Maddy is mad about LFAS!

Hi, I’m Maddy. I’m one term in at the London Fine Art Studios and I’m feeling inspired and excited for the next one. For a long time I neglected an interest in art that had, back in secondary school, been fostered by some inspiring and joyful art teachers. Now, 10 years on and I’m back – spurred on by a want to rediscover the creativity and enjoyment I experienced in a studio environment, and to see how far I could push myself technically. I count myself lucky that LFAS is open and thriving and I’m able to join in the art community here.

My primary aim of studying at LFAS is to improve my draughting skills, because good drawing is fundamental to good painting, and probably to a great deal of good art, in my opinion. I’m seeking both the confidence and the ability to commit to paper both what I can see and what exists in my imagination, rather than either: a) relying almost entirely on compositions created from photographs – which is primarily how I used to draw, or b) not doing any drawing at all.

LFAS is one of a relatively small number of unique schools of art around the world that teach students in the ‘atelier’ tradition that many of the most brilliant and famous old masters originally studied in. In an absolute nutshell, it’s all about learning how to draw, as objectively as possible, what you can see. Perhaps most importantly – and the biggest challenge – is that everything is taught and practiced ‘from life’ (as opposed to referring to photographs). It’s about figuring out the techniques you can use to convincingly translate what our eyes and brains allow us to see from the 3D world onto a 2D surface like a piece of paper or canvas. I’ve also heard it referred to as the ‘grammar’ of painting. Like learning to drive a car or speak a new language, the skill of being able to recreate what you can see and/or imagine with a stick of charcoal or some oil paint and a brush has to be understood and practiced. Working this way also means I’m learning to appreciate the hard work of many artists whom I admire much more.

In my first term I have been working through LFAS’s Foundation module. This has been the backbone of my first 10 weeks. Each of the 10 Foundation classes are 3 hours long (i.e. one morning each week). The tutor goes into depth on the principles that fundamentally underpin how a drawing or painting is created and how it looks and we practice them by drawing sculptures and plaster casts. These make great subjects as they’re 3D, you get lots of cool shadows to work with, and they don’t move!

Alongside the Foundation module, as I’m studying full time, I’ve been able to immediately start applying those principles to other modules that run in the rest of the week such as figure/life drawing, still life and portraiture. I’m finding the latter the most challenging and fascinating at the moment and where I think (read: hope!) my most significant improvements will show.

A great strength of a school like this is that it’s supportive, practical, and hands-on from the moment you begin. You not only work next to students of all different levels and ages, the environment means you also pick up all the things you didn’t realise that you didn’t know or couldn’t remember – like how to know where to start your drawing, where to position your first lines on the page, how big your page should be, how to sharpen your pencils properly, and how to make sure your palette lands face up when you drop it (ok, nobody has taught me that last one yet – something to work on LFAS?!)

My advice to someone starting out would be to consider taking a few notes of the key points of classes so you can remember what the tutor was saying to you. I didn’t do this much in my first term and I regret it! It’s always a challenge to explain out loud some interesting concept you learned that day (e.g. about how light behaves when it hits a particular surface and how to capture that effect in a cool way in your drawing).

Treat the classes like your ‘art gym’ where you’re training your eye and your hand to work together, and be patient. Even if your day was frustrating, if you take lots of photos of your work you will be able to look back after just a few weeks or days (or even minutes), figure out where you went wrong, and be motivated by knowing how much better it’ll come out when you try again.

Enjoy the adventure!

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