What happens when art teachers don't have the answers?
Have you ever had students ask you for help with their artwork, and you *gulp* didn’t have the skills or knowledge they were seeking?
This happened to me not so long ago. I had an elementary student who wanted to make people look like they were flying through clouds. I suggested that he place some clouds in front of the figure, and some behind. He came back a few minutes later with the suggested changes and insisted it still wasn’t “right”.
The truth was, he had a very clear image in his head of this super realistic drawing of a hero flying through the clouds. But I didn’t have these realistic drawing skills he was asking me to teach him. I had given him everything I knew after just a few rounds of coaching, and I was at a loss figuring out how to help this frustrated child achieve his vision without asking him to settle for something less than he was striving for.
The Frantic Search
That night, I frantically researched the internet and every art book I owned trying to find the answers to "How to draw a guy flying through clouds."
Then I went to the bookstore, and found Juliette Aristides’ Classical Drawing Atelier and Classical Painting Atelier.
Within the pages of that book, my entire world flipped upside down and sideways. I discovered that anyone can learn realistic drawing and painting skills that studies with someone who has what is called “atelier training”.
I decided right then and there that I wanted this magical “atelier training”. I wanted to be able to help my students achieve their artistic goals.
I never again wanted to feel the ineptitude and insecurities I felt that day when I couldn’t help my student draw exactly what he intended.
Joining an Atelier
The next thing I know, I moved to Seattle and train with Juliette Aristides in her atelier. (This is why I always tell people that her books are dangerous! They compel you to learn what your heart has been looking for all these years.) Unfortunately, this meant that I would have to take leave of the teaching profession in order to commit myself to full time study for 4 years.
While I was studying with Juliette, my art teacher friends noticed the transformation in my skills, and they started asking me how they could learn too. But most of them could not leave their jobs in order to train full time.
I wanted to find a better way for art teachers to access this knowledge and training - a way that wouldn’t force them to make a choice between keeping their job and learning realism skills
Spreading the Knowledge
And that’s why I started teaching a monthly drawing and painting class every First Thursday. I also started the Summer Teacher Atelier, a program that provides atelier training for art teachers in the summer months when they have their breaks.
But that wasn’t enough for me. These art teachers were working so hard, they deserved to earn their degree too! After many years of work (and a few false starts!) the summer training program for art teachers is now ACCREDITED by the federally recognized accrediting agency, NASAD through a partnership with the Florence Academy of Art.
This means that now art teachers can learn in the summers AND earn their Master’s Degree in Studio Art.
This means art teachers can up their realistic drawing and painting game AND get that sweet pay bump for earning an MA.
This means that art teachers can gain confidence in their skills AND help students achieve their artistic visions.
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No More Art Teacher Guilt
The journey from feeling like an inadequate art teacher to being able to provide realistic drawing and painting training to teachers throughout the country (and world!) has been an amazing ride. I wouldn’t trade it for anything! If you are ready to start your own journey down this path, check out our MA program today.
The best part about the atelier journey? I now have the confidence and mastery to help my students achieve exactly what they intend in their artwork, without compromise, and you can too.
P.S. ANYONE can learn how to draw and paint realistically at very high levels. You just have to train with someone who knows how.
Have you thought about getting Atelier training? What's holding you back? Let me know in the comments below.
How to un-banish a color from your wardrobe and find the right version of it for you.
I used to think that I could NOT wear the color yellow. "Ugh," I thought when I saw yellow. Or I would see the cutest shirt but not even try it on because I assumed yellow just wasn't for me. But the truth was that I just didn’t know how to find the right yellow for my coloring.
So how do you turn your list of banned colors into the right colors that actually look great on you?
The key is to look at lots and lots of variations of the color you think you cannot wear. It’s best to be methodical here in order to find the best version of the color for you. Luckily for us, artists have a great way to organize color, and I am going to take you through an artist thought process in this article to help you find the perfect version of your most challenging clothing color.
In this example, I will talk about my former nemesis, yellow, but you can substitute this method for any color that is giving you trouble.
Try Changing the Lightness and Darkness of the Color
The first step when using an artist’s thought process to think about color is to consider how light or dark the color is. So when I was searching for my perfect yellow, I tried on garments with very dark versions of it (deep mustard) very light versions of it (pale yellow rose) and every level of light and dark in between. Keep notes about your discoveries. Which ones looked good with your coloring? Which ones were obvious “no’s”?
