Your Hand Gets Better Before Your Eye
If you just started atelier training and feel like you are going crazy, relax, that’s normal.
One of the most challenging aspects of atelier training for students is that their eye starts to see things better than their hand can manage their materials. Eventually your hand and materials handling will catch up, but only to where your eye was a few weeks earlier. Now your eye sees even better, and you are once again in the frustrating position of trying to make your materials do something more nuanced that your eye can now see, but your hand has not yet practiced enough to master.
When I first started atelier training, I would lay down a line going downward from left to right, only to have it corrected by my instructor as going upward. I was literally making the angle of the line as far away from correct that was possible! How could I not SEE that?
I found these instances so frustrating. I felt dumb, too, as it seemed so obvious once it was pointed out to me.
But it is important to keep in mind that by completing atelier exercises (such as Bargue Plate drawings) that are tried and true methods for improving artists’ vision, that you really will learn to see more. Through atelier training, you will discover how to see more nuance. More big ideas. More values. More colors. More of just about everything.
So, just because you can’t see as well as your atelier instructor this very minute, don’t despair. You will if you keep getting yourself in front of your easel to work every day. Some days are harder than others, but anyone who puts in the work will see better, and have more choices about their artwork because of it.
When atelier training, it’s hard to ever know where you stand in the grand scheme of seeing. The better your eye gets, the more dissatisfied you become with your current level of work. The eye always improves before the hand, and it takes courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The truth is that you never really “arrive”. The work you admired your first year in the atelier, thinking that if only you could paint or draw like that you would be truly happy, looks very mediocre to you by the time you finish your studies. Your eye has improved its ability to see and now you want to achieve an even higher level of vision in your next painting.
This may be a depressing notion to some, but it is well-understood among trained artists. There is an anecdote from Leonardo Da Vinci that is often thrown around in atelier circles, but which may or may not be true as I have never found the original source. But it claims that when Leonardo was in his later years, that he lamented that if only he had 80 more years, then he could really learn how to draw. I imagine this is often repeated by instructors as it reflects the attitude of those who have worked in atelier methods for many, many years.
Learning to see is a never-ending journey to be enjoyed at every stage. Instead of feeding the frustration that your hand has not yet reached the level of your eye, rejoice in knowing that once again you have improved the ability of your eyes to see.