The Atelier Method

So, what exactly is the atelier method?

Well, the word is French and it refers to the private workshop of a fine artist.

In antiquity, artists learned by working under a master painter from a very young age.  During its earliest beginnings, rather than a fine art, what we call today fine painting, was considered a craft and painters were considered craftsmen rather than artists.

Luckily, that changed rather early on.

Before the 20th-century, for one to become an artist one had to follow a pretty rigorous training that would take many years.


As far as classical atelier training goes, today’s ateliers continue to use the 19th-century French tradition.

An example curriculum would be:

  • Drawing by copying Bargue plates without touching paint, most likely using charcoal — today some ateliers would have you start with graphite pencils. First, the student would use a measuring device, like a thread, to gauge proportion (this is the sight-size method) and then, on subsequent iterations, he or she would copy by observation only.
  • After copying plates, the student would move on to copying plaster casts following the same rhythm as with plates: first by using a measuring device, and then by observation only.
  • Afterward would come the use of black, white and some other neutral color to introduce the student to the concept of value in painting. And he or she would paint a “grisaille.” A grisaille is a representation of a cast (or any other object) using a very limited palette of titanium white, ivory black, and burnt umber (or equivalent pigments).
  • After the grisaille was mastered, one could move on to mixing and using color.
  • Let’s not forget, that as the student goes through all these phases, he or she is also taking a few sessions of drawing from a model a week.

A student could spend years on the drawing aspects of his/her atelier training before ever touching oil paints.

The method is rigorous but very doable. And, depending on one’s affinity, very enjoyable, too.  To finish the program successfully, the student had to be very disciplined – there was little time for play.

This is what I’ve proposed myself to achieve in the coming years.  I know there will be a lot of frustrations, but I also know I will enjoy every bit of it.


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