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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 examples of my plaster cast drawings 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.

Cast Drawing before Atelier Training
Cast Drawing after Atelier Training

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 across many cultures and time periods. The intent behind ateliers is to collect and share what is known about technical art skills with the next generation of artists in order to grow the collective body of visual knowledge.

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!


Mandy Theis is a licensed K-12 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.

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