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.
“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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Why do grown adults insist they can not draw as well as a preschooler?
When I tell someone that I am an artist, more often than not they respond with “I can’t even draw a stick figure.”
As a certified art teacher, I happen to know from both anecdotal evidence and the Creative Curriculum for Preschool that drawing stick figures is a 3- and 4-year-old skill. Why, then, do grown adults continue to insist that they are not capable of drawing as well as a preschooler?
Many adults would be embarrassed to admit they had a preschool level of math (adding), reading (think c-a-t), or social skills (did you share the office donuts?). Why not take pride in being at least as visually literate as a preschooler by honestly attempting to draw a stick figure?
When faced with a pencil and paper and pressed to attempt a stick figure, most adults will produce one because it is well within their ability to do so. The statement “I can’t even draw a stick figure” is more often the expression of a belief that “I can’t draw, I’ve never been good at it, and I’m afraid to really try.”
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The statement 'I can't even draw a stick figure' is more often the expression of a belief that 'I can't draw, I've never been good at it, and I'm afraid to really try.'"
I argue that the issue at hand isn’t that someone can’t draw, it is that they have not yet been taught how to draw representationally (which in my experience is what most people are aspiring to when they say they wish to draw).
Like reading, drawing realistically is its own set of skills that takes time and training under a knowledgeable person in order to learn. An illiterate person is not likely to be able to teach you how to read, and art instructors without representational drawing training are unlikely to be able to teach you how to draw realistically.
Art is a vast field with niches in abstract expressionism and various other non-representational "-isms". If you want to draw realistically, you need to find an art instructor that has realistic drawing skills, and not all art instructors do.
So if you have tried learning how to draw in the past and failed, it's not because you just don't have "it". It's that you didn't have access to a teacher with the skillset you were looking to acquire.
If you want to draw realistically, you need to find an art instructor that has realistic drawing skills, and not all art instructors do."
Luckily for you, I am an art teacher with representational drawing training and I am going to show you how to draw a stick figure. Not just any old stick figure, but a good stick figure that will help you draw realistically if you choose to pursue stick figures to their natural conclusions (i.e. full figure drawings).
Hopefully, everyone reading this now 1) believes that they are capable of drawing a stick figure and 2) will give learning how to draw a stick figure an honest try.
If you wish to draw a stick figure well, it is important to understand that the "sticks" really represent bones in the human skeleton, which would eventually be filled out with flesh to create a believable figure. In order for your drawing to have a believable feel to it, these "bones" need to be the right proportion to each each other. Otherwise, you might end up with some very fantastical looking beasts, but they won't necessarily look human.
So how do you create a stick figure with good proportion?
This free slide presentation will show you step-by-step exactly how to draw a stick figure with good proportions where the "sticks" accurately represent the sizes of human bones in relation to the figure as a whole.
You see, you can draw a stick figure. A good one. A useful one. One that you can build on to create more complex figure drawings if you so desire. But first, you have to believe it is possible.
P.S. Want to learn more art skills? Check out all of our free art lesson plans.
Did this article change your mind about drawing? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.
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.