“Oh by the way, you are the music teacher too.” These were words uttered by my principal at my first teaching job in a very rural Montana school district. My 22-year-old self had my art teacher credentials in hand, but none of the qualifications required to be a licensed music teacher.
Luckily for me, the music education association in Montana was better informed and organized than any mafia, and quickly learned an unqualified educator was to teach band and choir in the middle of nowhere Montana.
They immediately sent me a mentor who arrived with a ten gallon hat and a handlebar mustache. This singing cowboy, I soon learned, was known throughout the state as one of the greatest music teachers of the ages. Mr. M had arrived.
One of the first days he came to help me in my classroom, I was attempting to teach singing to a class of students. Unfortunately, three out of my seven students were completely tone deaf.
Drawing on the prevailing knowledge I had absorbed about teaching art from leading art education journals, I assumed that there was nothing I could do about this. I was particularly afraid of ruining their musical creativity, whatever that meant.
Not having any paywalls or charging for products gives me a global advantage over others teaching the art of composition. I can reach thousands of artists and photographers worldwide without asking them to open their wallets.
I'm not influenced by trends in marketing, I don't shape the content of my articles and videos to sell products, and I make no money on the books or videos I promote. I only have one interest in mind. Learning as much as I can about art and design and sharing that knowledge with those that visit my website. All for free.
Ever since I got my first camera in 1982, I have been passionate about taking better photographs. Spending all of my teenage years in my father's darkroom taught me a lot. I learned all of Ansel Adams' techniques on the zone system and swiftly moved into street photography from there.
I was heavily influenced by photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt. And like many other amateur photographers, I wanted to learn how to shoot like the "masters." But unfortunately, sometimes our passion is limited by our lack of knowledge and experience. In other words, I kept hitting a wall with my progress regardless of how many photobooks I purchased or how many hours I spent shooting. What was missing in all of my images? One thing. My understanding of design.
Unfortunately, throughout most of my photographic journey, there has been very little written on the topic of composition. In fact, when I say "very little," I mean almost nothing. And sure, you could argue the fact that you can jump on any photography website and find a few cherry-picked concepts like the rule of thirds and the golden section. But this isn't enough. Not even close.
One day, in an intense effort to research information on composition, I stumbled upon the Barnstone Studios DVDs. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I immediately purchased the ten disc set and watched them for over a decade. That's where my true journey began.
From that point on, I have spent all my free time researching the art of composition. No easy task. Was this an obsession of mine? Sure, I would never argue that fact. But with everything in life, there are always unseen benefits when you set out to do something to improve yourself or your craft.
After spending many years studying design, I realized that other artists could benefit from the information I have discovered. In truth, my website The Art of Composition is a reflection of my passion and desire to learn. For those that have taken the time to visit my website, I want to thank you for stopping by. But more than that, I hope that you find the free books and videos beneficial and worth your time.
If you like this website and the information I provide, please feel free to make a donation. Any amount will help. With inflation on the rise, and the price of everything going up, it's getting more difficult to keep this website alive. With your generous help, you can keep my research moving forward and allow me to help you, the dedicated artist and photographer.
This website relies solely on donations for support.
A Simple Approach for Creating Masterful Designs
The Art of Composition: A Simple Approach for Creating Masterful Designs evolved from my personal and professional experience as a photographer, master level darkroom technician, and graphic designer. After years of applying the same "popular" rules of composition to my images and designs, I reached a point in my artistic career where I was no longer able to improve my portfolio regardless of how much time and money I invested in photography workshops, photography books, and high-end camera equipment.
Realizing I was getting nowhere with the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines, I began an intensive search for any information I could find on real design principles. I read every art and design book I could get my hands on and spent endless days and nights analyzing over five thousand works of art. The Art of Composition: A Simple Approach for Creating Masterful Designs is a series of personal analytical notes that reflect this ten-year study.
By sharing this collection of analytical notes with other artists and photographers, I hope to save them years of frustration and wasted time as well as put them on the most productive path for improving their lifetime body of work. While other books written on composition tend to focus on incorporating complex design methods using overlapped Dynamic Symmetry root rectangles, this user’s guide takes a one grid approach to teaching that will make it easier for the artist and photographer to learn the art of composition at the quickest rate possible.
