And Again We Begin!

Happy New Year! This is quite a good time to start blogging again, being that we are starting a new year and I will be starting a new term at the Neoteric. Also, my friend and dear co-student successfully encouraged me to go for it again. Thank you Joel – this one is for you!

I have not been posting because technically I have not gone to class for the last two terms. As I might have mentioned I have a chronic health condition that keeps me from being able to make it to class as much as I would like.

I say “technically” not going to class because while I have not been at the school, the school has come to me. I have been working very hard on projects that my teachers Lisa and Matthew are involved in. They come to my house/studio for critique periodically so that I can continue to grow and stay connected to the tradition and community. They constantly believe in me and encourage me to continue the work. I could not be more grateful.

The last two quarters of last year I spent applying the things I learned in my first year studying on site at the school part time. I work on block ins from art model books and life, am still working on my Master’s copies, I began painting a self-portrait and have three still life paintings in process that were started blocked in and the under-painting and first players done from life and the finishing is being done from memory and photo reference. It is too bad my work space is so small that I cannot leave a still life set up for very long but we do what we must – and I accept that for now, photo reference is necessary.

Matthew has pointed out some of the bugaboos with photo reference that I keep in mind when translating things into paint, such as edges that are unrealistically sharp and a broader area of focus. Photos are more clear and crisp over the entirety of the image, whereas in life, there is smaller clear focal area and the rest sort of softens in our field of vision. So, I attempt to compensate for those things as best I can.

It seems that I have so much work in progress and nothing finished from the end of last year. I could find that discouraging, and be frustrated with myself for taking so long to finish a thing. But considering that I am drinking up every lesson and every mark from each work – I allow myself to take it slowly and be very thoughtful of my marks and efforts. I let myself play some, creating work that I  don’t care to take to completion – quick drawings from life, pastels that take a couple of evenings to do. I recently played with Pan Pastels for the first time using the black and whites to create some value studies. These are works that I either do not save or that never see the light of day. You must allow yourself space to play, to reach out, to gesture, to confidently make marks without the fear of screwing stuff up. I think in the study of classical realism this is really important, at least for me – because the “work” of learning and training the eye can become so contracting and slavish in the domain of the critical mind. You have to let the kids out every now and then or they start to sabotage your efforts, at least for me it’s that way. It took me a while and some tears to figure that out.

Next week I begin classes again at my school, the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art. On site, not remote. I am feeling a little better so I am committing to the classroom again, and also am just trying to really develop more grit so that my life does not pass me by. So, I am back to blogging here and I will leave you with my group of works in progress and a few of my figure block ins. You will see them again, hopefully complete. The Holbein and the Angel Masters copies are taking FOR-E-VER but I work on them a little at a time, only when I feel my eyes and mind are very clear… which is not as often as I would like – thus the slow going on those. I am almost done, so close.

Well, until next time…


<Paintings Studies in Progress>

<“Relatively” Quick Block Ins>

<Masters Copies In Progress… still…>

Summer Break Projects

The school is on break until September and undergoing some super remodeling. I can’t wait to get back to it, it should be fantastic. My health is improving it appears so I should be able to take two classes in the fall and one independent studio day to work at the Studio. I move slowly but I keep on going. I enjoy contributing to the school administratively, doing their newsletter, some social media work and coming soon online galleries where you can purchase original artwork by students and teachers of the school. I also support the Director and teacher Lisa Silas. It keeps me out of trouble when I am not working on my artwork. I’ve been keeping busy over the break too. Making excellent progress on the ongoing Holbein Master’s copy and my Bargue like study of an angel. I have been working on both for a long time but I keep plugging along, always coming back to them like old friends just waiting to talk and catch up. Over the break I have really put in some time on them. Also on two day oil studies of still-lifes. I have never painted from life before and my Teacher Matthew wants me to work this quarter on doing fast studies, working on beginnings and familiarizing myself with putting paint on the canvas. I have always painted indirectly and alla prima or short term is really new to me, it shows but if I do enough I will get better at it. I am also doing short block-ins from a Model book, a few a week, a couple hours each.

I had a discussion with a friend of mine, scholar and curator Joseph Bravo and he encouraged me, making the analogy that my art practice is like playing scales in piano study. To really become a fluent pianist and develop your own voice, and even compose you must first play lots and lots of scales. That is exactly what my practice is. He said “Two years of playing scales and then you can start working on what you really want to paint.” I am already seeking that imagery so when I have the technical skill I will be ready to naturally progress into a more personal expression. I have found a peace of sorts with playing scales, at the moment anyway.

