The Russian Academic method of art training is a progressive course of study rooted in the Fundamentals of Classicism. It is thorough and intensive, but also intuitive and effective. The goal of every realist artist is not merely how to depict values and an observational image of the human form, but how to compose those forms with detailed understanding into a setting with relative color and light. Observational drawing is a stage in the rendering process. It is crucial to take solutions and inspiration from nature, but life is often vague—areas of intense light have no visible forms; areas of color are too complex and dirty when copied; or, areas in shadow have limited information; so on, and so on. Knowing what should be there will give an understanding to what you can't observe, and a foundation for your inspiration from nature to live on. If we only develop our abiliy to observe we will find nature a poor model, be it a landscape, figure, or vase. A painting or drawing is a performance, and as in all artistic performances, study and knowledge gives freedom of expression. For this reason, a study of the Elements of Visual Design, anatomy, geometric construction, and color are all areas of focus.
At the Russian Academic Atelier focus is given to working from life, with the understanding that we do not copy from nature—we take from it inspiration which informs the knowledge we have. We are taking from nature, adding our knowledge and experience, and rebuilding an expressive, believable representation. There are essential details and solutions in nature which we take to give characteristic life to our work, but in order to freely and effectively create a drawing or painting an artist must have an image beforehand in their mind of what they want to depict, both as a whole and in areas of detail. This preconceived image has much more clarity if you have a knowledge of anatomy, the laws of form, and a sense for color. Anatomy. Rendering. Color. —Structure. Value. Light. Anatomy is structure. Form is value. Color is light. The more these fundamentals are ingrained the freer your mind can form the image you want to paint or draw. In short, expression is free when you aren't troubled with the technical aspects of painting and drawing.
In the Russian Academic method every artist begins with the basics. As previously stated, every work of art is a performance. A musician doesn't begin with scales, but with how to make a note. A writer doesn't begin with words, but with how to make a letter. In painting and drawing, we begin with geometric form. In this method of study, you begin by drawing and painting basic shapes to learn perspective, rendering values, and an eye for accurate proportions. Study of geometric forms also develops in our mind the direction of planes and their relative position to light—a key aspect to understanding color.
Right away students also start with painting color studies, plein air, Mastercopy, anatomy, time with the live model, and the handling of various mediums. These exercises are applied to projects in a progressive and intuitive course of study, from simple shapes, to still-life, to casts, to drapery, to portrait, to full figure, to multi-figure.
These rudimentary practices build towards an artist's ability to not only render proportionate, descriptive form, but to give it accurate color in relation to the surroundings. To understand color, and not simply struggle to copy it, we must understand that the orientation of planes describes an objects color. Light is color. Form is value.
A note on figure drawing. The practice of drawing the nude human body is a sacred one. Our bodies were created in the image of God; therefore, a study of them is a study of the culmination of perfect form. As we draw the figure in long timeframes, we add to this exercise the study from anatomical resources. Randomly or even methodically building up a figure based on observational techniques is time wasted. Observational drawing is a stage within an entire process. Moving through a staged progression in figure drawing gives us, as students, the time and focus to deeply study the forms, constructive elements, anatomy, and function of the various components of the human body. Approaching figure drawing in this manner benefits the artist in two ways. First, it eliminates confusion and being overwhelmed by the complexity of the human body. Second, if done this way, figure drawing provides an understanding, familiarity, and memorization of the human form.
From the very beginning an artist must also study the rules of Composition (elements of visual design) and apply them on every sketch, drawing, and painting. Practicing with this discipline is the only way to overcome fragmented drawing and develop the ability to compose a work. Progressive composition projects are also undertaken early on, outlining and practicing the process from concept to final work. This process, filled with various types of sketches, resolves any uncertainty concerning the preconceived image of the concept we wish to convey. That image is then transferred expressively onto the canvas with the aid of a myriad of sketches. From this intentional, studied, disciplined approach to composition artists naturally develop the necessary skill to not only use render and use paint, but to create paintings.
True freedom of expression is achieved in this way—by removing limitations and developing understanding through dedicated and thorough training. Then, and only then, can we abandon, manipulate, or utilize.