Pro Tip: Even if you are SURE that a certain color will look terrible on you, try it on anyways. The colors that teach you about what doesn’t work are just as informative for guiding your search as the color you are ultimately looking for.
I discovered that my best version of yellow was pretty light in value, and that dark yellows were definite “no’s” for me.
Try ChangingWhich Direction the Color Leans
After finding light and dark yellows, the next thing I did was start playing with yellows that leaned towards orange (sunflower) and yellows that leaned towards green (lemon) on the color wheel. Artists call this changing the “hue” or describe it as “warm” (for leaning towards orange) or “cool” (for leaning towards green).
Here is a quick reference for every color:
Warm red – Stop Sign Red (leans towards orange)
Cool Red – Maroon (Lean towards purple)
Warm orange – Sweet potato – leans towards red
Cool Orange – Sun – leans towards yellow
Warm Green – Spring Grass – leans towards yellow
Cool Green - Kentucky Blue Grass -leans towards blue
Warm Blue – Cerulean – leans towards yellow
Cool Blue – Indigo – leans towards purple
Warm Purple – Grapes – leans towards red
Cold Purple – Violet – leans towards blue
I discovered that I needed a yellow that was not too warm and not too cool to match my coloring. My best yellow was almost exactly in the middle of all the warm and cool yellows I tried on.
Try Changing the Intensity of the Color
The last variable is sometimes the trickiest for artists to describe. The intensity of a color is how pure it is versus how neutral it is.
For example, when I was looking for different intensities of yellow I tried on yellows that almost burned my retinas with how intense they were (neon yellow) and yellows that were so dull that they barely count as yellows (dirty honey). There are, of course, all the version of yellow in between dull and intense as well. Think of it as a scale with neon yellow on one end and dirty honey on the other. In-between intensities might include dandelion – less intense than neon yellow but more intense than dirty honey.
My New BFF, Sunny Butter
At the end of my experiment I discovered that a light-colored, somewhat intense yellow that was neither too warm nor too cold was just right for me. I like to think of it as “Sunny Butter” when I am looking for that cute swimsuit or winter scarf to bring a little of that wrongfully exiled color into my wardrobe.
By following this artist method for thinking about color, you will discover that all colors have these three variables to them – lightness/darkness, warm/cool, and intense/dull. You can run this experiment for every color to greatly expand your wardrobe choices.
Yes, you CAN wear that color, you just have to find the right variation of it for you.
Discover the man who helped change the course of art education and become a founding instructor of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Edward Mitchell Bannister's Artistic Journey
You can download our FREE PowerPoint Lesson on this artist here.
Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828 – 1901) made significant contributions to art and art education, and yet he is largely unknown today.
As a Black artist, Bannister often faced extraordinary obstacles to obtain high quality instruction, exhibition spaces, and other career opportunities due to widespread discriminatory policies.
In 1867, the New York Herald ran an especially atrocious article about Black artists, and one phrase particularly caught artist Edward Mitchel Bannister's attention:
“[...] the negro has an appreciation for art while being manifestly unable to produce it.” - New York Herald, 1867
This article inspired Bannister to pursue art at the highest levels. He aggressively studied drawing and painting in private studios in Boston at the famous Boston Studio Building, as well as the Lowell Institute, an outreach education program run by Harvard.
In 1876 Bannister entered one of the most prestigious competitions in the world for artists in the 1870's - the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. He won 1st prize for his now-lost painting Under the Oaks. When the prize committee discovered Bannister was Black, there was talk of revoking the 1st place prize. However, the other artists insisted that the committee keep to its selection and the exhibit became a powerful rebuke of the New York Herald article's assumptions about the abilities of Black artists.
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PowerPoint: Black Artists & Their Influence on Art
This PPT presentation describes the educational journey of three Black artists that made significant contributions to art education: Edward Mitchell Bannister (November 2, 1828 – January 9, 1901), Charles Ethan Porter (1847 – 1923) , and Augusta Savage ( February 29, 1892 – March 27, 1962). A special thank you to artist Mario Robinson (www.marioarobinson.com) for his help editing this presentation.
