The program of study naturally begins with a focus on intensive drawing, since drawing is the foundation upon which all great representational art is built. Throughout a student’s training, emphasis is placed on accuracy, or more specifically: seeing and rendering correctly such things as line quality, hard and soft edges, gesture, proportion, positive and negative space, abstract shape and form and the full range of values. Students begin by copying a few small drawings in pencil and one larger drawing in charcoal. These drawings were produced by Charles Bargue (1825-1883) in a publication called Cours de dessin (Drawing Course), which was designed to assist beginning students learn to draw objects and figures realistically and accurately from life.
Next, students copy an uncomplicated plaster cast from life using charcoal and white paper. In this stage, the student makes the transition from copying two-dimensional drawings to copying three-dimensional forms. It marks the beginning of cast work, which will occupy a good deal of a students training for some time. Throughout the period where students are copying casts, they strive to continually refine their skills in accurate drawing and correctly rendering the full range of values (light, halftone and shadow). They will also be assigned additional exercises at this stage, which will help them with their cast work and build confidence. Students continue copying progressively more difficult casts, using only charcoal, until they are ready for the next stage of drawing which is copying casts on toned paper using charcoal and white chalk. At that stage, the process is a little more like painting in that both the highlights and shadows are applied to a toned ground.
Students may also be introduced to etching and drawing in silver point when their drawing skills reach a suitable level of proficiency.
When students have successfully progressed through the drawing stages of the curriculum, they are ready to begin painting casts. They begin painting casts in a monochromatic technique called grisaille (black and white), which is an excellent means of making the transition from drawing to painting in oil. When the grisaille work has been successfully completed, students begin their first color oil studies of simple and uncomplicated still life subjects. The palette is limited to just four basic colors: black, white, red and yellow. Not only does this keep things simple at the start, but also compels students to explore the surprisingly wide range of colors one can achieve with this very limited palette. Projects will increase in complexity until a student is considered ready for the final stage of the curriculum where they are introduced to a full color palette with all of its exciting challenges and nearly limitless potential.
Advanced students periodically have the unique opportunity of working literally side-by-side with their instructor as each of them creates his or her own painting from the same shared model or still life.
Figure & Portrait
While students are working through the cast drawing and painting stages of the curriculum, they will be spending an equal amount of time and energy on drawing and painting the figure from life. Half the workday is devoted to life drawing or painting. Students have the opportunity to execute careful and detailed studies of the human figure during the long poses at SARA, where models assume the same pose, day after day, over a period of a few weeks. There are also occasional shorter poses of a few hours or one or two days. In addition, once each week there are gesture drawings with the model assuming quick poses lasting only a minute or two.
The opportunity to draw and paint the portrait is available to everyone once a week, but only advanced students will receive formal portrait instruction. Typically, there are also other, more casual opportunities to work on portraiture organized by the students themselves. As with the cast work, students will begin figure work in pencil, progressing to charcoal, then to charcoal with white chalk, grisaille, limited palette and finally the full palette. Portraiture is begun in charcoal.