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Atelier Dojo’s Figure Painting in Oils: From Monochrome to Limited Palette (Session 1)

David Robinson 4 years ago

Painting with Jennifer: Atelier Dojo’s Figure Painting in Oils – From Monochrome to Limited Palette (A Blog Series)


Oil painting is an equipment-heavy art. Easels, canvases, bottles of oils, tubes of paint, steel palette knives, towels, drawing pads, pencils and pens—never think artistic ambition is naked. It’s loaded down with stuff. I careened along the wide hall of Canopy studios on Springdale Road bent under my fair share of visionary inspiration. I was early, and I saw a figure entering Atelier Dojo ahead of me. I maneuvered sideways through the door without dropping any of my gear and there was the person, Jennifer Balkan, our instructor. We exchanged warm greetings (I’ve known Jennifer for years), and I dropped my stuff in a pile and helped her set up the class.

Creative clutter is the concise description of the Atelier Dojo studio. Professional wooden easels cluster like forests in the corners of the room with stools and worktables bunched near them. The walls are adorned with intimidatingly good figurative and portrait paintings and drawings. Plaster busts sit frowning on tables. A raised model stand forms a focal point along a side wall, and class preparations saw the gradual positioning of a semi-circle of easels and stools around the model stand. Tonight would be the first session of Balkan’s Figure Painting in Oils: from Monochrome to Limited Palette class in Atelier Dojo’s Spring 2019 semester.


Jennifer’s limited color palette

Jennifer Balkan’s accelerating professional reputation seems to fuel her teaching. She covered the introductory material from brushes, solvents and painting surfaces to paint mixes, and then she advanced straight into the night’s topic of value painting. Value is simply the lightness or darkness of anything, and does not refer to color or hue. Balkan explained how to render the value tones on any dimensional figure by the simple illustration of shining a studio lamp on a set of geometric figures—balls, cones, cylinders and others. Rendering the value tones is how an artist ultimately translates a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional surface. Balkan elaborated these principles by way of a painting demonstration, lecturing constantly while painting a live model. Yes, the model was nude, but nudity was hardly the point.


David’s limited color palette

When she finished, Balkan drank from a water bottle and told us all to paint two value paintings exactly as she had just shown us. What, no break? No, no break, start mixing paint. The two twenty-minute paintings were timed exactly, with Balkan moving continuously among the easels giving critique on the most minute observations.  She stood ten feet away from me and told me to use bolder brush strokes. This is keen instruction indeed. Then it was over and clean-up began. I didn’t know how oil paint could find its way all over me and all my equipment.


David’s monochrome painting, class 1

Session keywords:


David’s limited palette painting, class 1

Check back next week for a look at class 2!

Cover photo: paintings by Jennifer Balkan

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