Comparative Measurement

The Core Principles of the Atelier Training

The foundation course gives a student the overview of these principles. In subsequent courses students can delve deeper into these core principals, initially working from plaster casts and still-life and moving onto both the figure and portrait model.

The ability to draw accurately in proportion, with gesture and expression, supported in the knowledge of art materials were not only commonplace but essential in the Ateliers and Studios of old. Today these fundamental principles are less prevalent, often disregarded if not lost.

Whilst there is no distinct way to draw and paint, there is a clear, simple and sequential way to learn. In languages a grasp of the grammar and vocabulary gives one so much more freedom to express and communicate. So too in figurative art, drawing skills and a knowledge of ones materials should be considered the artists cornerstone to achieve great art.

It began with a line.

Beginning with simple drawing exercises to capture proportion, the line is the mechanism by which to carefully construct and design a painting. We see this clearly in Leonardo’s ‘Vetruvian Man’ in which he shows the guiding principles of proportion within the human figure.

Then came the Dark and the Light. Linear drawings can be much enhanced through the use of values. This is achieved by breaking the subject into two sections – Light and Dark. Better known as Chiaroscuro it refers to bold contrasts affecting the whole composition and is most famously exemplified in the work of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. The value pattern of the painting determines the composition as much as the line, the colour and even the subject.

Working in pen and ink, charcoal or paint the artist is able to see their work as a series of light and dark shapes (mass) rather than a series of lines.

A complex world of edges resides alongside that of values. The transition between the value patterns is known as rendering, or the treatment of edges. Where edges are lost or found, soft or hard, they create definite points of focus for the viewer, inviting them in and out of the composition. Great paintings have a variety of edges, the lines in the image are not indicating contour and form but rather accents guiding the composition.

The spatial depth and mastery of a painting lie within its values and edges. Rembrandt for example, created such extreme values and edges that the paint takes on an almost sculptural element in one moment and can melt away into an abstract mass at another.

Finally, Colour, a wonderful though subjective aspect of the craft. The human eye can detect a vast range of colours, making it a hard skill to teach. Many classical artists would begin their work in grisaille taking time to set the composition, values and edges before adding colour. Essentially this was a way of working out the whole painting using a simple tonal range. They could then choose either to introduce a spectrum of colours into their work or to use a limited palette.

Titian, who was known for his mastery of colour, used loose brushwork and subtlety of tonal values to keep the shapes clean and simple whilst still working out complex forms within the composition. Velazquez and Rembrandt demonstrate their technical prowess by using a limited palette to convey a broad spectrum of colour.

The world of classical art seeks to achieve the highest skill range possible by keeping all the core principles simple. Once these have been learnt they can be applied to every subject. From still life to landscape, figures to portraiture. A deep knowledge and practice of these essential principles handed down from the past allows the artist much greater freedom to express and develop.