Juliette Aristides Drawing Atelier

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.

Classical Drawing AtelierThis 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.

Lessons in Classical DrawingFrom 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.


Le Carnet Des Escaliers De Quebec

Sometimes it seems there is a gap between the art world and the exploding popularity occurring in the sketching world.  Regularly we hear people define ‘sketch’ as an ‘unfinished work’, a definition that might have been fine when Monet was noodling his ideas about lily pads.  But this is not what modern nature sketchers, urban sketchers, travel journalists, etc. are doing.  Our sketches are finished works and they’re ending up on stamps and in books.  They’re being sold, either as originals or as prints.

Sketching has become a representational art form unto itself.  There are new books on sketching or containing sketches being released so regularly that it’s hard to keep up with them.  Typically modern sketches are done in sketchbooks, in limited periods of time.  Often the artist is sitting on a tripod stool, on location, possibly chatting with passers-by.  For most sketchers, their emphasis has shifted from the creation of art to hang on walls to simply enjoying the process of art.  Some sketch with precision.  Others sketch in very loose fashion.  Some border on doing caricatures of their world.  Somehow, in spite of these different approaches, there is a unity in what sketchers do, mostly related to the process of doing.

While different from studio art, sketching nevertheless shares many aspects with it and I sometimes lament the fact that so many artists don’t understand, or even know of in this growing part of the art world.  But something happened in Quebec City last week that was one of those “we’ve come a long way baby” moments.

CarnetEscaliersQuebecIt came in the form of a book launch for a wonderful book titled Le Carnet Des Escaliers De Québec.  The book was a collaborative effort organized by Natalie St-Pierre.  It contains 180 pages of great sketches that represent the majority of the staircases that exist in Quebec City.  As an aside, we have a LOT of them because of the nature of the city, including several containing hundreds of steps.  The artists involved were, Natalie, Hugette Asselin, Guylaine Côté, Louise Denault, Magelline Gagnon, Louise Grenier, Sylvie Riverin, Monique Rousseau and Pierre Toupin, the token male in the group.  Marie Dagenais wrote the text for the book.

The book is not just a great compilation of sketches, however.  It’s truly a tourist guide to the stairways.  Maps, beautiful sketches themselves, locate all of the stairways ane descriptions and histories of each stairway provide insights into Quebec and its development.

The quality of the book is sufficient reason to write this post but the book launch says something about just how far the sketching world has come.  This launch was held at City Hall.  It was an invitation only event and was hosted by the mayor.  Now if you live in a small town, you might expect a mayor to host a book launch by a group of locals.  But Quebec City has 700,000 people in it; our mayor is a busy guy and yet he spent an hour at the book launch.  Roughly 100 people were in attendance and we were served amazing hors d’ouevres and wine, along with great conversations.  It was truly an inspired and inspiring gathering.

See The World One Sketch At A Time: The Art of Urban Sketching

Once upon a time there was a boy who live in Spain.  His name was Gabi.   One day, while walking home from a bullfight, he noticed a newspaper headline that read, “The Greatest Coffee in the World” and being a curious lad he wondered what could make coffee the ‘greatest.’

It’s unclear to this day what caused it to happen but Gabi became obsessed with understanding who created the greatest coffee and how they did it.  He soon discovered the answer to the who question.  It was a company called Starbucks, a name that reminded him of Moby Dick, not great coffee.  He found that Starbuck’s headquarters were in Seattle, Washington and, determined to follow this quest, he boarded a plane for Washington.

Upon arrival, and ever hopeful, Gabi went immediately to the nearest Starbucks to taste some of that ‘greatest coffee.’  And there he learned the secret.  You take plain old coffee,  let the consumer make many choices so they feel good about themselves, and you charge them four bucks for the ‘greatest coffee in the world.’


If I’m completely honest I don’t have a clue how Gabriel Campanario came to reside in Seattle, Washington but I’m a writer; I make stuff up.  What I do know is that Seattle is the better for it as Gabi writes a sketching column for the Seattle Times.

He’s touched the rest of us by creating urbansketchers.org around the concept of urban sketching – drawing on location in an urban setting.   The organization has chapters all around the world and explains itself by “See the world one sketch at a time.”

And Campanario’s new book,  The Art of Urban Sketching, brings this idea to print in an exciting and educational fashion.   You can find many of the sketches between its covers on the Internet if you surf around long enough.   The book, however, brings context to those sketches.  It does so in a variety of ways but principle among them are thoughts of the artists themselves.   Also, each of the sketches comes with a statement of what materials were used in their creation – vital statistics for those of us trying to achieve the high quality of the included sketches in our own.  It’s 320 pages are a bargain at its $17 street price.  Anyone who has even the slightest interest in sketching needs a copy of this book.

The book itself is divided into three sections.  The first section is an introduction to urban sketching, with discussions of what it is, what its challenges and rewards are, and what materials are most often used.  Some examples are provided but the points are not belabored.

The second section of the book is the majority content.  It takes you on vacation, or rather on lots of vacations.  Over 50 world cities are represented, each with artists and their sketches representing their special nature.

The eye-candy is amazing, of course, but much can be learned about art, artists, and cities from these chapters.  Best of all, you can curl up and let Gabi and his fellow artists take you places you’ve never been – maybe never heard of before.

The third and final section of the book talks about the various types of sketches done by urban sketchers.  We’re a strange lot as while we will sketch broad vistas and large spectacular buildings many of us are drawn to the more mundane.  We find it fun to turn lamp posts, streetlights, fire hydrants, or even a mailbox into art.

This is one book I can recommend unequivocally.  And it’s not that much more expensive than going to Starbucks (grin).