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Comparative Measurement

The Core Principles of the Atelier Training

The foundation course gives a student an 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. At London Fine Art Studios we believe these fundamental principles are crucial to learn in order to give students the confidence to develop their own style.

Whilst there is no distinct way to draw and paint, there is a clear, simple and sequential way to learn. In figurative art, we believe it is key to learn the core principles of drawing and to have an in-depth knowledge of one’s materials. 

Proportion and 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.

vitruvian man, leonardo da vinci, london fine art studios leonardo da vinci, london fine art studios, london fine art, london art classes, london art workshop, london figurative art, line drawing, proportion and line, human figure, live drawing, oil painting, drawing, art history, art atelier, atelier london
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, 1490, Pen and ink with wash over metalpoint on paper, 13.6 in × 10.0 in (34.6 cm × 25.5 cm), Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Dark and the Light.

Once the line drawing is established, we use values 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 can see their work as a series of light and dark shapes (mass) rather than a series of lines.

The Denial of Saint Peter, Caravaggio, 1610, oil on linen, metropolitan museum, ine art, london, london fine art studios, oil painting workshops, art classes london
The Denial of Saint Peter, Caravaggio, 1610, Oil on canvas, 37 x 49 3/8 in. (94 x 125.4 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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 accents guiding the composition.

The spatial depth of a painting lies within its values and edges. Rembrandt, for example, created such extreme values and edges that the paint can take on an almost sculptural element or can melt away into an abstract mass.


Many classical artists would begin their work in grisaille taking time to set the composition, values and edges before adding colour. 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.

At the studios, we emphasise the use of values first in order to create form and composition. Once these are established students can add colour to the values. Having learnt this technique, the student can work directly with colour from the start while remembering that the colour must remain within the correct value.

In Conclusion

By keeping the core principles simple, and teaching the sequential steps, we hope the students can acquire the highest skill range possible. 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.

Flora, Rembrandt, Oil on canvas, ca. 1654, 39 3/8 x 36 1/8 in. (100 x 91.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fine art, london, london fine art studios, oil painting workshops, art classes london, classical art, chiaroscuro
Flora, Rembrandt, ca. 1654, Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 36 1/8 in. (100 x 91.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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