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Thursday, 11 March 2021
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Mandy during her atelier training in Seattle, WA circa 2014

Do you take yourself seriously as an artist?

The new year is traditionally a time for planning hopes and dreams. It’s a time of big goal setting for how we want to shape our lives and the lives of our students. It’s that time of year where we can all take a deep breath and jump into new things. Like sky diving errr… or maybe something even scarier like taking ourselves seriously as professional artists.

Not too long ago, I remember feeling like I wanted to be a “serious” painter but thought I wasn’t able to because I was an art teacher. I felt that the whole upper echelons of the art world looked down on me, and that I had somehow ruined my chances of being taken seriously because I made the grave error of going into art education.

Boy was I wrong!
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My Journey

Nearly 10 years ago, while I was teaching K-12 art in a small, rural school district in Montana, I read a book by Juliette Aristides titled Classical Drawing Atelier. This book opened my eyes to the idea that art can be taught at very high technical levels. That Rembrandt didn’t wake up painting like Rembrandt – he trained for many years in an atelier to achieve his technical proficiency.

What a revolution to realize that the painters I admired most – Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Augusta Savage – ALL trained in ateliers. Even more amazing is when I realized these schools still exist.
From that point forward, I did everything I could to acquire an atelier education and share this knowledge with other art teachers. In fact, I am very proud to share with all of you that the School of Atelier Arts has partnered with another contemporary atelier – The Florence Academy of Art – to create a Master’s Degree program designed with art teachers in mind. You can now earn your accredited Master’s in Studio Art in just 3 summers with both remote and in-person options available.

Where is YOUR journey taking you?

I hope this is the year that you take your own art seriously and start your journey with teachers from all over the country under the tutelage of atelier instructors. This is the year that, like Da Vinci, you can train in an atelier to master the craft of drawing and painting. Make this the year that you start earning your Master’s degree (and that pay bump!) and elevate yourself to the realm of “serious artist” with an astounding new skillset.

I’ll be cheering you on all the way!

What does your dream Master’s Degree program look like? Let me know in the comments below!


Mandy Theis is the Director of School of Atelier Arts & Author of Department of Aesthetics Blog. Join her monthly newsletter for free art lessons and other delights.

Thursday, 11 March 2021
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Tree Study by John Ruskin (1819-1900) Ruskin Foundation, Ruskin Library, Lancaster University

“That woman poached a couch and skinned it!”
This what my friend and fellow painter exclaimed to me in a coffee shop one day.  I glanced up to see a woman wearing a rather unflattering plaid coat, and he was right, there was something about that particular pattern that just screamed “COUCH!” 

As fellow artists, we started to analyze the visual conundrum before us. Why exactly was that particular plaid so couchy when many other plaids went unnoticed?  Several cups of coffee later we concluded that the size of the plaid was smaller and tighter like is often seen on upholstery, and that the texture of the coat also lent it a 1980’s couch vibe.

Now, perhaps to some people spending an hour analyzing why a visual stimulus creates a certain feeling would seem frivolous. However, training your eye to see better brings all sorts of visual effects into focus, often in interesting and informative ways. I can only imagine how many people felt something unusual when seeing that woman’s coat but did not know what it was. By looking carefully with a trained eye it becomes easier to identify when you are being visually manipulated by a coat to think “COUCH!”.
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I used to live on a street with the sassiest tree you ever saw.

Coats aren’t the only inanimate objects with the ability to manipulate your visual senses. I used to live on a street with the sassiest tree you ever saw. I mean, this tree had attitude. The gesture of this tree just oozed sass.

​To give you an idea of what it looked like, it grew from the space between the sidewalk and the road, and for the first few feet from the ground the trunk raised up in the expected direction. Now I don’t know what this tree’s growing years were like, but there was a somewhat sudden curve in the trunk towards the street, and then an equally sudden curvature back towards the sidewalk. The effect was truly unique – it looked exactly like the tree was sticking out it’s hip over the street, as if to dare any passing car not to stop and ask what was wrong. It was the gesture I make when I can’t believe my boyfriend is asking me to do my half-load of laundry directly after washing his own half-load without including mine. You know, the “are you kidding me?” hands-on-thrust-out-hip gesture.