PowerPoint: Baroque Flowers Using a 3D Grid
This presentation teaches how to create a 3D grid for drawing. It covers some of the history of Baroque flower painters, as well as the design schemes they used in their works.
Despite Bannister's incredible success, he was originally blocked from entering the art exhibit where his 1st place painting was displayed. According to historian David C. Driskill, it was
“not until [Bannister] identified himself as the painter of Under the Oaks was he admitted [into the exhibition].”
Bannister continued forging a successful pathway as an artist throughout his life, and eventually became a founding member of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). RISD was widely regarded as one of the most prestigious art schools in the country during his lifetime, and is still well-known to this day. The university a lasting testament to Bannister's vision and educational legacy.
Mandy Theis is a licensed art teacher and Director of the School of Atelier Arts. You can follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartist.
What are the twists and turns in your art education journey? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
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This is Part II of our multi-post series on how to draw a rose. To view part one, see How to Draw a Rose Part I.
In How to Draw a Rose Part I, we discovered how to correctly identify the proportion and biggest shape of our rose. In Part II, we will use these big ideas to find the rest of our lines and shapes.
Step 1: Find the next biggest shape
Once you have successfully found the biggest shape of your bloom, you now want to determine what the next biggest shape is. When looking at the petals, which petal is the biggest?
Once you decide on your biggest petal, use the same method of simplifying it into one big shape that we used on the bloom as a whole. Remember to use a small number of straight lines that describe the shape of your biggest petal.
Step 2: Use follow-through lines to draw the next biggest shape
We want to replicate this shape in our drawing, but we have to be careful. If we do not think about how this smaller shape relates to the whole, we are likely to put it in the wrong place or make it the wrong size.
Luckily, there is a method artists use to correctly place smaller shapes within bigger shapes that is called a follow-through line.
A follow-through line is a line that extends beyond the shape it is describing until it hits the proportion box.
By extending the line we are trying to place until it hits our proportion box, it makes it waaaaay easier to translate that line to our drawing because we already know how to translate lines that hit the outer edges of our box. (Not sure how to do this? Check out How to Draw a Rose Part I)
Step 3: Use follow through lines to translate the entire shape to your drawing.
Step 4: Erase back the lines you no longer need
Step 5: Repeat for your next biggest idea
Use this same method for your next biggest idea. Sometimes big ideas are the next biggest shape that you see, such as the petal we just completed in Step 4.
Other time, the next biggest idea can be something more abstract. In the image below, the two green lines represent a different kind of big idea. They are showing the separation of the top plane from the side planes.
This is a big idea because conceptually, it is very important for artists to be able to think in terms of big planes when adding the shading (more on this in a future post).
Use follow through lines to correctly place the green lines on your rose drawing.
Step 6: Use big shapes as landmarks to refine your outer contour line.
Once you have a few big shapes placed accurately in your drawing, it gives you the reference points you need to start adding the ins and outs of your outer contour line, or outermost shape.
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Step 7: Continue using landmarks to add smaller shapes into your drawing
Look carefully at your biggest ideas and their relationship to the outer contour lines. What smaller shapes fit in which in-between spaces?
Ask yourself how high and how low each smaller shape is within the whole.
If you get stuck, use a follow-through line to help you identify where a smaller shape belongs.
Step 8: Continue adding smaller pieces to the whole
Now is the time to be extra patient and thoughtful. Make sure you ask yourself lots of questions before placing each smaller shape. Good questions to ask yourself are
1. If I look at the rose as a whole, how far to the left or right is this shape?
2. If I look at the rose as a whole, how big or how small is this shape?
3. If I added a follow-through line to one edge of this shape, where would it hit my proportion box?
Step 9: Clean up your drawing
In order to draw this rose accurately, we made a whole lot of lines that we no longer need in our final drawing. These are known as construction lines. When we are done with our drawing, you want to clean all these lines away so that you have a nice, neat end result.
If you drew with heavy lines and are having a hard time erasing, a trick you can use is to trace your drawing onto a clean sheet of paper by holding your original drawing up to a window. It's not cheating if you are tracing your own drawing!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you now have a beautiful drawing of a rose. Remember, though, that I didn't really teach you how to only draw a rose. This tutorial is really teaching you a method of drawing that you can apply to anything you want to draw.
