Thursday, January 31, 2019

Interview with a Russian Academic Master, Part 2

Today we continue the interview that we started yesterday with Professor Sergey Chubirko, who teaches the Russian Academic tradition at an art studio and atelier called “Chiaro-Scuro” in Florence, Italy.

Compositional drawing by Alex McCloskey
Gurney: How does the drawing instruction in the Russian Academy of Art differ from that of the other academies in Europe and the USA? 
Chubirko: As far as I know, in European and American academies the emphasis is placed mostly on optical methods, typically the “sight size” method of drawing, whereas for the Russian Academic method, a balanced combination of visual and analytical approaches are used. There is no doubt that we draw what our eye is able to see but we also add what our brain knows about the form, namely fundamentals of anatomy and basic knowledge of constructive drawing. In this particular case by construction I mean - translation of a very difficult language of the complex forms of reality, for example, the form of the human body, into the simple language of geometry.

Anatomy and structure study by Emanuele Capozza
Gurney: When you accept students into your academy who have been trained in Bargue-based ateliers, do they need to unlearn any habits or practices? What skills do they need to add? 
Chubirko: Usually students who studied in other ateliers already come with a well-trained eye and a good sense of tone. The skill they are lacking in is the analytical thinking behind drawing, to put it in other words - the constructive analysis and modelling of the form in terms of planes. So, this is something I try to teach them when they come to my studio. These additional tools allow the artist to be more creative, independent, and ultimately free in their own compositional endeavours.

What misconceptions do people have about French academic training? 
It is difficult for me to judge about misconceptions, but I can assume that they focus mostly on drawing from life and do not pay a lot of attention to drawing from imagination, which, in my opinion, is very important because it helps develop memory, thinking, inner vision and, as a result, it enables an artist to express thoughts, ideas and feelings of the artist freely in order to produce a compositional drawing.

Female portrait by Sergey Chubirko
You have said that when you're drawing from the model, "my personal vision as well as the image I would like to create is much more important than a model itself." How do you preserve your personal vision of the model and avoid being overwhelmed with alluring facts or details? How do you train students to develop their memory, their imagination, and their inner vision? 
Thank you, James, for remembering so well what I once said about drawing☺)!
Firstly, in order not to be distracted by different «alluring facts or details» during the work on a certain setup, we always start by making a sketch at the initial stage.

Main objectives set for a sketch are the following: capture and fix an impression from the model, capture movement and proportions, distribute general tonality or find a tonal solution. Even if while working on a setup something changes – drapes, face expression, hair, lighting, etc. – which is quite natural because the human model is never absolutely the same, then we should try and follow the initial idea fixed in the sketch. In this case the sketch serves as a stable reference and keeps us from being side-tracked during the long pose.

The second reason why I don’t explicitly copy the model is that each setup that I organize for the students should communicate a specific idea. For example, if the task is a portrait, the objective is not just to draw/copy the model but to create the character, to try and render the psychological state of the model; I also try to select some paraphernalia, attributes, accessories to match this character. Thirdly, to help students develop their imagination and inner vision I give a very simple yet efficient exercise – drawing from memory. We look at the model for 5 minutes attentively trying to memorise as many details as possible. Then the model leaves and we try to draw from our memory. This simplest exercise is also very good for learning to capture proportions quickly, correctly, and requires that the student understands reality.

Male portrait by Sergey Chubirko

What kind of work is the most important for students to do in their personal sketchbooks? Should they copy from other artists, or capture impressions from the real world? 
Copying of good sample works by old masters or contemporary artists as well as making daily sketches from real life is always useful! It should be done everywhere and whenever is possible! An artist should never part with a pencil and a sketchbook. Moreover, I would say one should develop a habit of recording their thoughts with a pencil in his/her hand!

Full figure drawing by Alex
Is there a danger in studying Art of the past too much rather than focusing on Nature? 
There is no such a danger! On the contrary, to study and copy the best sample works produced in the history of art is absolutely necessary for a proper art education, because any artist needs an ethical and an esthetical reference to follow. Apart from that, copying of the old master’s works helps develop good artistic taste and understand what “artistic selection” is.

How do you train your students to cope with the dynamic and changeable visual world outside the controlled conditions of the studio? 
Proper art education in a professional environment, and as well, the personality of the teacher is very important! However, we should not forget that there is an education and there is a self-education! I would say, for an artist self-education is not less important and is a lifelong process that never ends and continues even outside the studio, whereas work in the studio is only ideal, controlled, as you said, conditions for acquiring practical skills or professional tools. Those tools once acquired will serve an artist throughout his/her artistic career, but how these tools will be used after graduation is very much up to a person. It regards the choice of the subjects to depicts, the technique and manner to be working in etc.

Many of my former students managed to find their path in the world of art and I am sincerely happy for their success! Today at my studio “Chiaro-Scuro” I offer a tailor-made course on drawing and composition aimed at working artists – art teachers, illustrators, graphic/fashion designers, sculptors etc. - and all those who don’t have years to study in art academies but only have a limited time to improve their drawing skills necessary for professional purposes.

Male figure drawing by Alex McCloskey
What is the chief problem facing artists today who want to pursue realism or representational painting? 
The main problem, in my opinion, is that these days the commercial demand for realistic or representational art leaves much to be desired. But at the same time the situation is gradually changing for better: there is a noticeable rise of interest for traditional, figurative art – which is a good news for artists! It seems to me people are a little tired of destruction in art and, therefore, are eager to see the beauty and harmony of the human face and the human body again.

Actually, the human being is the most complicated and contradictory yet the most inspiring and beautiful subject to portray! Tell me what can be more interesting to depict? So, it is important to be able to portray this subject properly. That is the reason why we spend years to learn to draw and paint, don’t we?:))
Previous blog post:
Russian Books on Academic Drawing and Painting
Part 1 of the interview with Professor Chubirko

Related Books on Amazon:

Fundamentals of Composition (English Edition
Fundamentals of Drawing (English Edition)
Fundamentals of Painting (English Edition)
Anatomy of Human Figure: The Guide for Artists (Tan cover, below left, Russian Language)
Academic Drawings and Sketches (Blue cover, below right, Russian Language)

For more info:
Chubirko's "Chiaro-Scuro" Studio 
Thanks, Shadrina Irina, for translating


Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

A bronze plaque of both parts of this interview, along with your comment James (or maybe the post is your comment!) should be placed on any institution's cornerstone, and another inside, as a time capsule.

Any further comment from me would only repeat this post and reference your blogs posts.

Derek said...

I was just sketching out of a Repin Academy book yesterday! FYI, you can buy them direct from the Academy at

scottT said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your Q&A! Thoughtful answers and replies. I think Mr. Chubirko's approach and advice are ideal.

Anthony Visco said...

After having visited with Sergey and his students and having these conversations on drawing,I applaud his efforts in restoring drawing to my beloved City of Florence! The Russian Schools seemed to have been able to keep the Italian school of investigation and invention of form alive while the French schools and academies went for simple replication techniques. Having taught drawing for most of my academic career, I applaud Sergey and his efforts. Bravo!

Unknown said...

Thank you, James, for your thoughtful and very professional questions! Thank you Anthony Visco for having common views and ideas about drawing and art in general! I appreciate both!!!

anon said...

That is a great article! you have cleared up a lot of questions for me. Many thanks James, your blog is quite a gem in this wide world of internet.