Teaching of drawing & painting

July 18, 2009

"Male Nude Model" Oil on canvas 1902. Study made by Sir Alfed Munnings. Made at Academie Julian in Paris, a popular atelier where painting & drawing were studied.

“Male Nude Model” Oil on canvas 1902. Study made by Sir Alfed Munnings. Made at Academie Julian in Paris, a popular atelier where painting & drawing from life was taught.

As a largely self taught painter, I have developed a keen interest in methods of teaching observation based painting & drawing. There are aren’t many places these days, where people can receive good instruction in traditional painting & drawing skills. For the purpose of this post I make a distinction here between subject matter in art, and the skills by which an artist creates his/her work. In this post I refer specifically to the acquisition of skills by which a drawing or painting is constructed, and not the subject matter.

Main stream art colleges have for some time now moved away from teaching traditional skills of draughtsmanship, and in its place provide for a more conceptually based curriculum, which allows for expression through many different means. This democratizing of art is good & healthy,however it doesn’t provide for those who wish to learn to use the more traditional skills of drawing & painting. Truth be told, to do this well, it is necessary to study drawing & painting for many years,and there isn’t the time on a 3 year degree course to teach these skills sufficiently, as well as the rest of the curriculum.

In the past when there was still a continued strong tradition of painting & drawing in art colleges,students would study drawing & painting for 5, 7, and even 10 years before considered to have acquired sufficient skill. This tradition is commonly seen as falling into decline after the end of the First World War.

Today in the UK there are only a handful of independent Art Schools that provide for the teaching of drawing & painting from life.However there are also other strategies for learning. For those who wish to acquire these skills I would recommend the following:

  • Self initiated learning. Practice as much as you can and learn to be a masterful & an honest critique of your own progress. Paint & draw as much as you can from life. Find good books on the subject of drawing & painting, and look to examples of art you find inspirational.Try to understand how they were made, and why they work. Making copies of these paintings can be helpful.
  • Find an accomplished  artist willing to teach you.
  • Enrol in one of the few Independent art schools which prioritise the acquisition of drawing & painting skills .In the UK there are a few schools that I know of. They happen to all be in London. These are, The Art Academy, Heatherley’s School of Art, The Prince’s Drawing School, The London Atelier of Representational Art(LARA), and Lavenderhill Studios.It has since come to attention that there is a new school in Edinburgh that teaches traditional painting & drawing, Academy of Realist Art
  • Some Foundation course’s in art will provide a very basic introduction to painting & drawing, find one that has the option of a life Class if you can. Then use this as your spring board to continue developing your painting and drawing skills from life, after you have completed your course. It may be helpful in your development as an artist to go on and complete a degree in fine art, but don’t expect practical help with painting & drawing skills.
  • Short courses in painting & drawing  can also be helpful in putting you on the right track. Consider evening classes.

It may be that you decide on a combination of the above. My own route began with a year Foundation course in Art & Design, where I was lucky to attend life classes.It was here & not on my subsequent degree course, where I was able to pick up an understanding & enthusiasm for drawing & painting from life. Although I enjoyed my time on my degree course(it motivated & challenged me in many ways), It was conceptually led, with very little practical instruction regarding painting & drawing skills. Fundamentally the tutors on my degree course had insufficient knowledge regarding painting & drawing, as there own expertise was in other areas.It was after graduating that I began to really identify, and focus my ambitions as an artist.I proceeded to start from the beginning, & taught myself the necessary fundamental lessons in drawing & painting from life. Its a continuing process full of revelations & a lot of enjoyment.If you have the desire it is well worth the effort.

In future posts I intend to further this discussion with a more in depth look at strategies for teaching painting & drawing.


8 Responses to “Teaching of drawing & painting”

  1. Andy B said

    I think you are being polite about our college tutors! It was incredibly frustrating seeing great traditional draughtsmen such as yourself & Rune forced by the course requirements to create work you weren’t interested in.

    I’m all for dragging people out of their comfort zones if they aren’t sure what they want to do, but if they have shown a commitment to a certain skill early on, then it’s the skill that should be nurtured. Instead the only thing that was created was a sense of disillusionment for the majority of graduates, including myself!

    • josephgalvinartist said

      @ Andy B, I agree with you. Its really difficult to teach skill based subjects like drawing in art schools. Foundation courses seem to be the only place to do this,in the current system in the UK, but even these can be too broadly based to teach a subject, such as drawing, in a an in-depth way. Its inevitable that a system that embraces all types of art practice, will fall down when it comes to teaching skills that require lots of time & patience to master.They can’t justify spending so much time on a set of skills that maybe only a few people wish to pursue. Guess these new independent schools that are popping, which focus solely on traditional skills of painting & drawing, are a response to a demand, and peoples realisation of lack of teaching of these more traditional skills at most Art colleges.

  2. josephgalvinartist said

    In fact much of the idea behind the Bulldog Portrait Bursary, was a response to the decline in traditional skills in portraiture, drawing & painting etc. By giving access to work with, and observe members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters working on their portrait commissions, I was able to learn much about portraiture. It helped to confirm directions I had taken with my own practice, and also to see where I could improve. After having had little interaction with artists working in a figurative way, it was a revelation to be surrounded by so many skilled artists.

  3. pix said

    I’ve found this so useful. I’ve been trying to find somewhere for many years that values the teaching of skills. I have become thoroughly disillusioned. I struggled through a foundation course, but completed it with my confidence in shreds, as my approach was looked down on, and at times treated as if there was something unhealthy about it, which I found bewildering. I am trying to find the time to develop on my own, but it is easy to become unfocussed and blocked, as I am constantly interrupting myself to earn a living. I want to earn a living through art but need to devote time to it so I can immerse myself in the process and fully develop my ideas and skills. I want to find somewhere that understands my perspective, and has the skills, experience and facilities to help me explore it. I think just being with a group of like minded people must be inspiring and supportive. I’m going to explore the institutions you mention in London. Thanks for your help.

    • josephgalvinartist said

      Really glad its been useful to you.I really sympathise with you, It is really difficult to develop these skills in the current educational environment. Some foundation courses support drawing(as did mine), but i fear they are all increasingly moving away from drawing, as its becoming more and more irrelevant to preparing students for degree courses, and the degree curriculum. Your experience on foundation really isn’t unusual unfortunately, and as more of the tutors that teach on foundation & degree, have come from this system, many of them won’t support artists wanting to work in more traditional and skill based mediums like drawing and painting.
      It does get difficult developing on your own at times, there is certainly a lot more ups & downs, but it is rewarding too. I would certainly recommend the private London colleges if you want encouragement, understanding & support, and crucially the time to develop your skills. They all have a slightly different perspective on teaching, some are more systematic, teaching a specific method(LARA), and others try to teach a more open approach, and varied approaches(Art Academy, Heatherleys), they all have their good points. If i can help I’m happy to answer any questions.Good luck with the search, and your work.

  4. Fantastic website. Can I also ask you to update it to include Academy of Realist Art UK which is in Edinburgh?

  5. Great post. Please look at this – I have gathered some amazing artists and illustratiors together for a weekend of demos and workshops, and two 5-day workshops in classical techniques. http://www.draw-in.co.uk

  6. I’ve been reading the new book on Prince Charles, called “Rebel Prince.” The book says, “For years, Charles had deplored Britain’s art colleges’ refusal to teach traditional drawing and painting.”

    As a self-taught artist, I have also wondered for years about the reason for the decline of people interested in realistic and traditional art, and at the elevation of modern art that looks like it was done by a theee-year-old!

    This was the perfect blog post and answered all the questions I had. Thank you so much for writing it.

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