THE ATELIER APPROACH TO ART EDUCATION HAS ITS ROOTS IN THE GUILDS OF THE EARLY RENAISSANCE. FOR MORE THAN FIVE HUNDRED YEARS, MASTER ARTISTS TRANSMITTED A SYSTEM OF KNOWLEDGE TO THEIR STUDENTS. THIS TRADITION REACHED ITS ZENITH IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, WHEN ATELIERS PREPARED THOUSANDS OF ACCOMPLISHED ARTISTS TO PAINT IN DOZENS OF DIFFERENT STYLES ON COUNTLESS SUBJECTS. SKILL-BASED TEACHING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY WAS CENTERED ON OBSERVATION OF NATURE, SOUND ARTISTIC PRINCIPLES, AND UNIVERSAL THEMES. ASPIRING ARTISTS OBTAINED THE TECHNICAL ABILITY, PERSONAL COMMITMENT, AND PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS NEEDED TO CREATE GREAT ART. THE IMPACT OF ENLIGHTENMENT THINKING, WITH ITS RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW, ALLOWED ART TO EXPOSE THE EVILS OF SLAVERY AND CHILD LABOR AS WELL AS TO PROMOTE WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES. THIS NEW DEMOCRATIC WAY OF THINKING, IN CONJUNCTION WITH UNPARALLELED CLASSICAL TRAINING, IGNITED THE GREATEST PERIOD OF CREATIVITY THAT THE FINE ARTS HAD EVER SEEN.
WITH A SHIFT IN THE AESTHETICS OF ART-WORLD POLITICS, AFFECTED IN PART BY THE HORRORS OF WORLD WAR I AND WORLD WAR II, CYNICISM, NOVELTY, SHOCK, AND REBELLION BECAME THE FASHIONABLE STAPLES OF ART IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY. ART THAT COULD BE PRODUCED RAPIDLY AND YET BE CONSIDERED VALUABLE BECAME A DREAM COME TRUE. MODERN ART, ALTHOUGH IT MAY HAVE HAD CLAIM TO A FEW ARTISTS WITH A SINCERE DESIRE TO EXPERIMENT AND REBEL, SOON BECAME LOST, FOR WITHOUT STANDARDS OR ANY NEED TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH UNIVERSAL THEMES, IT WAS EASILY CONTROLLED BY THOSE WHO STOOD TO MAKE VAST FORTUNES FROM THIS “NEW” QUICKLY MADE ART. ART BECAME “ART ABOUT ART” NOT ART ABOUT LIFE.
AGAINST ALL ODDS AND FACING RIDICULE, A HANDFUL OF ARTISTS WHO WERE STILL ACADEMICALLY TRAINED MANAGED TO PRESERVE THE CORE TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE OF WESTERN ART AND TO CONTINUE THE PROCESS OF TEACHING ANOTHER GENERATION. THERE IS NOW A GROWING MOVEMENT OF ARTISTS DEMANDING TO BE TAUGHT THE CLASSICAL METHODS. THEY ARE PART OF A NEW RENAISSANCE THAT HAS BROUGHT THE ATELIER METHOD FULL CIRCLE AND BACK INTO THE ART WORLD OF TODAY. IN THE ATELIERS OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, ARTISTS HAVE ONCE AGAIN LIT THE TORCH OF INSPIRATION WITH THE DESIRE TO REUNITE THE POWERS OF MASTERLY PAINTING AND HUMANISTIC SUBJECT MATTER. AS LONG AS HUMANITY IS PERMITTED TO COMPARE AND DECIDE FOR ITSELF WHAT CONSTITUTES ART, TRUTH, BEAUTY, AND A COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE WILL PREVAIL.
CHAIRMAN, ART RENEWAL CENTER
FROM THE BOOK CLASSICAL PAINTING ATELIER - JULIETTE ARISTIDES
(The painting above demonstrates the use of the 14 line armature)
All of the books listed below I own and highly recommend. They are the best books available when it comes to learning classical skill-based art information that is easy to understand. If you have any questions about any of these books, please feel free to drop me an email.
