am already looking forward to another Art Macabre Summer School next year.

School of Skulls

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Summer School of Skulls: Day 4

Day four of the Summer School saw a bit of a change of plan. We had been planning on going to Highgate cemetery but given the rain we had on days two and three, we sought shelter and so headed to the Grant Museum of Zoology. In the end it turned out to be a lovely day, but Grant’s is one of my favourite places in London so I was very happy we ended up there.

drawing in the museum

The Grant museum is part of UCL and hosts a fantastic collection of zoological specimens. The most celebrated is the jar of moles (yep, a jar of moles), but they also have bones endangered and extinct animals such as Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine, the Quagga, and the Dodo alongside a hundreds of other interesting skeletons and jars. I particularly like the skeletons of the bats and flying foxes as they look like little humans but with wings, almost like angels (or demons!)

batWe were very lucky as the curator of the museum was prepared to take some specimens out of the glass cases for us so we could work on more detailed drawings. We got to select and as a group chose a deer skull with fantastic twisted horns, one of those bat skeletons and a tiger skull.

skull drawing

I spent ages drawing the deer skull. After my confidence boost drawing the real human skulls at Bart’s Pathology Museum, I felt that I wanted to continue with a longer observational drawing, rather than doing lots of quick sketches around the museum. I also realised that I find it so much easier to draw when I am not looking at something behind glass – you really get to see all the little details and changes in texture. I did also attempt to draw the bat, but it was way to complicated and I hadn’t left myself enough time.

bat drawingAs well as completing our own drawings we also played the surrealist game Exquisite Corpses (where you draw part of a drawing, cover it and pass it on to be added to by someone else, at the end the full drawing is revealed). We used the animals in the Grant collection to inspire our own weird and wonderful mythical beasts! They came out looking brilliant and it was really fun to do something collaborative where you weren’t worried about the outcome.

EQ2 Today was the day I felt the most confident in my drawing. I think this was from a combinations of things such as having fantastic objects to look at up close and having time to spend on my drawings, but also that I have been practicing and developing my skills for nearly a week now. I really feel like my drawing is improving over the Summer School as I am investing time in practicing the skill. Can’t believe it is nearly over!

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Summer School of Skulls: Day 3

Another very exciting venue was lined up for day three of the Summer School (I think I’ve said that every day so far!). Today we were visiting the Tower of London.

TowerI haven’t been to the Tower since I was a little girl, when my mother took me. Apparently I went a bit strange when standing on the spot where Anne Boleyn was killed and started speaking about ‘having been there before’. Either I was locked in the tower in a past life, or was just a slightly creepy child. I had always wanted to go back (maybe I would remember something else?!) but it is pretty expensive and always packed, so I never got round to it. This meant that being taken there was as part of the Summer School was very exciting.

Trailtors GateI am a bit of a history geek (especially when that history is dark and macabre) so I loved that we were able to join a tour. We followed a Beefeater while he explained about each of the towers and told tales of executions gone wrong and heads on spikes – it was brilliant! I also found out that the Tower used to be used to keep all the animals that were given to the Royal Family. Once they were given an elephant and having never seen one before, the guards had no idea how to look after it. Thinking that a ‘royal’ animal should be treated like royalty they gave him meat and bread to eat and port to drink! He died pretty quickly (no surprise!) There are now fantastic wire animal sculptures all around the tower, to commemorate this history.

Tower BearI loved exploring the collections, looking at the armoury and instruments of torture. I drew a few objects, however with the number of people around I didn’t want to stop for long so only managed very quick sketches. None of these were great drawings but are perfect as visual notes, to remind me of what I saw.

I was particular interested in the ‘graffiti’ that had been carved into the walls of one of the prison towers. From simple letters, to whole coats of arms and really intricate reliefs, they were incredible and really made you think about the amount of time that some prisoners spent looked up. Some of those carvings must have taken years.

It was really inspiring to be in a place with so much history. Whilst I didn’t have any other past life experiences, I did really feel the presence of all those people who inhabited the Tower. I found the architecture really interesting and spent a bit of time sketching it (though it started to rain so I never finished).

Tower DrawingAfter a quick break for coffee and dinner, it was time to re-join Art Macabre for an evening life drawing salon. This was not exclusive to the Summer School, but we were all invited along. The night was themed around Josephine Baker – the siren of the tropics – and we had the incredible dancer/choreographer Brooklyn Sanchez channelling the spirit of Josephine.

JB7As well a recreating some typical Josephine Baker poses, Brooklyn also performed a unique routine inspired by Josephine’s infamous banana skirt dance, but with a 21st century twist. A jazz soundtrack and delicious tropical cocktails from the bar helped to create a fabulous exotic atmosphere (even if the very British rain storm outside tried it’s best to dampen it!).

In my blog post from day one of the Summer School I said I found life drawing difficult, and I still don’t think I was there with my drawing. Try as I might, I could not get the proportions right. I did start to get more confident and improve as the evening went on but I still need to practice more. I guess that means I just need to go to more Art Macabre events!

