- Web extra: A visit to Atelier Hawaiʻi
Every summer Windward Community College’s art studios host the buzzing activity of Atelier Hawaiʻi students, 24 artists-in-training.
Amid white plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman busts and a forest of easels, stools, drawing horses and platforms, they dab and daub at canvas and paper, spending as much time on intent observation as applying their charcoal and paint.
In the center of the apparent clutter stands Snowden Hodges, program director, chief instigator and the calm center that keeps everything going. Tall, thin, bearded with a full head of graying hair, Hodges might remind you of Don Quixote, minus the delusions. He moves from student to student, stopping to point out a proportion problem or demonstrate a shading technique.
“There’s a huge interest in realism again,” Hodges points out. “Many of the art world academics think we’re dinosaurs but I think we’re cutting edge, right where the action is happening now.”
He started Atelier Hawaiʻi because, he says, “the techniques have just never been improved on and they lend themselves to any subject matter.”
Atelier Hawaiʻi, now seven years old, is inspired by the traditional Italian atelier, or studio, approach to art education, consisting of four to five years of painstaking apprenticeship.
Hodges has taken the heart of atelier teaching—primarily the sight-size technique (lining up the drawing and the model to be visually equivalent)—and condensed it into an intense six-week, 40-hour-per-week program. During that time, students follow a classical approach to realistic drawing and painting with an emphasis on portraiture and figure work.
Hodges learned the atelier approach while studying in Florence, Italy. He is assisted by Norman Graffam, a UH Mānoa MFA graduate with paintings in collections across the country and several years teaching experience. They act as guides, demonstrating technique and critiquing their students’ work.
Few atelier programs are offered in the United States. Atelier Hawaiʻi is the only accelerated program, Hodges says. In a remarkably short time, his students emerge with the ability to accurately render light, tone and form, techniques that serve them well whether they’re producing classical portraits or abstracts.
“The level of students we get is amazing,” says Hodges. “They draw like angels.”
This isn’t art 101. Prospective students submit a drawing portfolio with their application for the program. They are serious enough to pay $1,100 for non-credit tuition or $1,260 ($1,488 non-resident students) for six college credits.
The students are enthusiastic, both about the skills they acquire and the teaching method. Jerry Mayfield attended the program twice. “In the atelier you really have the feeling you are experiencing the ambiance of an artistic experience in the 1700s in Italy,” he says. “It is truly an ‘Old World and Old Masters’ experience.”
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens honed their technical skills this way. Immersion in the atelier brings modern students in touch with methods that inspired and challenged artists throughout the ages.
The 2009 Atelier Hawaiʻi program concluded July 10. Watch the atelier website, for information on future programs or call (808) 235-7433 for a non-credit application or (808) 235-7413 for credit applications.
A visit to Atelier Hawaiʻi
The Malamalama team visited the class and spoke with the students and instructors in the Atelier Hawaiʻi course.