I made a habit of pointing out the sassy tree to my neighbors, and we all found community and joy in knowing that our neighborhood boasted the sassiest tree on the planet. Not many other neighborhoods can say that. The fanciest and most exclusive living communities in the world would not be able to replicate our tree if they tried – the gesture was too perfect, forged through years of the circumstance that created it, and it was ours to revel in.

When you spend time learning how to draw or paint, what you are really practicing is your seeing. When you are constantly asking yourself “what makes this thing look like this thing?” you subconsciously start asking yourself that every time visual input happens in your life, whether in a coffee shop or walking down the street. Poached couches and sassy trees – these are just a few of the visual delights that await the practiced observer.

Mandy Theis is a classically trained artist and certified K-12 art teacher based in the NYC area. You can follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartistWhat visual delights bring YOU joy? Leave your comments below 🙂

Thursday, 11 March 2021
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How to un-banish a color from your wardrobe and find the right version of it for you.

I used to think that I could NOT wear the color yellow. “Ugh,” I thought when I saw yellow. Or I would see the cutest shirt but not even try it on because I assumed yellow just wasn’t for me. But the truth was that I just didn’t know how to find the right yellow for my coloring.

So how do you turn your list of banned colors into the right colors that actually look great on you?

The key is to look at lots and lots of variations of the color you think you cannot wear. It’s best to be methodical here in order to find the best version of the color for you. Luckily for us, artists have a great way to organize color, and I am going to take you through an artist thought process in this article to help you find the perfect version of your most challenging clothing color.

In this example, I will talk about my former nemesis, yellow, but you can substitute this method for any color that is giving you trouble.

Try Changing the Lightness and Darkness of the Color

The first step when using an artist’s thought process to think about color is to consider how light or dark the color is. So when I was searching for my perfect yellow, I tried on garments with very dark versions of it (deep mustard) very light versions of it (pale yellow rose) and every level of light and dark in between. Keep notes about your discoveries. Which ones looked good with your coloring? Which ones were obvious “no’s”?

Pro Tip: Even if you are SURE that a certain color will look terrible on you, try it on anyways. The colors that teach you about what doesn’t work are just as informative for guiding your search as the color you are ultimately looking for.

I discovered that my best version of yellow was pretty light in value, and that dark yellows were definite “no’s” for me.

Try Changing Which Direction the Color Leans

After finding light and dark yellows, the next thing I did was start playing with yellows that leaned towards orange (sunflower) and yellows that leaned towards green (lemon) on the color wheel. Artists call this changing the “hue” or describe it as “warm” (for leaning towards orange) or “cool” (for leaning towards green).

Here is a quick reference for every color:

Warm red – Stop Sign Red (leans towards orange)
Cool Red – Maroon (Lean towards purple)

Warm orange – Sweet potato – leans towards red
Cool Orange – Sun – leans towards yellow

Warm Green – Spring Grass – leans towards yellow
Cool Green – Kentucky Blue Grass -leans towards blue

Warm Blue – Cerulean – leans towards yellow
Cool Blue – Indigo – leans towards purple

Warm Purple – Grapes – leans towards red
Cold Purple – Violet – leans towards blue

I discovered that I needed a yellow that was not too warm and not too cool to match my coloring. My best yellow was almost exactly in the middle of all the warm and cool yellows I tried on.

Try Changing the Intensity of the ​Color

The last variable is sometimes the trickiest for artists to describe. The intensity of a color is how pure it is versus how neutral it is.

For example, when I was looking for different intensities of yellow I tried on yellows that almost burned my retinas with how intense they were (neon yellow) and yellows that were so dull that they barely count as yellows (dirty honey). There are, of course, all the version of yellow in between dull and intense as well. Think of it as a scale with neon yellow on one end and dirty honey on the other. In-between intensities might include dandelion – less intense than neon yellow but more intense than dirty honey.

My New BFF, Sunny Butter

At the end of my experiment I discovered that a light-colored, somewhat intense yellow that was neither too warm nor too cold was just right for me. I like to think of it as “Sunny Butter” when I am looking for that cute swimsuit or winter scarf to bring a little of that wrongfully exiled color into my wardrobe.

By following this artist method for thinking about color, you will discover that all colors have these three variables to them – lightness/darkness, warm/cool, and intense/dull. You can run this experiment for every color to greatly expand your wardrobe choices.

Yes, you CAN wear that color, you just have to find the right variation of it for you.

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