What subject are you going to apply your new drawing skills to next? Let me know in the comments and happy drawing :)
Mandy Theis is a licensed K-12 art teacher, former Co-President of the Washington Art Education Association, and Atelier-Trained Artist. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartist.
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Why a rose?
Roses inspire many people and are one of the most desired subjects people wish to draw. In this article, I will take you through every step of drawing a rose using a block-in method. By following this drawing method, you will learn a process that you can apply to any rose you wish to draw.
I am using a photograph for clarity in this post, but I strongly recommend that you draw from life using the same process that is demonstrated here.
Although this lesson shows you how to draw a rose, it is really teaching you a drawing method that can be applied to anything you want to draw!
The overall concept is to work from big ideas to small ideas. So let's get started!
Step 1: Identify how much of the rose you want to draw.
In this demonstration, we are going to focus on drawing just the bloom. To start, we need to identify the top, bottom, and sides of our bloom.
Place a dot at the highest, lowest, furthest left, and furthest right most point of the part of the rose that you intend to draw.
Then, draw horizontal and vertical lines through your highest, lowest, furthest right, and furthest left dots to create a box.
This box is called your "proportion box" and represents the height vs width of your bloom.
Step 2: Draw the proportion box on your paper.
Is the box taller? Or fatter? It's fatter. Now is it a whole lot fatter, or just a little bit? It's just a little bit fatter. So you need to draw a box on your paper that is just a little bit wider than it is tall.
The size of this box doesn't matter, as long as the proportion of the box is accurate to what you observe in your subject.
Step 4: Find the biggest shape
When drawing realistically, you always want to find the biggest ideas first. In this case, we want to identify the biggest shape of our bloom. This is often called an envelope.
An envelope is a small number of straight lines that describe the biggest shape of our subject. These lines should be big and not small. It is easy to get distracted by all the little ins and outs of our subject, but notice below how all the little details can be encompassed in one big shape.
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Step 5: Translate envelope to your drawing
Now we want to draw this shape inside the box on our paper. Remember, your envelope is touching the top, bottom, and sides of your box. A common mistake is to make the envelope small and floating inside the box. Remember that your box represents the highest, lowest, farthest right and farthest left most points. This means that the envelope must touch the box's edges in order to be accurate.
One way to translate the envelope to your drawing is to use the 0-100 method. This method asks if the bottom of your box is zero, and the top is 100, where is the envelope line hitting?
Step 6: Envelope method #2
Another way to translate your envelope is to look at the negative space it creates. The negative space is the shape that is made between the subject and the box. With this particular envelope shape, there are lots of triangles that are made in the negative space.
Step 7: Envelope method #3
Sometimes, you need to translate an envelope line that is not directly touching your proportion box. In this case, our point on the upper left of the rose is not touching the outside box.
The secret? Extend the line until it does touch your proportion box. This is called a follow-through line.
Step 8: Complete envelope shape
Every rose you draw will be unique, so it is good to understand all three approaches to creating your envelope shape. Use your favorite approach to finish the last translating the last line of our envelope shape to your drawing.
Step 9: Clean up your drawing
It is important that you keep your drawing clean as you go. You do not want to get confused as more lines are added. Erase the extra "noise" that you no longer need.
Congrats! You now have an accurate proportion and shape of your rose.
Next week on our blog, we will show you how to complete this drawing. Too excited to wait? Join our newsletter for a FREE PowerPoint that takes you through every step of How to Draw a Rose!
How did you do?
How did your rose turn out? Is this your first time using this drawing method? Did it work for you? Let me know in the comments below :)
Mandy Theis is a licences K-12 art teacher, Director of the School of Atelier Arts, Academic Director of the Florence Academy of Art, and classically trained painter. You can follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartist.
“That woman poached a couch and skinned it!”
This what my friend and fellow painter exclaimed to me in a coffee shop one day. I glanced up to see a woman wearing a rather unflattering plaid coat, and he was right, there was something about that particular pattern that just screamed “COUCH!”