After a full day at the Tower and then life drawing in the evening to I was exhausted! I definitely needed a good rest before picking up my pencil again for day four…

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Summer School of Skulls: Day 2

Having had mixed feelings about the quality of my drawings on day one, I was slightly nervous about the second day of the Summer of Skulls. Would I get my drawing mojo back today, did I have one at all?? But, I was also very excited as we were visiting somewhere I had wanted to go for ages and it is not normally open to the public during the day – Bart’s Pathology Museum.

Barts3It is an incredible collection of all sorts of weird and wonderful medical specimens. I could have spent the whole week just drawing and exploring in there! Whilst they are not open daily (it is still used by medical students) they do open for special events and I would really recommend going (coming up is Bart’s Bazaar on the 22nd August – a ‘macabre and medical market’ with stalls selling taxidermy and offering tarot readings which sounds amazing!)

We were very lucky to be introduced to the collection by Carla Valentine, the ex- mortician who is now in charge of documenting, researching and preserving the collections, as well as organising the events. She had got a load of real human skulls out for us to draw – very exciting! She told us the history of some of them so we had some idea of where they had come from, and what had happened to them. One had two holes drilled in the front which she said had probably been to cure a sinus problem (seems a bit drastic!).

barts2I really enjoyed drawing the skulls. Having looked at reproductions the day before I was amazed at just how much detail and different textures were on the surfaces of each. We were given a couple of hours to draw and were therefore able to spend longer on our drawings. In fact, I only completed 2 drawings in that time. I got so into looking at them and really enjoyed spending a bit more time to work into my tone and texture. I was really pleased with both of the drawings I produced, which gave me a lot more confidence in my work.


We spend the second part of the day in the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room. Having visited many exhibitions at the Wellcome, and loving their bookshop and café, I felt I knew it pretty well. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t even know the Reading Room was there! It is like a library but so much better! There are loads of comfy sofas, slouchy beanbags line the stairs, and there are lots of things to look at and play with, including an virtual autopsy table! Of course, the collection of books is brilliant too. With a focus on ‘what it means to be human’ there is everything, from religion and folk-law to science via art, love and death. I didn’t know where to start!

Reading RoombooksI didn’t do any drawing in the Reading Room, although some people did. Instead I used it as an opportunity to find out more about things that had been discussed during the course so far, or look at things that I find inspiring. For me this meant books about cults, alternative religions and memento mori. I left with my mind spinning with ideas and inspiration! Such a fantastic day.

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Summer School of Skulls: Day 1

Hello. My name is Christina and I was one of the participants in the first Art Macabre Summer School of Skulls. I am going to be blogging about my experiences each day – what we got up to, as well as my thoughts and feelings along the way.

I have to say that whilst very excited, I was also pretty nervous about the week. Though I do think of myself an artist, I studied Fine Art and university and now I teach art in a secondary school, I know that I am particularly good at drawing. (Though of course when in art teacher mode I would say that naturally everybody can draw and all drawing are of value, sometimes it can be hard to practice what you preach).

When at university I only drew very rough sketches as a way of planning sculptures and instillations. Now I am much more comfortable with a needle and tread than I am with a pencil. I do love drawing, but doing it in front of other people scared me, especially when I am so out of practice!

Thankfully, the lovely Nikki, put these fears to rest quickly – ‘no judgment’. This week, she said, was for us to develop our own personal practice and engage with our creativity. Perfect. The other participants seemed really friendly (I was confident no one would be mean about my slightly wonky drawings!). There were 13 of us – very appropriate number for this macabre week!

The first stop on our macabre tour of London was the extraordinary Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Wonders. It’s been on my must-see list for ages but I had never made it, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to explore the collection whilst drawing it!

If you haven’t been Viktor Wynd’s collection is made up of strange taxidermy, natural history specimens, Victorian toys, artworks, shrunken heads and many more curiosities (…did I just spot a box of Russell Brands pubes….). It is so much fun to look around, there was so much to see that it was hard to decide what to draw. I am already planning another trip back.

ViktorWynds4ViktorWynds3ViktorWynds2ViktorWynds1Nikki set us the challenge of drawing a skull, something beautiful, something repulsive and something to scale. I quickly found a skull and sketched it (very roughly). I then found a strange double baby head thing, with roses where the mouths should be. It was repulsive, but also beautiful. I was really drawn to it although not sure why! Babies are lovely, roses are gorgeous and it looked like it was make of porcelain but all together it was just horrific. I decided to draw that too, along with a taxidermy mouse in a Santa hat with a toy reindeer (of course!) and a rare orchid.

scary babies
After a quick break for lunch and a short walk, the second part of the day took place in the Art Macabre studios. Nikki has set up a still life with loads of reproduction skulls. We did timed drawings which was challenging – I struggled so much with the quickest sketches, though other people seemed to capture them so perfectly. I was reasonably happy with some of my drawings though, and I tried out my new inks, which produced a more stylised image but one that I was pretty happy with.

ink skull

drawing skulls

CakeWe had a quick break for tea and cake (which was covered in chocolate skulls and bones) then, did a final drawing, this time with a life model, holding a skull – of course! Now, if I found sketching skulls difficult, the life drawing was so much harder. It really is a skill you need to practice and it was a year since I last attempted it. It was really enjoyable, as working from the figure is so inspiring, however the resulting drawing was not good! But then, this was just the first day and it takes a while to get warmed up…

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