Simon Munnery once said that many are prepared to suffer for their art, but few are prepared to learn to draw. In a way, it’s understandable. As well as being unfashionable, learning to draw is hard. Really hard.
So how do you learn to draw? There are many methods, but all of the artists in the Lot 5 Collective have studied at some point in their careers in ateliers in Florence or London. Three of them – Luca, Lizet and Harriet – have taught or are currently teaching at the London Atelier of Representational Art.
Atelier training is a tradition that dates back to at least the nineteenth century. It involves drawing, and ultimately painting, ever more complicated plaster casts in increasingly difficult media, starting from pencil drawing and working up to full-colour oil painting. Each plaster cast typically takes between one and three months, three hours a day, five days a week. In parallel, the training also involves drawing and painting the nude figure, again initially in pencil, and building up over time to full-colour oil painting.
Atelier training has its critics, and there are clearly other ways to learn to draw, but it has one massive advantage. If you want to get good at *anything* you need to work at it, and ateliers provide a structured way of putting the hours in while getting constructive feedback from masters of the field. After six hours a day – plus optional evening work – for three or four years you start to get pretty good.
Atelier training is often conflated with a certain, samey academic style. Certainly, if you visit the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery in London it’s often easy to spot the handful of artists who have trained in Florence and have picked up a particular house style. But although atelier training permits artists to paint in that way, it doesn’t force them to. It gives them a certain set of skills that they can choose to deploy to create works in a style that suits their personal preference.
Many artists have undertaken atelier, or academic, training and then moved in other directions. This is often interpreted – quite rightly – as a rebellion against their formal training. There is, however, another way of looking at it. The new directions these artists took would not have been possible without that very same training. Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso were all superb craftsman who used the skills developed through their formal training to produce stunning, innovative work that reached beyond it.
Take these two images of Olga, his first wife, by Pablo Picasso, currently on exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London:
The timeline is interesting. At first, you might think the two images represent some sort of ‘progression’ from Picasso’s early, traditional style to something more avant-garde. But Picasso created the first image, in drypoint (a highly traditional medium) in 1923, so 16 years after his famous Demoiselles d’Avignon and well after the heyday of cubism. In other words, Picasso consciously chose the medium and method of representation from a range of options available to him.
In the second image (from 1935), Picasso has painted the same subject but has chosen different materials to paint with and a different mode of depicting what he saw. They are two very different images, but Picasso’s skill and training – his father (a professor of art) trained him formally from the age of seven – gave him the freedom to choose the most appropriate visual language for what he was trying to communicate.
Here’s an example of one Picasso’s earliest works from his academic training, drawn when he was 12 or 13 years old:
It’s a Bargue drawing – a copy of a lithograph created by Charles Bargue as part of his Cours de Dessin (a course, incidentally, that van Gogh had worked his way through a couple of years earlier).
In the Lot 5 Collective we have similar ambitions. We believe that traditional skills can be used to create contemporary works. Take these two paintings by Sally. The first is a student project, and the second reflects the direction Sally has taken in her professional career as an artist.
They are two very different works. The first is a highly academic painting of a plaster cast while the second is a colourful, witty neo-pop work of art. It’s also painted much more loosely (click on the image to see a larger version). But the second work would not have been possible without the first.
The following two works by Luca Indraccolo re-inforce the point:
Both images are highly accomplished and beautifully painted, but the second combines the skills and techniques Luca learned while painting the first with his own artistic vision and his personal concept.
Munnery was right. Few people are prepared to learn to draw for their art, but if you do master the skill it can give you extraordinary freedom to express yourself.