As fellow artists, we started to analyze the visual conundrum before us. Why exactly was that particular plaid so couchy when many other plaids went unnoticed? Several cups of coffee later we concluded that the size of the plaid was smaller and tighter like is often seen on upholstery, and that the texture of the coat also lent it a 1980’s couch vibe.
Now, perhaps to some people spending an hour analyzing why a visual stimulus creates a certain feeling would seem frivolous. However, training your eye to see better brings all sorts of visual effects into focus, often in interesting and informative ways. I can only imagine how many people felt something unusual when seeing that woman’s coat but did not know what it was. By looking carefully with a trained eye it becomes easier to identify when you are being visually manipulated by a coat to think “COUCH!”.
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I used to live on a street with the sassiest tree you ever saw.
Coats aren’t the only inanimate objects with the ability to manipulate your visual senses. I used to live on a street with the sassiest tree you ever saw. I mean, this tree had attitude. The gesture of this tree just oozed sass.
To give you an idea of what it looked like, it grew from the space between the sidewalk and the road, and for the first few feet from the ground the trunk raised up in the expected direction. Now I don’t know what this tree’s growing years were like, but there was a somewhat sudden curve in the trunk towards the street, and then an equally sudden curvature back towards the sidewalk. The effect was truly unique – it looked exactly like the tree was sticking out it’s hip over the street, as if to dare any passing car not to stop and ask what was wrong. It was the gesture I make when I can’t believe my boyfriend is asking me to do my half-load of laundry directly after washing his own half-load without including mine. You know, the “are you kidding me?” hands-on-thrust-out-hip gesture.
I made a habit of pointing out the sassy tree to my neighbors, and we all found community and joy in knowing that our neighborhood boasted the sassiest tree on the planet. Not many other neighborhoods can say that. The fanciest and most exclusive living communities in the world would not be able to replicate our tree if they tried – the gesture was too perfect, forged through years of the circumstance that created it, and it was ours to revel in.
When you spend time learning how to draw or paint, what you are really practicing is your seeing. When you are constantly asking yourself “what makes this thing look like this thing?” you subconsciously start asking yourself that every time visual input happens in your life, whether in a coffee shop or walking down the street. Poached couches and sassy trees – these are just a few of the visual delights that await the practiced observer.
Mandy Theis is a classically trained artist and certified K-12 art teacher based in the NYC area. You can follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartist
What visual delights bring YOU joy? Leave your comments below :)
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Do you take yourself seriously as an artist?
The new year is traditionally a time for planning hopes and dreams. It’s a time of big goal setting for how we want to shape our lives and the lives of our students. It’s that time of year where we can all take a deep breath and jump into new things. Like sky diving errr… or maybe something even scarier like taking ourselves seriously as professional artists.
Not too long ago, I remember feeling like I wanted to be a “serious” painter but thought I wasn’t able to because I was an art teacher. I felt that the whole upper echelons of the art world looked down on me, and that I had somehow ruined my chances of being taken seriously because I made the grave error of going into art education.
Boy was I wrong!
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Nearly 10 years ago, while I was teaching K-12 art in a small, rural school district in Montana, I read a book by Juliette Aristides titled Classical Drawing Atelier. This book opened my eyes to the idea that art can be taught at very high technical levels. That Rembrandt didn’t wake up painting like Rembrandt - he trained for many years in an atelier to achieve his technical proficiency.
What a revolution to realize that the painters I admired most – Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Augusta Savage – ALL trained in ateliers. Even more amazing is when I realized these schools still exist.
From that point forward, I did everything I could to acquire an atelier education and share this knowledge with other art teachers. In fact, I am very proud to share with all of you that the School of Atelier Arts has partnered with another contemporary atelier – The Florence Academy of Art – to create a Master’s Degree program designed with art teachers in mind. You can now earn your accredited Master’s in Studio Art in just 3 summers with both remote and in-person options available.
Where is YOUR journey taking you?
I hope this is the year that you take your own art seriously and start your journey with teachers from all over the country under the tutelage of atelier instructors. This is the year that, like Da Vinci, you can train in an atelier to master the craft of drawing and painting. Make this the year that you start earning your Master’s degree (and that pay bump!) and elevate yourself to the realm of “serious artist” with an astounding new skillset.
I’ll be cheering you on all the way!
What does your dream Master's Degree program look like? Let me know in the comments below!