Quote of August:

“We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” Henry James



End of Term Review!

I just had my end of term critique and review with Matthew and Lisa. It is always amazing to put all the work that you have done in a term out there to really look at. I have made up in home work and extra work what I have missed in class due to health struggles and feel very good all in all with my output.

In the figure drawing room I had a number of pretty solid block-in’s and outline drawings. I had a Bargue drawing, a master’s copy and a cast drawing still in progress, some workshop paintings, a homework still life painting and some completed extracurricular pastels all done within the last few months.

I think the thing that disappointed me the most was the Bargue and Cast drawing. Matthew thought they went very well and wants me to call them lessons learned and move on to new projects this coming term. I do not like to not finish things. I know I would have done a better job on it and gotten so much farther if I had been able to get to class more often for critiques. That is where the health stuff gets so frustrating – but I just don’t let myself go there. I do the best I can do with what I got and I work like a banshee, be it at the studio or at home. I do the art because I am compelled by it, I study these techniques because I am compelled to learn. The health stuff is at most a frustrating distraction.

The consensus of the critique was very favorable and they pointed out things that I had done very well, and why they were done well. Regarding general things I can work on in this coming term – I need to stand back more from my work. Make an effort, even though I work at home in a chair… get up and just stand back, use the mirror more often, come to the studio when I am able, off hours and use the studio so I have the space I need to really stand back from my work.

In my drawing and painting, begin to loosen up and try for a quicker understanding of the form while utilizing all of the classical techniques I am learning.

Focus on solid beginnings and let go of the need for clean finishes at this point. With solid beginnings a clean finish will just be that much more powerful. There is much wisdom in this… it is one of those teachings that apply to both art and life.

The critique led into the plan for next quarter. I am very excited because there is a huge difference in the basic approach I have been taking to my work! I cannot wait to get started.

Plan for next quarter –

Classes and objectives:
Figure Drawing Wednesday 9-12pm – Focus on three day block-ins, then move to another position. Take the block-ins to a generalized understanding of correct form and relationships. Not going for a finish.

Cast Drawing Wednesdays 1-4pm – Start a new cast <old man>. Focus on getting to where I left the last one quicker. Maybe do some simple cast painting projects for a portion of the class.

Independent Projects Fridays – Work on cast, cast painting, some still life painting.

  • Weekly Homework: Try for five figure block-ins of no more than 1 – 1 ½ hour per drawing per week.
    Use pose book or magazines for model.
  • Paint from LIFE and focus on the block in in a more alla prima application. Use my work shop paintings as an examples.
  • Begin drawing without the use of grids.
  • Apply energy that would be directed into pastel work into the painting exercises. Let go of needing to get to the finish of things.
  • August – Make use of the studio space and set up a little space to paint/draw.

Art School Growing Pains

Time flies! It’s been way too long since last I checked in. First off, I want to send a shout out to fellow artist and former Neoteric student Dan – This post is for you , finally!

Each student that studies with us, even for a short time brings with them their unique contribution to the group as a whole and leaves there mark with every one of us. As the school has grown I have been able to watch the growth and shifts of this dynamic group of learning artists. I see how the school itself responds to the needs of the group and the needs of the individual at the same time. We are such a small school right now, an intimate gathering of artists working with a shared goal to elevate our understanding and ability to draw and express our thoughts through the language of classical realism. It is that common ground that unifies the different personalities and individual needs into the vision that is our school.

I see Lisa, Matthew and Jonathan working hard to formulate a fresh teaching philosophy and curriculum that embraces not only their roots in traditional classical realism at the Florence Academy, but also the needs of their students as artists in the here and now. They try new things, and some stick… and some don’t. They go back to their roots, and then stretch their understanding of those roots some more. In it all they are building the teaching style and core philosophy that the Neoteric will eventually be known for. This is such a special time and the core of the teaching remains constant, though sometimes it can be a little unpredictable when you come in the morning ready for a three hour sitting only to find out that you’re having a plein air day or a gesture drawing warm up. I have learned to just go with it… because in it all these young teachers will find through trial and error what works best, what really takes the student where the student wants to go in the shortest time possible. Many of our students are part time or less than part time students but have the expectation of full time results. How will the school meet those expectations? Only by stretching their own understanding of curriculum a little bit.

I find all of this fascinating and I really believe that I am watching a little history in the making when I see this very talented and sincere group of artist/educators making the map as they drive the roads. And it is all for us… the students. This special crew that stands easel to easel and does the hard work of learning the form together.

