The Bougie Studio: Continuing a Long Tradition of Training Painters
by Peter Bougie
Barbara Allen, The Velvet Dress, 1997, oil, 30 x 46 inches
The Bougie Studio provides a working studio atmosphere in which students are trained to paint in the realistic tradition. Artists and instructors Peter Bougie and Brian Lewis have modeled the Studio after the Atelier of their teacher and mentor Richard Lack, where both studied during the 1980's. The Studio continues a tradition of knowledge being handed from teacher to student dating back to the 19th century. Richard Lack studied with the Boston painter R. H. Ives Gammell, who was a student of the American Impressionist William Paxton, who in turn studied under Jean-Leon Gerome in Paris during the late 19th century. Gerome studied with Paul Delaroche; and Delaroche was a pupil of the great neo-classicist Jacques-Louis David.
The Bougie Studio is structured like a workshop, or atelier. It is a place where a limited number of students, nine to twelve at a time, come to cultivate their skills under the close supervision of Brian Lewis and myself, Peter Rougie, both practicing professional painters. Although the program is disciplined and structured, each student works at a reasonable rate of his or her own choosing, hence in general it is a four to five year program. It is designed to lead the student through a series of challenges From the relatively simple to the more complex.
For example, beginning students work at drawing in charcoal from plaster casts of antique statuary with the goal being to reproduce what they see as accurately as possible; while an advanced student might do a full length portrait in an interior setting, or a composition with figures assembled from numerous studies. What this means in practical terms for the contemporary student is training in and application of skills of the eye, mind, and hand, as well as the study of visual values (shape, tone, and hue). Ultimately this results in a sensitively trained eye and a mind made familiar with solving the problems of seeing, technique, and composition.
Figure work is at the core of the curriculum. The demands it makes upon the student's eye, hand, and analytical abilities make it the most demanding pursuit for both beginning and advanced students. Students begin with pencil and charcoal studies. The charcoal studies are the student's first experience of what used to be called an academie a figure study of medium size (24 -30 inches) in charcoal, pastel or oil, worked on for a period of weeks and pushed to a high degree of finish.
The pencil figure studies are smaller ( 9-11 inches), and are pursued for three or four sessions (9 - 12 hours) by beginning and advanced students alike as a way of ever sharpening their skills. Their peculiar value is that, since these drawings are so small, any mark made on them that is even a tiny fraction of an inch off can misrepresent shape or form; therefore they require concentration and precision. These are values which every aspiring representational painter needs, especially those who wish to do figurative work or portraiture.
In the academie studies, students move from charcoal (when they have mastered it) to oil grisaille. This intermediate step facilitates training in two ways: it provides students the opportunity to gain experience modeling in paint without the added difficulty of color, and it provides them time to get acquainted with the greater range of value available in oils. After grisaille is mastered, students move on to work in color. At this point we sometimes suggest that a student complete a study of the nude in pastel, since pastel offers unique opportunities for studying and understanding color value. When the student moves on to mixing wet pigments, there is less difficulty in integrating color and value.
Life class is held every morning, five days a week, for three hours. Beginning and advanced students work side by side, allowing the beginners to benefit from those with more experience. Instructors critique three mornings a week, going around the life room and looking at each students drawing, offering criticism and suggestions and sometimes drawing or painting on the project in order to show the student what is intended.
Each student gets a private space to work on projects outside of the life room. As was mentioned, beginning students do cast studies in charcoal, then in black and white oil. Sometime during their first year they also begin doing head studies from life in charcoal and pencil. The first color projects they undertake are still life setups. The still life provides the student with the opportunity to design or compose a picture, arranging objects in three dimensions to be represented in two.
As a student becomes more adept, more complex still-lifes are undertaken, offering opportunities for creativity and personal expression. As they are progressing in this they also advance from head studies in charcoal to studies in color oil, or pastel. The most advanced students do subjects from life with figures and props, or study "picturemaking," the art of producing figurative compositions from numerous studies. Each of these projects is critiqued by both instructors at least once a week, and the instructors are available for further critiques as needed.
