After seeing her “Atelier Diary” videos on Youtube, I asked artist Jennifer Marie if she’d be interested in writing an article about her experiences as a student at Ravenswood Atelier. Below are her thoughts on the subject.
Make sure you like/subscribe/follow Jennifer’s on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also check out her portfolio and purchase drawings or paintings at her website: http://www.jennifermariepainting.com/
This post is about my experiences attending The Ravenswood Atelier, a small classical painting and drawing school. I am very passionate about the atelier style of training and so I want to thank Andrew for letting me guest post on his blog. I hope that this can give some insight to anyone curious about attending these types of schools. I’m going to share how I came to learn about ateliers, the program that my school offers, a typical day, the most important things I have learned, and the overall attitude of going to an atelier.
Learning About Ateliers
I went to a university to learn painting. However, I slowly discovered there wasn’t much instruction on how to paint. The university’s attitude of actual painting technique was treated as the individual’s natural talent, something innate that shouldn’t be taught or changed as it could risk stifling personal expression.
I graduated feeling frustrated.
I wanted a painting education different from what I had experienced, so I started exploring and discovered classical painting and drawing ateliers.
Ateliers teach time-tested methods to learn painting. Painting is treated as a craft, a talent that is proportionate to the amount of time put into purposeful practice.
The Ravenswood Atelier Program
The Ravenswood Atelier is based off the 19th century ateliers of Western Europe. It teaches naturalism, a way of interpreting what you see, which is the same style as Rembrandt, Sargent, and Bouguereau.
Ravenswood is a small school of nine students. The instructors are Matt and Magda Almy, who both graduated from the Florence Academy of Art. The teachers have really gotten to know how I work, and so, I receive personalized critiques catered to my strengths and weaknesses.
The program is centered on the student’s individual progress, usually taking 4 years to complete.
The student first dedicates about two years solely to drawing, starting with Bargue copies to train the eye’s accuracy. Bargues are then replaced with cast drawing to teach the incredible complexity of understanding value, whilst learning light design and composition.
The final years are devoted to oil painting, starting with cast painting from a grey color palette. More colors are added until one progresses to the full color palette, and finally into still life. All the while the student is drawing and then painting from live models.
The materials that we use are charcoal, pencil, and oil paint with traditional mediums.
A Typical Day
Students usually arrive an hour to fifteen minutes before class to set up in the model room. At 9 a.m. the model gets on the stand and does 5 minutes of short gesture poses for our warm up.
Once the model gets into the long pose the room is silent as everyone studies their piece and makes a mental checklist of what they want to accomplish today. It changes to shuffling feet, scratching charcoal and swift painting as we have 3 hours with the model.
During this time Matt or Magda will come around and give each student an individual critique and lesson.
Break for lunch.
The afternoon session begins at 1p.m. with individual project in the student studios, also 3 hours. Depending on where you are in the program you either work on Bargue copies, cast drawing, cast painting, or still life.
Matt or Magda will come around to each student to give a critique and lesson.
Three days of the week have evening classes of drawing from the live model and anatomy lecture.
Most Important Things that I have Learned
I have been studying at Ravenswood for about 3 years, and at the moment, I am working on my second to last cast painting.
I think the most important thing I have learned is how to see. It’s not merely copying, but rather interpreting what you see to give maximum impact for the image you are making.
Learning how to see has taught me how to draw structure, simplify, and compress value. These all give me guidelines to make a painting, instead of a rigid formula, leaving plenty of room for all different kinds of painting styles. This approach allows me to try new things knowing that I can always fall back on the guidelines if I start to get too lost.
My atelier has also taught me things I was not even aware of before I started studying.
For example, I didn’t realize how absolutely complex value is. I think value is one of the hardest things to learn but once you start understanding it you can create areal sense of light on your canvas, which is incredibly exciting.
I’m also being introduced to painting atmosphere, or painting air. The goal is to paint the air that surrounds the subject and most importantly the air in between the viewer and the subject. I’m still working this one out; so far it’s been a really fun challenge.
The Attitude of Going to an Atelier
What I enjoy most about this program is the intensity of the atelier. We do everything from life and under natural light.
Working from life is challenging because you are dealing with movement.
Working from natural light gives its own batch of inconsistencies with the varying light of sun through clouds, rain, and snow.
I have really learned to love the surprising discrepancies though because it gives me a complete experience of an entire moment in life that I get to try and capture. Working under challenging conditions is lifting my limitations to be able to paint whatever I want no matter the circumstance.
The days are long and intense. I knew that you needed endurance for sports but I never considered it for painting. I found I needed to build up my stamina to focus and stay critical for working all day. At the end of each day my brain feels satisfyingly exhausted.
I have also learned to work even when I’m uncomfortable. The atelier’s building wasn’t originally made for a school, so it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. But when school is in session, I’ve learned to work anyway, a tough work ethic I’m proud of.
Overall, this experience is fueling my hunger for self-improvement. I’m striving not to be “good” but rather to beat my personal best with each and every new piece. I love looking for new challenges so I can keep learning.
My instructors have told me to keep looking at the very best painters from history and let them always be my teachers. Sometimes before class or during breaks, I’ll pull out a book on Ilya Repin or John William Waterhouse paintings and compare it to the painting I’m working on. While I’m sure the master painters aren’t worrying in their graves yet, I like the feeling it gives me that it is possible to one day achieve what they did: a complete mastery of the craft.
Ever since I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a great painter. I believe atelier training is the perfect type of school to get me to that goal.
For those seriously interested in painting I encourage you to look into atelier training for yourself.
Please comment below with any specific questions on The Ravenswood Atelier or if you would like to share your own experiences on ateliers.