Regular Classes at Russian River Atelier

Inspired by the course work offered historically at traditional art academies, our Classical Drawing and Painting Course is composed of working on individual projects in the morning and from the live model in the afternoon; morning and afternoon programs are designed to compliment and enhance each other, though students may opt to take one or the other. We work on a series of assignments which gradually increase in complexity, enabling mastery of technical skills one step at a time. Students begin with graphite, followed by charcoal and then painting in oils. Figure work will be primarily from the nude model, and here, too, assignments become progressively complex in order to render a challenging genre obtainable and enjoyable. This mode of learning fosters rapid improvement in the overall quality of work, and is thus truly rewarding.

Partial Program: Casts/Still Life - Mornings 9am - 12pm only

Partial Program: Figure - Afternoons 1pm - 4pm only

Full Program: Morning and Afternoon 1, 2, or 3 days per week (Mondays, Fridays, Sundays)

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Bargue Drawing

The Classical Program at Russian River Atelier begins with a short introduction to working with graphite “in the flat” (two dimensional source) - an invaluable foundation for learning to draw, and therefore, paint. Throughout history beginning art students and apprentices traditionally commenced their training with copy work. In the 19th century figure painting was flourishing, as were art academies which trained highly skilled representational painters. Charles Bargue, one of the most exceptional draftsmen of 19th century Europe, designed a course of study for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (under Gerome); It employed a series of lithographs, some simple, some complex, featuring sculpture from antiquity. Bargue’s lithographic plates illustrated how to draw by first simplifying via the creation of a “construct” or breakdown of essential elements. Nature is infinitely complex, and an artist must learn how to filter out the nonessential. By copying we learn to see more accurately, adopting a working method both internally, through conceptualization, and externally, by mastering tools we have at hand.

Charcoal Cast Drawing

Students quickly graduate to drawing casts from life using charcoal and the the sight-size-method. White matte plaster casts are ideal for learning the importance of value relationships, including how to work within a compressed value range. Of all colors, white objects are well visible to the eye and have a relatively large value range from illuminated to shaded areas. We attempting to mimic nature as faithfully as possible, learning to model form convincingly while keeping fine details and reflected lights subservient to the overall effect of light. Cast work allows students to practice shape, proportion, and modeling with an immobile subject in a fixed lighting situation; furthermore it enables a slow, controlled approach to the complexity of working with color by focusing first and foremost on it’s most crucial aspect - tonal value. Each cast is drawn from start to finish, cementing a working method to be carried forward into painting.

Still Life

This rewarding genre allows for a greater degree of personal taste in composition and design as well as the introduction of narrative elements. The process of setting up and lighting a still life effectively is coupled with learning to accurately group values together and truly work from big to small. Students learn to place highlights convincingly within the value range; various textures and materials such as metal, glass, drapery, or fur are explored, as is the importance of “lost and found” edges. The still life process may begin with a campittura selection, dry brush drawing to establish shapes, an umber underpainting, local color lay-in of shadows and lights, big form modeling followed by medium forms, and finally a careful attention to details. From the first steps of setting up to the final rendering, students insure abstract design concerns are not overshadowed by narrative elements, and that details do not detract from the big picture.

Cast Painting

Cast paintings begin with work in “grisaille,” a style of painting executed entirely in shades of neutral gray. Historically and in decorative painting it has been used to mimic architectural embellishments and to create a sense of illusion generally. Using such a limited palette allows students to become accustomed to the feel and process of oil painting while continuing to address proportion and shapes; here the challenge of accurately noting tonal value in paint is key to creating a trompe l’oeil (“fooling the eye”) effect. Subsequent cast paintings using a full color palette commence with the same approach yet introduce other aspects of color - hue and chroma - taking on a more complete examination of learning to mix and use color, including how to use it turn the form, increase a sense of space, and accurately capture the drama of reflected lights while keeping them within the context of the shadow.

Figure Drawing & Painting

Working from the live model begins with a gentle introduction to method in graphite. Beginning students learn the importance of gesture and basic proportions, and receive an introduction to exercises aimed at improving speed and accuracy when the model is not present. Both short and long poses aid in the learning process. After a certain level of comfort is achieved in graphite students graduate to working with charcoal; figures become larger in scale and the value range is increased. Our aim is an accurate and accomplished drawing, which includes capturing a likeness, establishing mood, and creating a convincing sense of space. Our unique environment offers primarily sustained poses (six to ten weeks), allowing students to truly immerse themselves in learning to recreate a figure from the ground up. A long pose permits in-depth study; Steps followed for figure work echo those employed for morning project work, yet add the challenge and dynamism of working with a live model. The ultimate aim will be painting the figure and portrait in color, beginning with a limited color palette (earth yellow, red, black, and white).