Atelier Dojo Launches Full-Time Art Academy: Austin’s Power of Figurative Art Goes Deep

This time last year, we told you about the art school founded by Jennifer Balkan, Denise Fulton, Karen Offutt and Karen Maness, and how it was getting started in this creative industry hotbed of the Eastside called Canopy.

Courtesy of Atelier Dojo

We told you about the Atelier Dojo because we were so impressed with the founders – their skill, their dedication, the works of art they have produced in their careers so far, how are passionate about spreading the gospel of figurative art and its practice to the greater Austin community – and we’re bringing it back to you, right now, because… well, because everyone seems to have been all also impressed.

We mean: the school has been so successful in just one year, its classes and events have been so well received, that they are going to offer a full-time program: Dojo Academy.

“We received e-mails and messages from distant people, who wonder if this is already what we were”, explains Jennifer Balkan. “And ever since we started, we’ve been open to the possibility of being that – retaining who we already are, but expanding a bit.”

“People have been asking about full time at different times since the school started,” says Justin Balleza, another of Atelier’s talented instructors. “But with the courses we’ve had so far, there’s been a limit to what we can offer.”

“People who had the time and the interest signed up for the same classes every term, because they wanted the education,” Karen Offutt tells us. “So we decided to move it around so we could provide them with a full course – all the way through, for a three-year program, rather than having to repeat for beginners every time.”

“An extensive training in classical realism,” says Denise Fulton, nodding her head. “Turns out there’s a real demand for it here in Austin.”

So even in these days of so many digital artworks, with all the manipulation of various software, there is still a desire for more traditional art?

“Well, that’s very applicable,” Offutt says. “Some of the best traditional artists working today are in video games or in animation studios. These are the kind of people who need traditional knowledge to do this kind of work. We are discussing with Rooster Teeth right now, in fact, creating a course specifically for their artists.

So, yes, the Atelier Dojo will continue to feature guest artists from around the world to lead workshops, occasionally, and they will still offer regular live model drawing sessions for people to hone their rendering skills and the like. But now, in the form of Dojo Academy, they are also expanding their courses into a full-time program on the basics and beyond, providing students with ongoing lessons in figurative art practice.

Note: The Academy schedule will consist of three 12-week terms each year, with a two-month break each summer. Applications are currently open for the winter session which will launch on January 6, 2020 and run until March 27 this year.

And, of course, art is a lifelong discipline and a person never really stops learning, but – is there a certain, maybe even sheepskin, culmination of the pedagogical course of the Workshop? Someone enrolls for a while and then finally officially graduates?

“This is kind of the idea,” says Belleza. “But some places will have a strict bar that you have to meet, certain specifications before you graduate; and other places it’s more like, “Okay, you’re fine, go ahead.” And that’s where we’re closest, because the students we have are very diverse – coming from all kinds of backgrounds, ages and experience, different skill levels. There is definitely a case to be made for some people to move forward faster. Ideally, we would bring in people who have mostly not been trained before and are ready to start from scratch.

“I think the main thing is how much time you spend on it,” says Balkan. “People who sort of start out hoping to have a career as an artist, they wonder, What should be ? What do I have to do? And you just need do it all the time. You dedicate your 15,000 hours or whatever to getting good at it. I didn’t have the luxury of going to school for this when I was a little teenager. I had to fragment all of these different things, put my time in when I could, wherever I could, to learn from this person, from this person. And here, with a full-time, Monday-Friday, three-year program, that’s one way to do it: it’s mapped out for you.

Mildred D. Field