Sunday, November 7, 2010


Block-ins are the second step of the morning program. During this step, students train their eyes to accurately see and reproduce the shapes that make up an object. This image done by one of the Safehouse students shows the steps of a block-in done over one morning session (~three hours) with progress photos taken every twenty minutes, along with a photograph of the actual skull being drawn for reference.

Many students consider block-ins to be one of the most important steps of the program, as it trains an artist to be able to draw shapes as they are rather than as we think they are. Most students see immediate improvement in their sketching, figure drawing, and still life studies after beginning block-ins. For a more in-depth explanation of the block-in process, you can pick up a copy of Anthony Ryder's “The Artist's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing” .

Friday, October 8, 2010

James Gurney's Color and Light

Yesterday we had a visit from James Gurney!!!! He has been in town visiting schools and studios giving lectures and talks. We were lucky that he took time out of his busy schedule to stop by and check out the studio.
I'm sure you've all checked out his blog and if you haven't you really should. His tenacity and curiosity regarding all things pictorial is insane and it definitely shows in his last book Imaginative Realism and he's gone and done it again in his new book that will be out soon called Color and Light. He was gracious enough to let us have a sneak peek at it while he was here and I have to say it looks awesome. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Thanks Mr. Gurney for dropping by!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Selecting the Pose

Today was the first day of the long pose for the morning class. Before a pose is decided upon we've found that doing a session of gesture drawing is a great way to both get warmed up and to explore different ideas and see what happens. After our think tank of experts makes a decision on which of the poses they'd like to draw, we'll set it up and get started on the long haul to make some drawings that are more refined. When we finish those we'll post them up so you can see where all this finally wound up. Here are some of the drawings done by various students during the session.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Studio Photos

Just thought we'd share some photos of what's been going on for the last little while. It's been busy around here lately and all is falling into place. Thanks to everyone who has pitched in and helped out.

Jeremy Mann heads up construction of easels and drawing horses.

Here's the new studio on day one. It's probably the last time the floor will ever be that clean again.

We've rigged up a system of curtains so that different parts of the room can work in either natural light or artificial light depending on the current project.

Here's a photo of Lindsey Kustusch who put in some serious hours sewing all that cloth and fashioning it into those curtains. Thanks, Lindsey!!!! You rock.

Coro shows his McGiver ingenuity when he forgot his palette and uses a trash can lid as a substitute.

Mike Bierek explains the importance of thumbnails and how to work out compositions from the imagination.

Monday, August 30, 2010

When is it ever finished?

This is a common question that many of us have and the answer is somewhat elusive because each of us has our own particular goals for our work. To make it even more complicated an artist may have different purposes for different works so the answer can change depending on the immediate goal. Ultimately, the painting is done whenever it has expressed the message in the way the artist intended it to be understood. It may even mean that a piece will need to be done more than once before you get it right.

Ilya Repin is a shining example of someone who had the diligence to see his vision to it's conclusion. Here are a couple of images of the same theme.

It's interesting to see that even though the first is masterfully done he decided to take up a new canvas and try it again. All the additions and alterations really ad up to something much more amazing that is filled with psychological tension.

Seeing things like this are a reminder to not give up on an idea the first time around. If you really believe in it you should keep going until you've found the solution you are truly looking for.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Optical Illusions and Proportion

Working in a representational manner has always been to some degree about trying to trick the eye. The artist perceives the three dimensional world around them and has to represent this on a two dimensional plane. Most of us refer to this as "realistic" or "representational" art but it has also gone by another term. That term is "illusionism" or "illusionsistic" art. I think this term is appropriate for this topic in more ways than one especially when we consider what can happen in the way we perceive things.

When we begin drawing, most of us start by trying to get down the proportion and shape of what we are trying to represent. As anyone knows who's tried to do this, it can be quite difficult at times.Unfortunately, we can't seem to always be able to directly translate what our eyes are seeing onto the paper and instead things get turned around and muddled in our mind and the drawing starts to look completely wonky. The legs look too short, the head looks too big, basically the proportions are off. But in what way are they off is the real question. Sometimes things that we assume to be right or wrong turn out to be different than what we think they are.

