Atelier Method

Atelier Method

The Atelier Method is a method of fine art instruction modeled after the private art studio schools of 15th to 19th century Europe. Taking its name from the French word for "artist's studio," the Atelier Method is a form of private instruction in which an artist, usually a professional painter, works closely with a small number of students to progressively train them. Atelier schools can be found around the world, particularly in North America and Western Europe.


Atelier programs teach a form of realism based upon careful observations of nature with attention to detail. A series of tasks (cast drawing, cast painting, drawing and painting from the live model, and still life, for example) are done by the student. Students must complete each task to the instructor's satisfaction before progressing to the next. This system is referred to as "systematic progression" or "systematic teaching and learning." The methods used by Atelier instructors may vary greatly from one studio to another; however, artists using the "Atelier" approach tend to be united in their desire to reintroduce classical methods and techniques to modern painting.


Because they lack a central governing body, Atelier instructors are free to teach whatever methods they wish. However, there are several methods that are common to most Atelier schools. Atelier schools and teachers generally agree that the practice of careful drawing is the basis of painting.

Charles H. Cecil, founder of Charles H. Cecil Studios, an atelier located in Florence Italy writes:

Fundamental to the teaching is the practice of drawing and painting from life with no recourse to photography. The sight-size technique is taught at Charles H. Cecil Studios whereby subject and image are depicted to scale as seen from a given distance. When properly understood, sight-size is not a mere measuring technique, but a philosophy of seeing. The method was used by many of the finest painters in oil since the seventeenth century, including Reynolds, Lawrence and Sargent.

In reviving the atelier tradition, R. H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981) adopted sight-size as the basis of his teaching method. He founded his studio on the precedent of private ateliers, such as those of Carolus-Duran and Léon Bonnat. These French masters were accomplished sight-size portraitists who conveyed to their pupils a devotion to the art of Velázquez. It should be noted that Sargent was trained by both painters and that, in turn, his use of sight-size had a major influence in Great Britain and America.

Charles Cecil is committed to the belief that the atelier tradition is invaluable for a renewal in figurative art...

Drawing and painting from plaster casts

Atelier students often begin to draw or paint using plaster casts as subjects. These casts are usually faces, hands, or other parts of the human anatomy. Plaster casts provide some of the benefits of live, human models, such as the presence of natural shadows. They also have their own distinct advantages: they remain perfectly still and their white color allows the student to focus on the pure, grayscale tones of shadows. This is the method that contemporary painter Jacob Collins pursues at his schools, the Water Street Atelier and the Grand Central Academy.

Sight-size drawing and painting

Sight-Size is a method of drawing and painting an object exactly as it appears to the artist on a one to one scale. The artist first sets a vantage point where the subject and the drawing surface appear to be the same size. Then, using a variety of measuring tools -- which can include strings, sticks, mirrors, levels, and plumb-bobs -- the artist draws the subject so that, when viewed from the set vantage point, the drawing and the subject have exactly the same dimensions. When properly done, sight-size drawing can result in extremely accurate and realistic drawings. It can also be used to draw the exact dimensions for a subject in preparation for a painting.

Contemporary realist painter Adrian Gottlieb notes that "while professional painters pursuing a full-time career will develop an 'eye' that precludes the need for measuring devices and plumb lines (tools necessary during the training period), the observation method itself is not abandoned - instead it becomes second nature. Sight-size can be taught and applied in conjunction with a particular sensitivity to gesture to create life-like imagery; especially when applied to portraiture and figurative works."

Darren R. Rousar, former student of Richard Lack and Charles Cecil as well as the author of Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach, agrees and defines measuring in broad terms. He says that "a fully trained artist who uses Sight-size might never use a plumb line or even consciously think about literal measuring. He or she will strive toward achieving the same retinal impression in the painting as is seen in nature.

However, the painter and educator Hans-Peter Szameit, of the Swedish Academy of Realist Art, takes a less broad and more critical view of the sight-size method in his article, Concerning the Sight-size Method Mr. Szameit notes that because many people use the term "sight-size" rather broadly, the definition becomes too comprehensive and therefore unclear. In fact, he argues, the definition of the sight-size method is quite clearly defined. He argues in his essay that the sight-size method is limiting, by definition, in that the images produced using the method can only be "sight size" and that the means of producing them is essentially mechanical. Mr. Szameit also demonstrates that the sight-size method does not have deep historical roots and that the claims made of past masters having used the sight-size method are incorrect and based on a misunderstanding of the definition of the sight-size method.

Notes and references

External links

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