As a guy who has only been drawing for a couple years, I’ve noticed some things about the art world. First, and foremost is that many so-called “fine arts” schools have largely abandoned notions of realism in art and many have abandoned drawing as a base skill. Those who draw are directed to graphic design and/or animation departments. While this surprised me, I was a hobbyist and what happened in art school didn’t, I thought, affect me much.
And so I did what most hobbyist artists do. I bought lots of books on drawing and watercolors and I’ve tried to learn some of what was contained within them. If one buys enough of these you know that many present a series of “lessons” where the first sentence is something like “We first start with a sketch.” The lesson goes on to teach whatever aspect the lesson is meant to cover. How one gets the ‘sketch’ is left to the reader to figure out. I relied upon hobbyist ‘drawing’ books to learn what I could about that process.
Then I met my buddy and mentor, Yvan Breton. He is an architect and an accomplished artist. He started teaching me concepts like scaffolding, multiple plane thinking, use of the terminator, line thickness variation and other concepts that I had not seen discussed in the drawing books I’d read. He showed me how Rembrandt used these concepts in his art.
Initially I was reluctant to ‘add’ to what I was doing as a street sketcher, believing these ‘extra’ things would only add time to the process. Oh, how wrong I was. I’m still working to incorporate these ideas into my own sketches but as I do, my sketches have become better and my drawings are done more quickly and with better unity. I still need much practice but I’m beginning to see why it is that good artists are, well, good artists. More perplexing to me was why, if all the masters, like Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt, Raphael, etc. knew about these things, did I see so little evidence of the concepts in my drawing books.
This led me back to the abandonment of traditional methodologies by fine art programs, which led me, in turn, to the “atelier movement” which seems to be taking place around the world. Small(ish) art schools, independent of universities, that are teaching what are called “foundational” art skills. I have no first-hand information of these schools except that they sound like the old apprenticeship programs that existed in the woodworking world.
These ateliers make no bones about the fact that they are teaching what they teach because only by knowledge of these principles and methods can an artist have the tools to produce art. They quite explicitly argue that the singular emphasis on ‘imagination’ by art schools is akin to teaching students to have the imagination of Jules Verne but not the technical expertise of a rocket scientist and then expecting the student to go to the moon. Only by mastering foundational art skills, they say, will an artist have the freedom to succeed as an artist.
From these discussions I found myself looking for books that cover those foundational skills and I got lucky to find Juliette Aristides, who started a ‘classical’ atelier. More important, she has written three outstanding books on the subject, the first of which is Classical Drawing Atelier, followed by Lessons in Classical Drawing. Her third book is something of a parallel that deals with painting. These two basic books, however, contain more information in them about drawing than ALL of the hobbyist drawing books I own. Rather than the typical piecemeal “here is perspective”, “here is foreshortening”, “here is tone”, she presents drawing as an integrative process. The second book, is more than just a series of lessons about what is in the first book. Rather it is an extension of the first book and the two work in concert to teach you to draw the way the greats did it. And you know what? It’s a LOT easier to deal with things like perspective, foreshortening, and composition if you view them as a whole than by viewing them as separate issues. This is why the drawings of good artists seems so much more unified than those of most of us.
In addition to the books, the second book comes with a instruction DVD where Aristides walks you through the development of four separate drawings. I’ve only watched it twice thus far but I’ve found it, like the books, to be invaluable. I should mention that while the book covers suggest these books are about life drawing, they are not exclusive to it. In the DVD, for instance, Aristides uses an old pair of boots as one of its subjects, a large pitcher as another. The techniques can be applied to and will improve any drawing. If you’ve been drawing for a while and woud like to improve, give these books a try as unless you’re already an accomplished artist, some practice of these methodogies will not only improve your drawings, it will make them easier to do.
Thanks for these reviews, Larry. As it turns out, Juliette Aristides teaches in the atelier method at the Gage Academy in Seattle (where I go for life drawing open sessions), but I wasn’t aware of her books. I will definitely look into these.
You live in such a great place to be a sketcher. Cherry blossoms, urban sketcher hub of the universe and the Gage Academy. The Gage is mentioned in Aristides book and it’s probably the building/studio featured in the DVD. What is truly amazing about these two books is their price. They are both (all three?) are first class hardcover books that are dripping with graphics and yet their price is lower than you’d expect while the information density is far higher than most. Say hi to Juliette if you see her. I’ve become a big fan 🙂
Cheers — Larry
You are following an amazing path. This is a GREAT book, and invaluable for the somewhat experienced artist interested in drawing. Juliette is joy to watch. What a difference (I think) that classically trained artists bring to the sketch. I also like an old, and somewhat hard to find book called “Artist’s Guide to Sketching” (James Gurney and T Kinkade). They call the pre-drawing activity of blocking out the main shapes “under drawing”. Some excellent suggestions in this book. I am not as keen on their drawing style. Another foundational drawing book that I really like, and is a little more accessible to the beginner, is “Drawing by Seeing”, by John Torreano. It provides a superb treatment of the basics, along with some exercises, and an overall emphasis on unity and an exploration of mark making.
Keep these wonderful suggestions coming.
Books are my lifeblood, Jeff. I’ve put the Torreano book in my wishlist. The Gurney/Kincade book is out of my price range. Out of print and it’s hard to find for less than $125. Gurney is an excellent artist but his goals are different from my own. That said, I’ve learned that my goals change as I wander the path. Thanks for the suggestions.
Cheers — Larry
Larry, I recently purchased Aristedes ‘Lessons in Classical Drawing’ after reading the reviews on Amazon. I was searching for something to recommend a woman who wanted to improve her skill. I have barely peeked in it yet, so I’m excited to hear your enthusiasm for her material! 🙂
By the way, miss your wit and sketches at Artist’s Journal Workshop’s facebook page. Not sure if I’m just missing them or if you are not as active as formerly.
I think you’ll like the book. I may be (probably?) wrong but I encourage you to read her Classic Drawing Atelier book first. Not only does it explain more about the basic methods but Aristides first five “lessons” are contained in that book. Skipping over all that material might be ok but the organizational aspects of art require more understanding than simply learning a technique. The Lessons book is great as it basically says, “Ok…we’ve done the book learning. Let’s put it to use.” There is some attempt at recapping the first book but it’s done quickly and incompletely in the Lessons book. Maybe your library has it. I first read a library copy of it before buying it.
As for AJW, I’ve sort of tired of Facebook art groups. People there don’t want to discuss methods and materials. They simply want to post their work and have people tell them how great they are. Me too but there should be more to ‘social media’ than that. There isn’t 🙂
Cheers — Larry