Florence Academy of Art – First Impressions

My training at the Florence Academy of Art (FAA) has finally begun! Before I get into the specifics, I just wanted to write a general blog post on the school and my impressions thereof. For that purpose, let me first briefly focus on the form and then on the substance.

As of this year, the FAA has moved to a large new space just outside of the city of Florence – which now hosts all students of all years, both sculpture and painting, as well as the teachers’ studios. It also encompasses a student café, a lounge area, large lecture halls, a library, a small shop for art supplies, outdoor spaces for relaxation, administration offices, apartments for visiting lecturers and lots and lots of working space. All in all, it’s a very beautiful and a very functional space, and I feel extremely lucky to be the first generation who will be trained in it from day one.

The biggest advantage to this new space, in my opinion, is the fact that all the students of all levels of education will now be training in the same place, which will facilitate not only their personal, but also artistic exchanges. Until now, each year had their own separate space in different parts of Florence, so students would seldom be exposed to their senior or junior peers and the products of their work. In that sense, moving to one unified little ‘campus’ brings about a very positive change.

Now, to the substance. As a beginning student, I am enrolled in the intensive drawing program. It is exactly what the name says it is: a concentrated program (five days of the week, from 9 AM till 7 PM) in drawing exclusively (in pencil and charcoal).

During our first year, our days at the Academy are divided in two major parts: one half of the day, we draw the figure (live model) and the other half we draw Charles Bargue plates, later to be replaced by plaster casts. In the evenings, depending on the day, we have anatomy lectures, evening drawing of live models, or art history lectures.

So, the school essentially becomes our second home and, I can tell you already, the intensity of the program really pays off. I feel I have learned so much already and I have only been drawing for 7 days now.

The part of the program where I feel I am learning the most at this stage are the drawing sessions of a nude model. There are two reasons for that. First, I never had a chance draw a model before. Second, it is the most challenging part of the program because you are working with a living being who is infinitely more intricate, beautiful and mobile then any Bargue plate or plaster cast you’ll ever see.

So, how do we tackle such complex assignments? It’s actually quite straightforward and goes back to some of what I wrote about in my earlier blog posts on cast drawing.

At Florence Academy, we use the sight-size method and we are taught to construct our drawing in stages.

First, we are advised to look for the big shapes, big proportions, major inclinations and main reference points. We start by marking the top and the bottom of our subject on the paper, as we see it from our standing position. In order to do that precisely, we use a plumb line (a string with small weight attached to one end).

We then look for the major reference points such as the chin, shoulders, the pubic bone and knees. By introducing a vertical into the drawing (which is also done with the help of a plumb line), we are able to construct the major shapes and find the proper inclinations better. This preliminary stage of the drawing, when completed, leaves you with the so-called ‘envelope shape’ for the body.

When one is more or less confident that the major shapes, proportions and inclinations are right, one moves on to giving these very abstract lines (which form a rough outline) a bit more organic form. At this stage, one can also can move on to slowly introducing shadow lines and basic shadow shapes. The key is to constantly compare inclinations, check the distances and relate shapes one to another

During this entire process, the idea is to draw very lightly and keep moving things around until we get them right. If for no other reason, adjustments will be necessary as the model will eventually move a bit.

To make this less abstract, here is the example of the construction of my drawing. It represents a two day pencil study for the five week long pose to be tackled next in a bigger format in charcoal.

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I should mention here that a very useful tool for discovering problems in a drawing is a mirror. So, at school, asides from a plumb line, we’ve each been given a small rectangular mirror to help us in the learning process. Namely, by reversing the image in front of us and comparing it to the drawing, the mistakes become much more apparent and consequentially easier to fix, so a student is advised to use a mirror a lot. Here is Marc demonstrating how to do it.

Obviously, we are not completely on our own in fixing the mistakes we make in our drawing. At school, we have a number of great instructors who will come to give a critique every once in a while during a drawing session. This is very helpful and I would say the foundation of the learning process. Yet, the majority of the time at school does comprise an independent training of our eyes to see better and our hands to draw more accurately. And in that sense, self-correctional tools such as a mirror are highly advised.

All in all, after just a week at the FAA, I feel I have already learned a ton and look forward to see where this training takes me in the future. I will keep you posted and share what I learn here. For the moment, I can say that based of my experience so far, I give the highest ratings to the school, the instructors and the training in general.

To end this, here is a quote we were introduced to on the first day, which reflects well the principles and philosophy taught at the FAA:

“Drawing, which is much like language, is the art of communication with others through the illusion of shapes, and you learn to draw, paint and sculpt by coming to shape conclusions. We draw what we know and not what we see. And when we know something, we begin to see it as it really is.”

– Robert Beverly Hale