10 Videos Now Available!
Atelier education is centered on the belief that working in a studio, not sitting in the lecture hall, is the best place to learn about art. Every artist needs to learn basic drawing skills.
In this elegant and inspiring workbook, master contemporary artist and best selling author Juliette Aristides breaks down the drawing process into small, manageable lessons; presents them progressively; introduces time-tested principles and techniques in the Atelier tradition that are easily accessible; and shares the language and context necessary to understand the artistic process and create superior, well-crafted drawings. What makes this approach unique is the fact that it includes blank pages for copying and practicing within each lesson, facilitating traditional Atelier methods.
Ateliers have produced the greatest artists of all time--and now that educational model is experiencing a renaissance. These studios, in a return to classical art training, are based on the nineteenth-century model of teaching artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. Students begin by copying masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop. Beginning Drawing Atelier is like having an atelier in a book--and the master is Juliette Aristides, a classically trained artist. On every page, Aristides uses the works of Old Masters and today's most respected realist artists to demonstrate and teach the principles of realist drawing and painting, taking students step by step through the learning curve yet allowing them to work at their own pace. Unique and inspiring, the approach in this new book offers serious art courses for serious art students.
In this elegant and inspiring workbook, master contemporary artist and author Juliette Aristides breaks down the figure drawing process into small, manageable lessons, presents them progressively, introduces time-tested principles and techniques in the atelier tradition that are easily accessible, and shares the language and context necessary to understand the artistic process and create superior, well-crafted drawings.
Atelier education is centered on the belief that working in a studio, not sitting in the lecture hall, is the best way to learn about art. Every artist needs to learn to master figure drawing. Ateliers have produced the greatest artists of all time--and now that educational model is experiencing a renaissance. These studios, a return to classical art training, are based on the nineteenth-century model of teaching artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. Students begin by copying masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop. Figure Drawing Atelier is like having an atelier in a book--and the master is Juliette Aristides, a classically trained artist and best-selling art-instruction author with almost rock star popularity in the contemporary world of representational art. On every page, Aristides uses the works of Old Masters and today's most respected realist artists to demonstrate and teach the principles of realistic figure drawing and painting, taking students step by step through the learning curve yet allowing them to work at their own pace. Unique and inspiring, this book offers a serious art course for serious art students.
Students of art hailed Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides’s first book, as a dynamic return to the atelier educational model. Ateliers, popular in the nineteenth century, teach emerging artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. The educational process begins as students copy masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop. The many artists at every level who learned from Classical Drawing Atelier have been clamoring for more of this sophisticated approach to teaching and learning. In Classical Painting Atelier, Aristides, a leader in the atelier movement, takes students step-by-step through the finest works of Old Masters and today’s most respected realist artists to reveal the principles of creating full-color realist still lifes, portraits, and figure paintings. Rich in tradition, yet practical for today’s artists, Classical Painting Atelier is ideal for serious art students seeking a timeless visual education.
In this elegant and inspiring primer, master contemporary artist and author Juliette Aristides breaks down the drawing process into small, manageable lessons; introduces time-tested principles and techniques that are easily accessible; and shares the language and context necessary to understand the artistic process and create superior, well-crafted drawings.
With the same direct, easy-to-follow approach of Juliette Aristides's previous books, Lessons in Classical Painting presents aspiring artists with the fundamental skills and tools needed to master painting in the atelier style. With more than 25 years of experience in ateliers and as an art instructor, Aristides pairs personal examples and insights with theory, assignments and demonstrations for readers, discussions of technical issues, and inspirational quotes. After taking a bird's eye look at painting as a whole, Aristides breaks down painting into big picture topics like grisaille, temperature, and color, demonstrating how these key subjects can be applied by all painters.
All the paintings that the author analyzes are illustrated in the text — 166 illustrations, including 9 in full color. Thirty-two diagrams by the author accompany his textural discussion of such topics as the importance of balance, entrance and exit, circular observation, angular composition, composition with one or more units, and light and shade. Balance is the most important of these topics, and it is considered in the greatest detail — balance of the steelyard, vertical and horizontal balance, and so on. A complete index enables the reader to locate his own specific areas of interest.
