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Left: A hybrid gesture and sightsize approach from a life-drawing class at The Atelier. Vine charcoal on newsprint. Figure is approximately 20 inches tall. Twenty minute sketch.
I've been looking at ways to retrain my eyes, mind, and hand, after the conk on the head in 2010. I've been working diligently on my own as other committments allow, but I decided it was time for different perspectives.
Starting at the end of January this year I began taking a few classes at The Atelier in Minneapolis. Sharp-eyed readers of my blog may have discovered references to these classes in the text on my journal pages.
While I don't think my brain is working at pre-conk levels I am happy to report that my memory seems to be better than the average bear's! I'm also quite grateful for the classical education I received growing up. (And I intend to call my parents and thank them again as soon as I finish writing this post.) I am grateful that so much history and so many stories were crammed into my brain as a child because now, even if some of them have leaked out I realize there are still many in there. (This realization was made based on class discussions.)
I love The Atelier. If I had found out about it earlier in life I think I would have tried to work out a way to study there, and not go into graphic design. But maybe I've been staring at too many paintings by Gérôme.
Regardless, I first found out about The Atelier in the late 1980s. I took a short workshop in memory drawing one weekend when it was still Atelier Lack. In the 1990s I went back for two weeks one summer (much to the annoyance of my dogs who were used to being with me 100 percent of the time). I worked on cast drawings in the mornings and life drawing in the afternoons. All other available moments were spent walking dogs.
People may pooh-pooh the attention to detail upon which the atelier system is built, but as one of my fellow students said the other day, "If you want to do anything in art, well it's like playing the piano, first you have to master your scales." Everyone knows I love doing my Hanon exercises for the piano. I couldn't agree with him more.
But then I have always loved representational art.
Something that you learn at The Atelier, is the "big look." You learn to see values—and discover how the perception of them relates to your composition. But for me one of the most important things you learn is the discipline of seeing. And the understanding of what you are looking at and how it translates into a 2D space to give a sense of 3D.
For me classes at The Atelier also train me in patience. I work so fast most of the time. And at least in my journal pieces I don't work to a complete and polished "finish." By that I mean, for all the journal work I do I don't go back and correct pieces, I just keep working past the mistakes, incorporating them, hiding them, and so on. In the atelier structure you have to slow down; and getting an exact and pleasing finish is often the goal. I believe it's good to sit with one piece of work, week after week and finesse it. (Or so I tell myself when I'm frustrated.)
Over the next several weeks I'll share some of the work I'm doing at The Atelier; and some of the emotions and thoughts to which that work is giving rise.
So far there are no great breakthroughs. The broken connections in my brain remain broken. But there are other wonderful moments, not the least of which are the great kindnesses of the instructors passing on their insights.
In my gesture/life drawing class we are looking for movement and flow in 30-second (that's right) and 1-minute poses. By the time we get to 3- and 5-minute poses (after the first break time), length of time, and what can be accomplished takes on a new meaning, even if you are accustomed to working quickly. And a new sense of what working quickly with a purpose is comes into mind and hand. Something very meditative yet totally active begins to happen for me. I think that's a great thing.
If you live in a city where a classical atelier has taken root I encourage you to seek it out and experience a class there. Such classes are not about immediate gratification. The gratification, when it does come, is much more satisfying.