This is an incredibly exciting time for us as we venture into the role of a cooperative, elevating the importance and functionality of the “group” and the individual to a new level. I feel so much connection to each one of my fellow students and it is my honor to draw with each one of them.


The Art Tree of Knowledge

Hi all — The bad thing about not writing a blog for a long time is that I have a ton of images to share and things bottles up you want to say. The good thing is that I have a ton of images to share!

This has been a hard few months for many of my fellow students and for myself. A few didn’t make it and left the program. That always makes me so sad. I know the feeling because I left the program once but within a few months came back. I think there comes a point where we question the pay off. “It” seems impossible, impossible to make a “good” drawing while struggling with technique and learning to see. Also there is the way that the pursuit of classical realism seems to rain on your happy-art-making parade. I compare it to eating from the tree of knowledge. Once you see what you do not see you can never go back to not seeing it again. Once you realize the level you ‘could’ create at – you have a hard time settling for the level you once created at.

So you are left in this very uncomfortable middle ground of not being able to create at the level you want to create at, and not being able to go back to before you got bitten by the realist bug. It is a painful place to be and the place most people quit at – especially perfectionists, the easily fatigued and those who ride themselves the hardest.

For me, art was once a place where I could excel without really trying to hard. The creative process was always just a joyful, good feeling place to be. After I was out of that ‘making’ space and looking at my work I was always, always dissatisfied. On some level I knew I was capable of better, of being able to create the pictures my mind saw and not just settle for the pictures my ability allowed. When I discovered classical realism and my atelier I understood that there was a way, there were tools to kick up my ability to the level I wanted. I did not realize at first that learning those tools and techniques would be so difficult, and that results would be so slow. I was impatient and in pain actually. I quit. What I discovered was that I could not go back to my old way of making art. I was even more acutely aware that I needed to learn how to see better and to be able to translate what it was I was seeing. I needed to learn the techniques… I needed to give myself time. Most importantly I needed to learn to be gentle on myself in the process.

I believe I will get to where I want to be. I have seen periods of incredible growth followed by what seems to be periods of no growth at all. Weeks of drawing where my ends result looks even more pained than the first week and my paper is shredded under all of the effort.

In the drawing below I compare my last long pose drawing week one with week five. When I first finished I saw nothing better about week five than the first weeks block in. I put the drawing away on frustration and disgust. Taking it out again and looking back, it’s true – the progress was very slow, my technique not refined which resulted in butchered paper… but –now I see the second figure has some much more effective observations than the first. The first is nice and loose, attractive in a generalized, modern way. The second however, is full of hard won observations that create the faint emergence of a form really turning in space. Subtlety to the movements of the muscles moving into each other. It looks more like the real model. I was able to just being to work the inside of the form and outline shadow shapes and that occurred naturally as I worked more and more subtly on the block in. I am slow, it takes me forever to get the block in to where I am ready to move into the shadow shapes, I over work the outline terribly – but I am learning and I see the difference and building on one experience after another. The skill we learn in the learning of classical realism is quantitative and the real necessary tool is patience.


Anyway, I had a lot to say today so for the rest of the post I am going to just post some pictures of the current status of my work. You can scroll down for comparison. Because I am a part time student at the Atelier I am moving slowly through the work. I know that if I could focus full time like they do at the Florence Academy where my teachers are from that I would move forward comparably to the students there. I accept the slow process because I accept my limitations. In fact, accepting yourself is the biggest secret ingredient to being able to sustain study in classical realism. Accepting where you are at when you are struggling as well as really accepting your successes.

Two hour live figure block in:


Cast Drawing week three – just really starting working with the values.


My Holbein Master’s Copy – moving to more subtle movements in the block in.


My Angel Master’s copy – just now moving into the shadow shapes.


There was an incredible painting workshop with our painting teacher Matthew Riggs a couple weeks ago and I am going to share some of that work in a separate blog post.

Finally once again my favorite quote about the study of classical realism from Atelier Founder and Art Educator Sadie Valerie: “…art is the kind of hard work that brings you to the bleeding edge of your ability and makes you stare hard at your limitations.”

The study of classical realism really takes courage and patience. Give yourself a break and be proud of every effort you make. I’ll hang in there if you will!

Catching Up on Things

I haven’t posted in a while because I just haven’t had any words. Lots of thoughts, lots of learning, just no words and that is not really a good quality in a blogger! So instead of just letting this poor blog sit unattended until I rediscover my words I thought I could at least post some progress shots of what I have been working on at the school.

These have been hard times for me in my studies. I got completely lost on a 8 week pose figure drawing and basically just drew the block in over and over moving with the models movements and barely getting into the interior of the figure. I was really disappointed but I learned so much and I know the next pose will go better. You can see the progress shots and my final guy looks worse for wear.