To see how a painting by Cézanne, Goya, or Hopper, for example, follows definite principles of composition allows the practicing artist or art student to learn composition from the finest instructors — the artists themselves. This book is also very useful to the art devotee, who will find his appreciation of the subject greatly enhanced.
Beautifully illustrated with classical drawings as well as step-by-step progressions, these lessons explore the enlightening practice of copying, how to use proportion and measurement wisely, drawing the head and its features, rendering the figure in motion, short-pose exercises, and much, much more. Throughout, artists will master techniques for achieving a compelling "living force" in their drawings, while building a base of understanding that will ultimately make the process more intuitive and enjoyable.
Coming out of this dedicated movement, Portrait Painting Atelier is an essential resource for an art community still recovering from a time when solid instruction in art technique was unavailable in our schools. Of particular value here is a demonstration of the Old Masters’ technique of layering paint over a toned-ground surface, a process that builds from the transparent dark areas to the more densely painted lights. This method unifies the entire painting, creating a beautiful glow that illuminates skin tones and softly blends all the color tones. Readers will also find valuable instruction in paint mediums from classic oil-based to alkyd-based, the interactive principles of composition and photograph-based composition, and the anatomy of the human face and the key relationships among its features.
Richly illustrated with the work of preeminent masters such as Millet, Géricault, and van Gogh, as well as some of today’s leading portrait artists—and featuring seven detailed step-by-step portrait demonstrations--Portrait Painting Atelier is the first book in many years to so comprehensively cover the concepts and techniques of traditional portraiture.
This richly illustrated examination of visual arts in the European tradition shows how the great masters employed the "golden mean" and other geometrical patterns to compose their paintings. Author Charles Bouleau explores a tremendous variety of ancient and modern works: the Parthenon friezes, Italian mosaics, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Gothic stonemasons' marks of France and Germany as well as paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, and Pollock. His insightful expositions cast new light on such well-known works as Raphael's "The School of Athens," Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," Rubens' "Descent from the Cross," and Renoir's "Le Moulin de la Galette."
Advancing step by step through each painter's vast body of work, the survey highlights new contributions from each period and artist. Every analysis is conducted according to strict methods, placing the work within the intellectual atmosphere of its time. Original, informative, and stimulating, The Painter's Secret Geometry reveals the framework of art as well as its most profound and secret poetry. This new edition of the cult classic is a vade mecum for any student of art history or artistic composition.
"I found the material presented in this book to be fascinating. Though originally published in the 1960's it's tenets hold up well. It would lend itself well to an art history course or to anyone interested in the concepts outlines." — Tacoma Public Library
In this book, best-selling author and world-renowned photographer and teacher Bruce Barnbaum explores these seldom-discussed issues by drawing upon his personal experiences and observations from more than 40 years of photographing and teaching. In addition to photographs, Bruce also uses painting, music, and writing, as well as the sciences and even business, to provide pertinent examples of creative thinking. These examples serve as stepping-stones that will lead you to your own heightened ability to see and be creative.
Creativity is a topic that is almost wholly ignored in formal education because most instructors think that it cannot be taught or learned. To the contrary, Bruce has proven that photographic seeing and creativity can be taught, learned, and improved. This book expands on the ideas that are central to Bruce's method of teaching photography, which he has used in workshops for the past 41 years.
Many painters limit themselves to one type of subject matter, but in Oil Painting Essentials, artist and art instructor Gregg Kreutz shows how a multi-genre approach can dramatically improve your painting skills. Arranged by category, each chapter covers both the essentials specific to that subject matter and those that apply to all genres.
Through step-by-step lessons and examples from his own oil paintings, Kreutz shows how you can strengthen your skillset for one genre by painting in another. This comprehensive exploration of the conceptual and practical issues behind oil painting provides all of the tools and encouragement you need to successfully take on any type of oil painting.
Landscape painting is one of the most popular subjects for painters working in the medium of oils--from classic masters to contemporary artists. In The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting, established Watson-Guptill author and noted instructor/painter Suzanne Brooker presents the fundamentals necessary for mastering landscape oil painting, breaking landscapes down into component parts: sky, terrain, trees, and water. Each featured element builds off the previous, with additional lessons on the latest brushes, paints, and other tools used by artists. Key methods like observation, rendering, and color mixing are supported by demonstration paintings and samples from a variety of the best landscape oil painters of all time. With The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting, oil painters looking to break into landscape painting or enhance their work will find all the necessary ingredients for success.
