As opposed to popular belief, the master draughtsman doesn’t copy what they see; they capture the gestalt, the simplest known visual aspects of the subject at hand. 

Drawing/design is, at its core, a creative decision-making process. The first task is to identify and quantify the model’s visual aspects, followed by a determination of which of those aspects will best inform the viewer.

Not all visual elements are created equal.

(No two people should arrive at the same visual solution, If they do they are not learning to draw they are learning to copy and learning to reproduce a facsimile of one’s subject has been significantly overrated as of late.)

Drawings number one requirement is to understand the subject in visual terms as well as physical terms. ‘One cannot draw what they don’t understand, they can copy it, but they can’t draw it.

They can replicate the surface appearance but will be unable to convey the figures essential visual aspects.

The master draughtsman has to have an optical knowledge base as well as a visceral physical one. They have to understand their subject in both a visual and sensual context. 

One cannot draw a believable figure without knowledge of figure structure, function, and form. They can’t paint a believable sailing vessel without knowledge of sails and rigging.

Understanding and the acquisition of a knowledge base is paramount and learning to draw, without it you won’t get anywhere near mastery.  

The Phrase: ‘Artists draw what they see’ is a myth and other artist’s see they do not know how to draw.”

Many, would be, practitioners, fall on their sword over this issue, and yes they are wrong. They would prey on those in search of pat answers, ready-made solutions, and authentic recipes.

“There are no recipes for creativity, only raw ingredients.”

Unfortunately, spending countless hours alone working in solitude shrouded in self-doubt produces an abundant supply of candidates who find solace in communal conformity.

The belief that there is a magic bullet, a traditional technique, a pied-piper path to perfection has led thousands into the abyss of mindless mimesis never to return.

“Have no fear of perfection you will never reach it.” -Salvador Dali- 

Nothing of mastery is easy, but it is considerably more rewarding than tedious, monotonous, shape-aping, tonal-trancing, and the aforementioned mindless mimesis.

To set forth the premise that one needs to take their brain out to the equation for a predetermined length of time until they fully assimilate basic skills-sets is not only self-serving, it is dangerous. 

Thinking is a skill-set that needs to develop in unison with your eye and hand. If your brain is not in the equation, you are wasting precious time.

To draw is to understand, to understand one has to engage one’s brain.

The first thing for the draughtsman to wrap your brain around is the formal visual alphabet. The usual suspects are a point, horizontal line, vertical line, diagonal line, and a curved line.

Since we all should know by now that there are no lines in nature and they only appear as the edge of a plane, and planes are always part of a form, we are going skip over the obvious and go directly to form.

The cube is the mothership and gives birth to all the other form-units. Mass conception is given birth by straight lines and the HWD which becomes the foundational building block in the creation of illusion.

The Draughtsman FORMal Alphabet.

EX. 1. The Cube

EX. 2. The Pyramid

EX. 3. The Polyhedral Square

EX. 4. The Polyhedral Cylinder  

EX. 5. The Cone

EX. 5. The Cylinder

Drawing/Designing (Disegno) in the western tradition revolves mainly around creating the illusion of a third dimension through various means, not the least of which is the juxtaposition of geometric solids in space.

enaissance masters were engineers, mathematicians, architects, inventors, chemists, botanists, biologists, anatomist and yes they did an occasional painting or two.

It needs to be pointed out that in the Renaissance ‘mastery’ was dependent on a solid knowledge of geometry ‘Let no one read my principles who is not a mathematician.’ _Leonardo_ and other disciplines. For today’s ateliers to claim a lineage to classical tradition without including a solid foundation in mathematics and geometry points out how bogus that hypothetical backstory is. The so-called ‘Classical Realist movement’ is making little or no attempt to train artists in the Renaissance tradition or even the Beau-Arts tradition. Quite the opposite, the emphasis of most ‘Classical Realists’ ateliers is not knowledge-based it is craft-based. Their programs are more akin to medieval craft-guilds than Renaissance Bottegas complete with their own pattern book. (The Charles Bargue Drawing Course)

This amounts to a methodical dumbing down of today’s practitioners. The needed information is readily available from other sources but in many cases, students are discouraged from pursuing those sources because they need to keep them bound to their ateliers.

In Richard Lack’s little book he admonishes students for doing work outside of his guidance which is about the most ridiculous self-serving piece of garbage ever written. Although this little book says many if the right things and quotes many of the right sources, the conclusions are ludicrous.

“I had never seen such skillfully crafted drawings. They were ‘detailed and finished.’ They almost looked like ‘photographs.’ This little blurb is from the intro of the book was written by Gary B. Christensen and provides the potential draughtsman with several words that they should take heed of craft, detail, finish, and photographs.

The whole premise of this book is to lay the groundwork for the ‘Atelier System’ as we know it today. It would have you buy into the notion that this is how it was done in Renaissance Bottegas. A glance at the master drawing to the left will show you they knew their ‘craft.‘ They also knew it relied little on ‘detail’ or ‘finish.’ And of course the camera wouldn’t be invented for another few hundred years.

This drawing was done by a Lack student and is an example of copying at its worst.

H.R. Ives Gammell Lack’s Mentor is often credited, or should we say blamed, as the source of the ‘Sight-size’ method of mindless mimesis. However, what Gammell taught was a one-to-one comparative observation. The side-by-side Sight-Size method of methodical measuring originated at ‘Atelier Lack’ in Minneapolis.

These programs are fundamentally designed to take a long time to complete and only under the watchful eye of a ‘Master.’ They propagate the myth that their ‘method’ has a ‘classical lineage.’ There is no tangible evidence this lineage ever existed. Even if it had, it ended abruptly with Gammell and Lack neither one of which could draw. 

This is where they would like you to believe that this is where their lineage came from, and there is obviously no evidence of ‘sight-size.’ to be found here. These students are not copying the model; they are learning from it. When they worked from life, they didn’t copy it; they studied it.

As one can see, from the studio scenes above that this is not under the watchful eye of a master who was rarely in attendance more than once a week. The Master would come in on occasion and do a class demo and would rarely give individual critiques. Individual instruction was generally carried out by an advanced student. There is much to learn in the studio because one can see the work and progress of many other students. During cold weather, they spent long hours in museums doing master studies. They focused on how the works were done not on copying the results.

Here are a few examples of how academic drawings are done when observation is coupled with inFORMation. The first group is from The Art Students League of New York; the second group is from Russian and Chinese academies.

What is evident here is the life in life drawing. Regardless of the attention on naturalism and the focus on surface correctness, they understood that there is a living breathing person under the surface. This has disappeared in 90+ percent of modern-day ‘Classical Realist’ ateliers. So much attention is focused on duplicating what is in front of them, they are not seeing or observing… merely copying.

Atelier programs focus far too much on copying and too little on learning how to learn. These programs can be done in half the time if one is relatively advanced and is willing to put in the time. Changing the focus from photographic mimesis to ‘UNDERSTANDING’ would allow time to learn the ‘RUDIMENTARY’ drawing and design systems needed to become master draughtsman.

We acknowledge that these programs have turned out successful painters despite themselves, which brings us to the next point. Most of those that have succeeded had considerable experience before attending a ‘Classical Realist’ atelier. Many having attended full-time programs at other more traditional institutions, some more than one. The better Ateliers are run by professionals with years of training in multiple disciplines. Many schools offer more well-rounded programs, such as Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia, The New York Academy of Art, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, to name a few. There are a lot of options out there, so do the research. Of course, if you want to hang out in Florence for a few years, that another story.

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