"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.


Welcome to my first blog!

First off a brief introduction to what you’ll likely find here in the future… I’d like use this blog to share some of my thoughts & ideas on contemporary painting practice. I’d also like to share ideas I’m developing in my own practice as an artist & portrait painter, mostly from a practical point of view. I hope this blog will develop into something useful for readers with an interest in contemporary figurative art practice.

I’m nearing the end of a portrait commission. As with most of my work, I like to feel that I’m pushing the boundaries in some way, and learning something new that will help me get a little bit better for the next time. Sometimes(quite often) these personal discoveries are very simple alterations to my artistic practice, but have much wider implications to the work I’m able to produce.

Yesterday I made one of these changes. I made a large palette from a sheet of glass(something I’ve seen many artists use, but have not until now tried it for myself).

The surface is fantastic for mixing on, its easily cleaned(without using spirits), and placing a warm grey mid toned paper underneath gives an excellent neutral colour to judge mixes against. The feel of the brushes against the glass surface is good, & helps engender a feel of sensitivity to brushwork when painting.

Glass palette mounted onto cut piece of MDF board, with toned paper underneath

Glass palette mounted onto cut piece of MDF board, with toned paper underneath

It immediately made a very significant difference to my colour mixing, I was much better able to judge the subtle shifts in colour on the new palette. compared to the previous hand held wooden palette I was used to using. Think I might find a way to paint my wooden palettes a similar neutral colour.The small change makes a big difference.

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