London Fine Art Studios is a Battersea based art school that specialises in teaching the craft of drawing and painting, working always from life and with a focus on the figurative tradition. We spoke with founder and director, Ann Witheridge, about teaching the core principles of proportion, gesture, value and colour and found out more about the upcoming Summer courses, taking place this July.
Clare: Can you give us an overview of your position at London Fine Art Studios and your experience as an artist?
Ann: I am the founder and director of London Fine Art Studios; an art school specialising in teaching art in the figurative tradition based on the Old Master techniques. We teach a wide variety of courses from Foundation to Figure, Sculpture and Landscape. I have taught now for twenty years and have always loved painting. I paint with my students and also go on many painting trips around England and abroad, both with friends and fellow artists.
Clare: Where do you think is the best place to start if you are considering studying an art course?
Ann: This really depends on how much time you have. I would start with a foundation class where you can gradually build up your skills. Choose a course with an experienced tutor rather than an experienced artist; many artists are great painters but not necessarily great teachers. Look at the tutor’s work and see if you like their style or subject choice.
Clare: What are the core elements to consider when making a cast drawing?
Ann: Shapes, values (light and dark) and edges (lost and found). We believe that cast drawing is the foundation of painting and drawing. It teaches you all about shapes. Cast drawing is such a fantastic tool as it teaches you to create form and find shapes without the distraction of colour. A cast drawing is also utterly constant; unlike a person, it doesn’t need a break and doesn’t move!
Clare: Which method of painting do you feel makes a more accurate representation of the human figure: working from the life model or working from sketches, photographs and other materials in the studio? Why?
Ann: Working from the life model is a wonderful opportunity. We can be completely energised by working because the model is there for a limited time. I think as an artist you can make many more artistic and atmospheric decisions when working from life, translating the 3D and the living onto a 2D plane. From sketches and photographs, one can learn about design and editing. However, it is important not to copy the sketches and photos but to use them as a stepping-stone to your own work.
Clare: Do you feel that practising working from the life model helps artists to create more refined paintings?
Ann: I think the benefits of working from life are more about training one’s eye to see nature with all its details and atmosphere and learning to be selective and therefore able to edit. A more refined painting is a matter of stylistic taste, rather than visual accuracy.
Clare: What is your personal process for painting the figure?
Ann: I like to work from the model in the studio, painting directly onto the canvas. I tone the canvas to a mid-tone and draw my proportions, gesture and shadow shapes before I move onto colour. A painting in one tone, correctly proportioned and with good gesture can be a powerful image; the colour can change the mood and style of the painting, but it does not necessarily improve it. The hardest part of the painting is the proportions and the gesture. Once this is established with the shadow shapes, the colour is all about play and is much more subjective.
Clare: What moment in your general practice has been the most influential to your paintings?
Ann: Spending time on cast drawing and studying art history. Cast drawing gave me the freedom to draw, which you can translate into oil, watercolour, pen & ink and much more. Regarding art history, I love going to museums and looking at paintings; I always go with a subject in mind, such as composition or looking at edges, or seeing how the noses are painted.
Clare: Painting the figure can be very personal – how do you deal with all of your students having different preferences?
Ann: We definitely don’t try to slot all the students into one block. Proportion and gesture are not personal; this is the grammar of the painting. Some students want to work at the gesture and drawing and aren’t interested in the colour; some are all about colour and falsifying the local colour for effect. There has to be a good foundation of drawing and gesture, but then all artists see differently, some might focus on temperature, others on atmosphere and others might want to just focus on a great anatomical drawing. This is one of the many wonderful aspects of teaching: giving the students the fundamental craft so they have the confidence to develop their own style.
Clare: What upcoming courses are you offering?
Ann: We run term-time art courses in all areas of art but also students can choose to do evening, weekend or short courses. Our July course is a fantastic introduction to London Fine Art Studios as students can do 1 to 4 weeks of the July course, which includes the Foundation course, Figure, Portrait and either the Landscape, Sculpture or Etching. The best course to join if you are a beginner is the foundation class. You will learn all about the fundamentals of shape, values, and composition in the relatively calm environment of the studio.