Brooker breaks down landscapes into their various elements--including the earth, water, air, and trees--to convey how the fundamentals of drawing are applied to capture each aspect. Using the graphite pencil as her baseline instrument, Brooker provides you with step-by-step lessons that help you improve your rendering skills and re-create the beauty of the world outdoors.
Examples from art history and contemporary masters supplement these lessons. The end result is a drawing instruction book that provides artists with everything they need to render landscapes no matter their skill level.
Juliette has more than 25 years of art experience and is the director of the Aristides Classical Atelier at the prestigious Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. She is the author of four books, and her artwork is featured in galleries across the country.
Juliette is a modern master of the classical technique and a gifted teacher able to explain both the how and the why behind each brushstroke and each decision. The classical technique she teaches is perfect for both "the thinker" and "the feeler" within you.
Get the same world-class training that Juliette teaches at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle (and in international workshops).
In our studio, Juliette created an inspirational 8-hour demonstration — a step-by-step tutorial on classical figure painting allowing us to "peek behind the curtain" to see how it’s really done.
Follow this tutorial, and Juliette will take you by the hand and show you how to go from the very first steps of posing your model and preparing your materials......to adding the final details to a figure painting full of life.
We’ve placed the entire 8 hours of instruction (plus an exclusive one-on-one interview) in a video titled: The Secrets of Classical Painting
It is intended for intermediate to advanced painters who already have a rudimentary knowledge and skill level in oil painting techniques and materials. Kegler’s commentary during the film explains his philosophy and processes of traditional Plein air painting. His technique mirrors the efforts of the Hudson River School greats of the mid- 1800s such as Durand, Cole, and Church. The final painting reveals a deep connection and understanding of his subject.
Mandy Theis, president and co-founder of The Da Vinci Initiative, was interviewed by Daniel Digriz of the Thriving Artist Podcast. The interview delves into the necessity for traditional training in the visual arts, how realism has become a counter-culture movement in art and the need to educate the public on becoming art collectors.
Skill-Based Art Website: A Learning Resource for Art Students & Teachers
What is An Atelier?
Ateliers are schools that train students in realism skills. They are often lead by one teacher who inherited hundreds of years of collective artistic information from another atelier-trained artist.
For example, Paul Ingbretson currently runs an atelier in Manchester, New Hampshire. He trained with R.H. Ives Gammell, who trained under William McGregor Paxton, who trained under Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose lineage goes all the way back to Jacques-Louis David.
Contemporary atelier training often requires 2-6 years of full-time study. It is common for atelier students to spend 3-4 hours every day with a live figure model, and an additional 3-4 hours per day on still life and other projects.
Usually, students work only in charcoal for the first year of training. Drawing skills are honed during this time.
Second-year students often begin training in painting, sometimes in Grisaille. Grisaille is a method of painting in black and white. The idea is that students will master paint handling skills before adding the additional component of painting in color.
Third year students usually paint with a limited or full color palette. This warm/cool training is an integral part of the curriculum at many ateliers, including the Aristides Atelier in Seattle, Washington.
Most ateliers are not accredited. However some, such as The Florence Academy of Art, offer associate's degrees to their atelier students. Some are partnered with accredited colleges to offer credit for studying with them, such as Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Others, like the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, incorporate some atelier training into their degree and certificate programs.
Anyone who is interested in learning how to paint in a realistic manner or in a classical tradition is highly encouraged to attend an atelier. The gaming industry, motion graphics industry, and fine art market judge artists based on portfolios. Serious students who intend to pursue these career paths should attend an atelier for their artistic training.
Drawing above by Mandy Theis
She exhibits in one person and group shows nationally including a solo exhibition, “Observations” at the Reading Public Museum of Art in Reading—Pennsylvania, an upcoming exhibition called 'A life's work' at the Customs House Museum in Clarksville TN, and her 4th Atelier show at the Maryhill museum of art. Click below to listen to the podcast.