Psychologists have been studying how we perceive visual information for some time now and their findings have turned up some interesting things. Some of these are optical illusions. There are quite a few of these that deal specifically with how we view scale or proportion. One of these is known as the Ebbinghaus Illusion.

In this illusion, two circles of the same size are perceived to be different sizes because of the size of the surrounding objects. This can happen to us while we are drawing. For example, we can think we have drawn a head that is too big compared to the subject when in fact we have drawn the neck, shoulders, or chest too small.

Another example is the Muller-Lyer Illusion where line segments of the same size appear to be of different lengths based on the shapes that are placed at the ends.

It can be extremely useful to remember that these sort of illusions occur and that just because we think we see something doesn't mean that it is so. It's something that should give us pause so that we really stop to try and consider what the actual nature of the problem is. We need to thoroughly check all parts of the drawing before we change or erase something to be sure we are not being fooled by the very illusion we are trying to create.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Process Work

Getting all the elements of a composition to work together is difficult when working completely from life. This is compounded to a much greater degree when you are working on a scene that you cannot necessarily see or find in the world. It is extremely useful in these situations to do various preliminary studies to ensure that the image will come out the way you would like it to.
Here are some of the working drawings and studies done for a painting I did that was recently featured in American Arts Quarterly ( Spring 2010 edition) and can be seen at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco.
The drawing of the figure was done from life and is graphite on paper. In it I was focusing on the proportions of the figure, the play of light on the forms, and trying to give it the right mood or expression. The perspective study was then done to both invent the environment and understand how the figure would exist in that space. After that, came the oil sketch which was executed from imagination using the drawing and the perspective studies to come up with an image. Then the final image was painted from these studies with the still-life elements set-up in the studio and painted from life into the environment.

The title is “The Lotos Eater” and is 24”X60” oil on linen.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Instructor Work

Here's a few images from some of the artists involved in teaching here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Get your Learn on!!!

The Safehouse Atelier provides a specialized program of study that is heavily based in accurately understanding and representing the visual world and to take the knowledge gained from this study and apply it to work done from the imagination. Classical drawing is learned in tandem with concept design. Classes are taught in a workshop environment where students learn actual studio practices in a hands-on manner directly from instructors who work along with students to demonstrate how the ideas and concepts being learned are put to practical use.

To develop solid draftsmanship, classical methods of drawing and painting are studied on a daily basis. Time honored atelier methods are employed with the students beginning with cast drawing and working their way through cast painting and still-life and then moving on to life drawing, and finally life painting. Other subjects that are addressed on a weekly basis are alla prima painting, gesture drawing, and landscape painting.

On the imaginative side, working methods taken from production studios are used as a basis to teach students how to invent designs for characters, monsters, vehicles, and environments. Illustration and personal work of an inventive nature are also addressed. Real world design problems are used as spring boards for developing work and the process of how to work from the initial concept phase on to the final is heavily examined.

When students are accepted, their current level of experience is taken into account. If a student can demonstrate their command of a subject then they will be advanced to more challenging situations. Since all progress is based on personal achievement, all instruction is tailored specifically to an individual. Because of this the class subjects fluctuate depending on the student.

All instructors are working professionals in their given field. This ensures that working methods have been gained through real world experience so that students may learn practical applications and approaches that may be put into use to immediately further their careers whether it be in galleries or in a design studio.

Classes are held from 9am-4pm Monday through Friday.
Tuition is $600 per month.
Enrollment is ongoing.
We are located in San Francisco, CA.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or portfolio submissions at

Long-Pose Figure Drawing/Painting:
We will also be offering evening classes in Figure Drawing and Figure Painting. This class will be geared towards students at an intermediate to an advanced level. Poses will extend for two to three weeks. Plans are to start this program up in September. If you are interested please contact us for more info.