Beginning Drawing Atelier: A review

Beginning Drawing Atelier An Instructional Sketchbook by Juliette Aristides

” The only thing is to see.” August Rodin

Learning to see is the first step in improving your drawing skills. I love to draw but it has been a hit and miss affair. I’ve read book after book about drawing with little impact on my skill level. I am always searching and ready to try one more book , so I ordered ” Beginning Drawing Atelier, An Instructional Sketchbook” by Juliette Aristides. Hmmm… an instructional sketchbook, will this help me learn to see and draw?

Cover photograph of Beginning Drawing Atelier
Beginning Drawing Atelier An Instructional Sketchbook. Used with permission of the author

Juliette Aristides is the author of several beautiful books on drawing and painting all deeply rooted in the classical teaching tradition of the atelier. She is the founder and instructor of The Classical Atelier at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, WA. She conducts workshops nationally and internationally. An active artist, her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is a prominent advocate for art instruction in the classical style, co-founding the Da Vinci initiative which promotes skill based art instruction for public school educators.

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of an instructional sketchbook and was not disappointed. It is apparent that a lot of thought went into the presentation and design of this book. All with the ultimate goal in mind, teaching a beginner the foundations and key concepts of drawing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, not only for the invaluable instruction and the thoughtful way it is presented, but also, personal anecdotes from the author give a warm and friendly feel to this book, as if the author is in the room with me, as I make my way through the pages. Pertinent quotes are sprinkled through out and useful analogies to explain concepts make this book so down to earth and unintimidating . I really looked forward to the time I spent with this book each day and began to think of it as my sketchbook.

Images of drawings from old and new masters are presented as examples then presented again ghosted so that I can actually draw on them. I found this to be tremendously helpful. Noticing the difference between my drawn line and that of the master helped illustrate how they used the principles to achieve the qualities of a great drawing. It forced me to closely observe and begin to see critical nuances. I was immediately able to put the concepts together thanks to the step by step progression of the basic principles. Concepts such as block ins and value mapping are broken down into several steps, with blank pages provided in between, allowing the reader to practice the concept. If I felt uncertain during the practice, I simply consulted the step by step images provided. The quality of the paper is wonderful for drawing, substantial enough that it did not buckle and allowed for eraser and working in layers.

Step by step progression
Step by step progression. Used with permission of the author.

As I progressed through the lessons of each chapter, I began to feel more confident. I realized that I was learning a framework for constructing a drawing which would serve me well. No more guess work. I learned how to measure, check proportion and angles, became familiar with finding shapes, and setting up the armature of my drawing.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on shape. It is challenging to find patterns and shapes within an image in order to simplify the subject. This chapter explained how to do that and was an eye opener for me. This particular skill is crucial for an artist and now I am able to see the shapes and patterns used to create a dynamic but not over worked piece. Now I am looking at master works and analyzing how these pictures were constructed, I can see things that were invisible to me before. I’m learning to see!

Portrait drawing practice
Portrait drawing practice. Used with permission of the author.

This book promises to teach the basic principles of drawing from first lines through to the finished drawing and will do so by allowing the reader to write and sketch in the book along with the written instruction. I think it is a brilliant presentation. The last chapter in this now treasured book is about portraits. Gulp! But, with her usual calm and, Yes! You can do this!… approach, Juliette reminds us that a face is no different than a still life or landscape. The same principles apply. And so, I begin. Step by step creating a portrait. Did this book deliver on it’s promise?

Yes! This book is a gem in my collection of art books and I treasure it. My work with this book has prompted me to start a daily drawing practice in addition to my studio and plein air practice and I can’t wait to see the changes I know will happened with my artwork!

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