My cast drawing is just now starting to gel for me as I am understanding the concept of keying and seeing values. The main thing is that I am still fighting with the charcoal a little and wondering when, if ever, it will become my friend. I have a long way to go but it is starting to get some dimension.

I received some great critiques from Matthew on my Bargue (Speed, actually) and Holbein copy and am making slow progress as I move through those. Such a slow process for me. I think I learn the most about seeing from the copies though.

In Progress - April 2
In Progress – April 2
In Progress - April 6
In Progress – April 6

Finally, Here is a pastel I did that brings together much of what I am learning at the atelier. It is not a class assignment but something I do on the side. It is from a live still life and later a photo reference. Pastel on prepared paper. I would have never, ever been able to do this without the lessons that I am learning in drawing and seeing. Seeing is key. Seeing is the most important tool in the toolbox and it is what we are really learning to do at the atelier.

The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11" x 15"
The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11″ x 15″

At times, when a student looks at the rough figure drawings they keep putting out there and the slow moving Bargues and cast drawings you wonder if you are really getting anything from your studies. My advice would be at that point where you doubt the most… do something on your own, do something that you might have done before your journey began. I can guarantee you will see a million more flaws in it than you would have seen when you first began, but your work will also be miles better and you will see that, and you will see why.

My studies at the atelier have changed me forever as an artist and they have introduced something so special into my life that I will never be the same. I have found a home in the classical study of art.

Lesson of the week: The conversation happens in the light. Mass the shadows. That has changed the game for me.

Technical Difficulties

I ran into some things this week in the drawing room that I thought might be interesting to illustrate. It was by no means a great week of drawing, but it was a solid week where I learned a lot and felt like I made it past a couple walls. I still really need one of those weeks where you stand back and go “wow – I did that!” but for now “wow – I learned that!” must suffice.


My best efforts this week were with the live figure. After adjustment after drastic adjustment I really got past a struggle I was having to have the chest carry the height that the model had. As you an see, it is a proud pose, great pose.  By the time I got to blocking in the head it was flowing and I was really enjoying the work.

However, I learned some frustrating but important technical lessons. I was using a soft paper with a hard H lead. I didn’t know that was what I was doing but it became clear later. It was a new setup for me because I was feeling a little heavy handed with the HB lead. The Canson paper I used last time didn’t hold up to the erasure as much as I would have liked so I tried out some Stonehenge paper. Variables, variables.

I found that the H lead on the Stonehenge paper lightly indented the paper because I had to press a little harder to get a legible mark. Then when I went to erase and make adjustments the paper started to fuzz. The white tuff stuff erasure I was using grabbed the already fuzzed paper and marred it even more. Result…  a lesson learned and some ugly areas that will stay with the drawing forever but will greatly inform my next drawing.

The second technical lesson I learned had to do with paper again, and my inexperience with charcoal. The cast drawing is really hard for me right now. I began once but the paper was not in great shape so I got another sheet of Canson paper. I began again on this paper; it was not Canson Mi Tiennes paper I discovered.  Wow… Because I am having such a hard time locking in the shadow shapes of the cast I had to make lots of adjustments to the placement of the eyebrow. I was using a bit of a harder touch than I should with the charcoal but even still, the paper just would not let it go when I was trying to erase. By the time I got the eyebrow moved to where I wanted it there was this terrible, really bad ghost mark from where the charcoal would not erase.

Matthew and I looked at it and decided to keep working and get my placement where I wanted it. He then instructed me on how to do a very careful transfer of the drawing onto a new and better sheet of paper. A transfer is rather tricky because we are doing sight size measurement with the cast so I have to transfer the plumb line exactly, etc. Learning how to do the transfer is really interesting but this is the second time I started this freeking cast over.

Here is the deal. The solution to each of these is technical and materials related… change the lead to HB, get another sheet of paper. Simple. But I think that you can adjust tools over and over and that some combinations are just bad, but the really important adjustment is to adjust yourself… adjust the marks you make, heavier or lighter depending on the materials at hand. Personally, if I can do this I will save a lot of money because I can use the materials I have instead of chasing the perfect paper or charcoal. So yes, the problem really was a combination of materials… but the solution is found in knowing all the materials well enough to be able to anticipate and control the results.

So, there is a whole lot of technical mumbo jumbo for you, but it really was good experience for me and I know my tools that much better. The cast thing is so frustrating to me right now, but I know I will have a good run of it this time, right? They say the third time is the charm.