Painting like the Masters

July 28th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Features, July 2009, Multimedia  |  10 Comments

woman working on a drawing of a bust reproduction

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.

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  1. ramona wong says:

    July 30th, 2009at 9:13 pm(#)

    As a healthcare professional, I have had little time to explore art, but have always hoped to do so. Atelier Hawaii intrigues and excites the possible artist within me. What first steps or suggested first classes would be suggested for someone like me – a novice with interest but unclear aptitude, soon to have more time to devote to exploration?

  2. ED TOTTEN says:

    July 31st, 2009at 8:07 am(#)

    Fantastic! I was a student of Ken Kingrey’s, back in the 60′s. The Old Masters were studied only in art history classes. But now these students are getting into the techniques! Marvelous!

  3. Bonnie Beatson says:

    July 31st, 2009at 9:35 am(#)

    Great job capturing the people of Atelier Hawaii. I got a good sense of their accomplishments from instructor and student testimony.

  4. George Hoskin says:

    July 31st, 2009at 11:14 am(#)

    This is good; warms an old geezer’s heart. Anyone really worthy of being an artist must master techniques and realism. Picasso did and he became a pioneer in taking art in new directions. He truly created and evolved as an artist- and the world seems to have recognized his accomplishment. Anyone thinking they can skip the step of learning to draw and just needs to slop paint onto canvas, assuming their emotion is all that is needed to be a creator of “modern art”, produces neither an intellectual nor an artistic addition for humanity.

  5. Darin Hajime says:

    August 3rd, 2009at 5:42 pm(#)

    @Ramona – I’d check out the Outreach College, non-credit course listings:

    Or the Honolulu Academy of Art:

  6. Jonathan Busse says:

    August 5th, 2009at 10:27 pm(#)

    Mahalo to Bonnie and crew for a great job on the article and video! I have taken the atelier twice and assisted/participated in all the others. Courses that I attended as an undergraduate at “another institution” touched on some of ideas that are explored in the atelier, however there was little time to explore any of these ideas in depth before we moved on to another technique. The atelier is fast paced and requires a bit of stamina, but allows students to practice the concepts to their completion. The result is that when a drawing or painting is completed, wether it is successful or not, the artist leaves with knowledge of the process and steps to provide a strong foundation for further exploration. If you think the price is steep, take a look at the cost of some of the other atelier programs around the country or in Europe. Mahalo to Snowden and Norm for another wonderful session. I think I have finally recovered!

  7. Michael O'Hara says:

    August 17th, 2009at 7:04 pm(#)

    Glad to see so many of my photographs used in the David and Wendie McClain video. It was a pleasure to have been associated with the University of Hawaii as System Photographer, 2007-2008.

  8. Portrait artist Anna Bregman says:

    February 17th, 2011at 8:37 am(#)

    It’s great to know there are still places you can get an academic education in draughting and painting. Even if its importance in the area of fine art has seen to be lessened there are still so many disciplines like conservation, portraiture and scenography where a rigorous training like this is necessary.

  9. jameskdom says:

    March 10th, 2011at 11:23 pm(#)

    Is that girl listening to a music or she just covering her ears so she won’t be disturbed or distracted by sounds and stay focus on her painting?

  10. Robert says:

    November 20th, 2011at 11:27 am(#)

    I am ready for your next class! Where do I sign up?