To those who say they can’t draw a stick figure, there’s a solution. Actually, there are many solutions, and one way to learn to draw, paint or sculpt realistically is through a classical atelier. The historical atelier’s system of learning has been around since the middle ages and is based upon the idea that students follow one classically trained master to learn how to realistically represent the world. Modern ateliers vary their approach, but students still master skills such as comparative measurement, the value system, and working through a learning process of drawing and painting castes before moving on to their own work. Once a painter has mastered the skill to represent objects realistically in drawing and painting, artists are faced with the question, “What’s next?”
Zoey Frank, Sonya, oil on panel, 36x36"
Zoey Frank is a realist painter who completed four years of classical atelier training at the Juliette Aristides Atelier at the Gage Academy of Art before receiving an MFA in Painting. Zoey explains that her atelier training “taught basic skills and a specific approach to build a drawing to a finished painting.” She sought to explore her intuition while engaging with the ideas of art history, including modernism.
Zoey credits her developments since her formal education to time and painting. She has come to believe that the way things are painted convey more meaning than the subject matter. To this end, her latest “sandwich, lemons, and laundry” painting series was inspired by the book Changing Images of Pictorial Space by William Dunning. Dunning’s book explores the numerous methods utilized throughout the past two-thousand years to represent space on a two-dimensional surface. Consequently, Zoey explores new ideas in her still-life series, first experimenting with technique, then transferring her knowledge to her figurative work.
Moving to the next level is different for every artist. For Zoey, the inspiration to leave behind the classical technique is rooted in the idea that each painting is an investigation with a new question to solve on the surface of the canvas, but every artist has a different threshold to push.
Shana Levenson, Elegance Within, oil on dibond, 13x14”
For years, Shana Levenson painted herself and her children using the training she received from the Academy of Art University. Shana’s recent series of lace paintings stemmed from the shift of representing her children to designing narratives using intricate layers of lace on her body. The direction of her work changed as her subject matter changed.
Shana and Zoey did what many artists do during transition: grow. They took what they’ve learned in school and coupled it with the experiences in their personal lives to meld together a new body of work. Realist painters like other professionals have experiences outside of the studio that influence their practice, priorities and interests. Everyone evolves throughout their life experiences, and a challenge for artists is to keep their work meaningful and current as life progresses.
Adrienne Stein, Swept, oil on linen, 14x20"
For some artists, an aspect of the world prompts an exploration. Adrienne Stein is another realist painter classically trained in the atelier and a graduate of the Laguna College of Art and Design. Adrienne says she recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see "Between Nature and Abstraction: Edwin Dickinson and Friends," and the exhibition inspired her to rethink the way she composes a painting. Adrienne says, “I will see a painting that moves me, and then I will set to work trying to ‘reverse engineer’ it and figure out how to accomplish those effects.” Adrienne says she is learning more from visits to art galleries and museums than any instructional classes.
Jessica Lewis, The Space Between Us, oil on panel, 24x24"
Likewise, plein air painting, and the quick decisions needed to complete a painting, inspired Jessica Lewis’ development. Jessica won second place in the “Outside the Box” category in this year’s Portrait Society of America’s Members Only Competition with her painting The Space Between Us. She believes that alla prima en plein air painting is “much more freeing than [her] figurative work. It helps [her] edit [her] strokes and condense information.” To paint alla prima en plein air, a person brings their supplies on location and creates a painting from start to finish. It’s a great exercise to work from life within her community.
It’s valuable to hear how other artists have grown beyond their training and towards their personal voice. We’ve seen that a book can spark a new body of work, a change in subject matter can boost creative output, a gallery visit can shift the way we think about paint, and painting outside can change the way we work in the studio. These factors have helped these four artists progress on their journey. We all have our own paths that wind between what we’ve experienced and what we create. How will you take your art to the next level?