You may have seen the word “atelier” on my website or have heard it used by other artsy people and wondered what it means. Atelier is a French word used to refer to a professional artist’s private studio or workshop. Traditionally, students and apprentices would learn their craft by working under a master artist in their atelier to produce pieces of fine art. Students of all ages would work together in the studio, with younger ones performing simple tasks and progressively working their way up over many years until they became journeymen, and eventually masters themselves. This was the standard method of teaching fine arts in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.
In my own studio, I teach children realistic drawing and painting in an atelier-inspired way, modified to be kid-friendly and to fit into modern lives. I’ve kept essentials of traditional atelier training, such as the workshop format with mixed ages and abilities creating side-by-side under a master’s guidance. I’ve dropped practices that aren’t suitable for today’s children, such as requiring years of menial tasks and training before being allowed to create their own works of art. I’ve also added some methods and practices informed by my degree in education to make the learning more organized, accessible and enjoyable for children, such as keeping very small class sizes, allowing for self-guided learning, and organizing the material into units that relate to and build on each other.
The benefits of my method of atelier learning are many. The environment mimics real-world learning, where people of mixed ages and levels interact with and learn from each other in a more natural way than most of today’s classrooms. Teaching and guiding various children working in the same space on different projects creates a rich and dynamic learning environment. Younger students are inspired by older students, and older students have the opportunity to provide encouragement and support to younger ones. Also, by combining self-guided and teacher-guided learning, I am able to keep the students engaged while also making sure they are learning in a progressive and meaningful way. Consequently, I am able to inspire my students to push themselves to try harder and work longer than they might otherwise when creating on their own. And most importantly, my atelier method teaches them not only how to draw and paint, but teaches them perseverance, delayed-gratification, critical thinking, and dedication, which is something frequently missing in today’s “instant” and “easy” culture. These are rare qualities that can be carried into any endeavor they may pursue throughout their lives.