Mandy Theis is the Director of School of Atelier Arts & Author of Department of Aesthetics Blog. Join her monthly newsletter for free art lessons and other delights.
As the popularity of our First Thursday Art Demonstrations continues to grow, we have decided to transition the class from a $15 fee to a pay-what-you-can donation system.
After receiving many requests from students around the world where $15 would be a barrier to entry, we decided to make this shift in order to bring equitable access to anyone seeking knowledge about how to draw and paint realistically.
We are excited that so many people have already signed up for our First Thursday Art Demonstration on January 7th from 7-9pm EST, and we invite you to be one of them! Join us for an international evening of honing your drawing and painting skills. Enjoy the peace of watching someone else draw and paint or create art along with Mandy and apply the skills being taught. All are welcome, so make sure to bring your art-minded friends.
What do you think about this change? Leave your comments below :)
What is Atelier? Notional Space? Contours?
Fret not my friend, this is your go-to dictionary for all those wonky terms people who draw and paint realistically like to throw around. This is an ever expanding project, so check back regularly for the newest definitions!
Atelier: The French word for "studio". A place where artists learn realistic drawing, painting, and sculpting skills.
What does "Atelier" mean?
"Atelier" is simply the French word for "studio". It is a place where artists train in order to master realistic drawing and painting skills. Today, this French term continues to be in use, as that is where most American painters acquired their realistic drawing and painting training throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
What about today?
Today, the term "Ateliers" refer to specialty art schools that train students in realism drawing and painting skills. Essentially, they teach you how to draw realistically, like the Old Masters. By mastering technical drawing and painting skills, artists are able to achieve on paper and canvas anything their heart desires.
Learning how to draw is the same as learning any other skill. There is no magic to it. It simply requires focused practice under the tutelage of a master. If you want to learn how to draw at a high level, you need to train with someone who has the skills you are looking for and devote time and effort to learning it. You can find people with high levels of drawing training willing to teach you how to draw realistically in places called "ateliers."
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How does Atelier training work?
Below, you can see an example of my drawing of a plaster cast before attending an atelier and after attending an atelier. Ateliers are VERY good at teaching you technical drawing and painting skills, and attending one is the best way to efficiently master the art of realistic drawing and painting.
The main idea behind Atelier training is to start students with very basic concepts, and build to more complex concepts. This is why many Ateliers will have students draw for a year or more before moving onto painting. This allows students to master shape, line, and form before adding in even more complex concepts that are introduced with color.
Where did Atelier Training come from?
The vast body of knowledge required to draw and paint realistically can be found in Ateliers. This collected body of artistic skills and ideas come from many different places.
For example, in Western art the primary mode of showing depth in a picture plane is to use linear perspective. But that is not the only way to show depth in a picture plane. In Japanese ink painting, artists developed a way of showing the depth of a picture plane by changing the hardness and softness of the edges of their subjects. For example, a mountain that was intended to look very far away would have a soft, fuzzy edge to account for atmospheric perspective. The Impressionists in particular adopted this technical idea into their work and it became part of the collective body of atelier knowledge within ateliers that trace their lineage through William McGregor Paxton, an American Impressionist.
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Just as the collected body of math knowledge has multiple origins (Arabic numerals and the Pythagorean Theorem just to name a few), atelier knowledge has multiple origins. The intent behind ateliers is to collect and share what is known about technical art skills with the next generation of artists.
The contemporary Atelier movement strives to provide equitable access to artistic knowledge so that all artists have free choice in what techniques and skills to utilize in their own artwork.
If your heart has ever pined to be able to draw and paint your ideas exactly the way you envision them in your mind's eye, Atelier training is for you! Don't wait, start your Atelier journey today by signing up for School of Atelier Art's First Thursday Painting Demonstrations.
Mandy Theis is a licensed art teacher and former Co-President of the Washington Art Education Association. She knows that anyone can learn to draw and paint realistically that as access to a teacher with these skills. Ready to improve your drawing and painting game? Join her newsletter for lesson plans, musings, & other art delights delivered right to your inbox.
Dept. of Aesthetics Blog
Mandy Theis is a licensed art teacher and atelier-trained artist. She is the former Co-President of the Washington Art Education Association and Director of School of Atelier Arts.