(This continues my interview with artist and teacher, Grigor Eftimov. Click here for Part One.)
Ben: What is the best advice you’ve heard about learning to draw that you can give to people who are working on their own and don’t have access to live classes or instructors?
Grigor: One of the best things ever told to me as a student, at the Academy, was to look at artists I admire and look at their approach. Specifically, I was told to look at how they started a work of art, and to *not* look at the finish. Because everyone always sees the finish. It’s like looking at famous artists and great work they did in their lives but never looking at how they got their start or what they did along the way to get there. If you look at the early work, you can see where they were in their head. So someone without access to classes should still be able to get access to books to look at. I would say look, a lot, at artists you admire. If you like draftsmanship, look at Michelangelo and David and other 19th century artists. There’s tons of stuff online, now, which is great. But you have to be careful because a lot of things online show you the easy way. And drawing is not easy.
Ben: What do you think are ideas or advice that throw students off track.
Grigor: If you are just learning to draw, or a beginning artist, I absolutely do not recommend taking workshops. Don’t do it. Because you as a beginning artist will probably be left more confused than if you had not done it. Unless you’re taking the same workshop, consistently, with the same person, it’s going to really confuse you because you are not grounded. If you have some experience and training, and you take a workshop here and there to see how someone else does things, then that makes sense. Because then you can form your own opinion and see what works.
"...they start with the eye and work their way out. Do not do that."
Another thing is this. I see a lot of people who start working on a portrait, and they start with an eye and work their way out. Do not do that. This is tunnel vision and it’s the opposite of getting the big picture, getting the impression, getting to the essence. How can you get the essence when you are fixated on one area of a face? Some people can make it work for a little portrait, and if you try that it may work for you too. But when you get faced with a landscape or different type of bigger scene, or something creative...good luck. It’s not going to work. There is a time and place to zoom in and focus on one area and treat it like a puzzle piece, but that comes at the end. So to do it first is backward. It may look impressive (on Youtube, or in a demo) But I don’t recommend working that way.
Ben: Tell me about what you offer at Atelier Eftimov, and what sets Atelier Eftimov apart from other places to learn to draw in Chicago?
Grigor: When I was going to school, I found it extremely hard to have a job and go to school at the same time, because the important part of my schooling was during the day on weekdays, which was also when most jobs wanted me there. So I had to find ways to support myself while going to school during normal business hours. The people that joined me, when I first set up my own Atelier also paid their own way and working to support themselves. So I’ve always tried to structure things as much as possible so students can work regular jobs during normal work hours and still keep their studies going.
I can’t do the entire program on non-traditional hours, and we do have model sessions during weekdays. We do three days out of the week and at least one day has a long-pose model session for six hours. I don’t know any other place that offers six hours of the same model in one day. The reason I did that is that I always thought that having a model for only three hours a day was too short. When I was painting in those sessions, I always felt like I wanted to keep going. So we do a three-hour session, then take a lunch break, and have another three-hour session. When I first started this, it was kind of tough for students, but they got used to it.
On long-pose days, we do gesture drawing first, for at least half an hour. Sometimes I extend it to an hour or even two hours. It just depends on what I think will be most beneficial to the students at the time. But for the second half of the day, we go back to the long-pose. We’ll repeat the same long-pose for anywhere from a month and a half to three months. In the past, we’ve had much longer poses (lasting more than 3 months) and I just feel like this is too long. I think the more intermediate long-poses are best because you still get the benefits of a long, sustained pose, without it being so drawn out.
Another thing that sets me apart is that a lot of places will either be very rigid with their curriculum and only focus on certain types of drawing and require all students to basically follow the same track. Other places might be overly loose in their content. You might take a few classes with them, and learn some things here and there, and they may be afraid to critique you honestly and afraid of hurting your feelings. I draw from a much broader base of experience (with traditional painting, storyboarding, caricatures) so I keep to a very traditional approach, but I’ll also use common sense and incorporate changes to the approach if it benefits the students.
Comparative drawing is definitely something I strongly believe in and incorporate into the program. Sight-size drawing is definitely important, but when you leave school, if you can’t do comparative drawing, can you really even draw? If you’re sitting at a coffee shop and want to get out your sketchbook and draw, you’re not going to do sight-size. So I make sure people can do comparative drawing.
Ben: You describe your approach of what sets Atelier Eftimov apart as a very individual approach, and you focus on each student and what exactly they need at their particular point in learning. Describe to me the path down which you would take a student studying with you, if they’ve had little or no drawing experience before.
Grigor: I would have the student start with simple copies and drawing basic shapes. An important part of beginning to learn to draw is just establishing an understanding of the language. I’d focus on helping them understand what I mean by “abstract shapes”, what it means when I say to squint. If you don’t establish a language and a way to communicate, then what’s the point? I’d have them start with just a basic instrument, like a pencil, and start learning to focus on abstract shapes and patterns, as a baseline. It’s important to me to start from the beginning, from ground zero, and go from there. If a student wants to race ahead, I tell them to take a workshop with me where I talk about advanced concepts. But the workshop is just a taste of what they could have, but you have to start at the beginning.
That’s not to say, for someone who might have studied some drawing before, that they have to throw out everything they’ve learned. If you’ve already learned some useful things about drawing and you bring that with you to the table, that will just accelerate the process, but focusing on a procedure and combining it with your existing knowledge will just help you move forward faster.
Ben: In your own life experience, what did you do that accelerated your own ability as an artist the most?
Grigor: Do a job that you absolutely hate. Nothing sets your mind straight like doing a job you absolutely hate. One of the worst jobs I had, when I was trying to pay for school, was doing construction and asbestos and lead abatement. If anything like hell actually existed, it was this. It left such a strong impression on me. It really cemented the idea that I had to make money to go to art school so I did not have to be trapped doing the work I hated. So that made me hungrier.
Another thing was that I put everything on the line, to where there was no going back. Ever since I started doing caricatures, when I was 19, I’ve supported myself as an artist and by doing art, and only art. Be it doing odd art jobs like murals, portraits, pet portraits, airbrushing, you name it, I did it. This made me appreciate the time I had to do my own personal work, and not work for others. All these things that I learned, I never thought I would learn. Like how to airbrush, how to do caricatures or storyboarding, or how to teach. There was never a plan, but you just take it all as it goes and make it work, and keep going, and that’s that.
Ben: Thank you for talking to me today!
Grigor: You're welcome.
You can see more of Grigor's artwork here.
You can learn more about Atelier Eftimov here.