At The Bougie Studio we employ the sight size method of drawing. In this method, the artist uses a plumb line and a string to measure horizontal and vertical reference points. It is called sight size because the artist makes a drawing that is the same size the image of nature would be if their drawing board were extended to intersect their line of sight. This aides the student in making objective judgments about proportion, and it also facilitates communication between the teacher and the student. Both look at the subject from the same point of view and can be objective about what something looks like. The object, after all, is to train the eye.
In addition to the individual attention each student gets, there are a variety of lectures offered throughout the year. These cover subjects such as mixing pigments, artist's materials, stretching canvases and picturemaking. There is also a series every year on anatomy and composition. The setting for these is intimate; with only a dozen students; everybody gets a chance to ask questions. Occasional painting demonstrations and landscape painting excursions are also offered.
As I said before, The Bougie Studio is a workshop; a working studio. Students are able to observe Brian and me working on many of our own projects from beginning to end.
These projects include portrait, still life, landscape and figurative work. Students are exposed to various methods of painting as well; from the method of observing the note directly from nature and painting it directly onto the canvas, to the indirect method of modeling underpaintings in grisaille and using touches of opaque, semi-transparent and transparent layers of paint to finish.
Students are occasionally put to work transferring drawings to canvas or working on underpaintings for these projects. This brings them a step closer to the apprentice style of training experienced by so many past masters.
The Bougie Studio has been in operation since 1988, It is located south of downtown Minneapolis in the Whittler neighborhood, just three blocks from the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
In the last few years this area has developed into a very lively neighborhood, with immigrants from all over the world arriving and establishing markets, shops and restaurants. It's proximity to the Institute makes it easy for students to view or copy art.
We obviously have a great reverence for tradition. Nevertheless, as students become advanced enough in their skills to begin doing creative work we emphasize that they should take a look at the world they live in and contemplate how to use their skills to engage contemporary themes.
The great themes never change; only their outward appearance. So we study "the Masters of Past Time" in order to help us understand how we may represent the great themes in our own time.
Artists are not merely born, they must be made. This means that they must be trained. Students with a love of drawing and a love for the variety and fascination of the visual world can only fulfill their goals as an artist by first undertaking a thorough training. They must submit themselves to the discipline of the training, as an athlete would, or a musician, or an acolyte, in order to prepare the ground for their maturity as an artist.
The Bougie Studio is located at 2524 Nicollet Avenue South, Suite 201, Minneapolis, MN 55404.
From top to bottom (please click on the thumbnails to view larger images): Barbara Allen, Nude, (academie), 1997, oil, 24 x 20 inches; Barbara Allen, Portrait of Marty, 1996, oil, 22 x 30 inches; Barbara Allen, Nude, (academie), 1994, charcoal, 12 x 18 inches; Mike Anderson, Nude, (academie), 1996, pastel, 14 x 32 inches; Susan Arthaud, Nude, 1992, pencil, 5 x 11 inches; Diane Maye, Nude, (academie), 1995, charcoal, 12 x 28 inches; Pam St. Michel, Head Study, 1996, charcoal, 12 x 20 inches; Mike Sweere, Still Life with Marble Bust, oil, 22 x 34 inches; Bennett Vadnais, Portrait of Jesse, 1998, pencil, 8 x 12 inches; Bennett Vadnais, Copy after Prud'hon, 1998, charcoal, 10 x 14 inches; Bennett Vadnais, Case Study (Voltaire), 1997, charcoal, 10 x 16 inches; Bennett Vadnais, Head Study, Richard, 1998, charcoal, 12 x 14 inches; Bennett Vadnais, Cast Study (Magadalene), 1998, oil, 12 x 16 inches; Peter Bougie, Sleep, The Dreamer, and Death, 1998, oil, 32 x 36 inches; Peter Bougie, Three Boys, 1996, oil, 16 x 20 inches; Peter Bougie, The Life Model, 1996, oil, 48 x 60, inches, Morseburg Gallery, Los Angeles. Brain Lewis, Upper Falls, Beaver River, oil, 30 x 45 inches, The Alto Player, oil, 24 x 24 inches, Copper and Linen, oil, 21 x 32 inches
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