A classical twist to Contempora art

When people hear the term "classical art" they might visualize Italian Renaissance paintings and nude sculptures from the 17th century.

Not Sequim artist Susan Martin Spar.

When Spar hears the term "classical art," she immediate-ly thinks of beautiful, colorful, crisp paintings that will leave you yearning for more.

Historically, classical artists studied for years before they ever were allowed to paint a picture. While Spar doesn't follow such a strict teaching method, she does believe in learning the basics, building a solid foundation and studying with the same instructor for at least two years.

In fact, the classical techniques that some artists believe went out the window with the turn of the last century are the basis of Spar's atelier painting class for adults at her home studio.

Much like during the 1600s, Spar coaches her students on drawing, lighting, the use of color, composition, lines and the human form. Students perfect their drawing skills using a sketchbook and pencil before every putting a paintbrush to canvas - although Spar doesn't drag out the process for

years like the historical masters.

"Students usually come in with a preconceived notion of what they want to paint, whether it's a vision of a loved one or a photograph of a beautiful field of flowers, but they don't understand the basics of how to paint because they have no foundation," Spar said.

"I can teach them to paint that particular picture, but the next time they go out to paint under different lighting or a new subject they will be lost if they don't have the tools to carry over what they learn."

Spar teaches students from real life experiences, not photographs, bringing live models, plaster casts and 3-D objects into the studio regularly.

Her theory is that once artists learn how to render a classic portrait, they can paint anything they want.

"I don't see this as going back and painting the way the 'old' masters did," Spar said.

"I see it as taking those methods and discovering new worlds."

Once artists have learned the classical techniques of painting, they can go on to paint contemporary images, Spar said, showing off a pastel painting she created of a

blonde little girl running through a field of lavender.

"It's not like everything I do looks like it should be in a museum," she said. "I just think that classical training is

the underpinning of good contemporary art."

Besides her adult atelier (studio) painting class, Spar is starting a "young masters atelier painting class" for 13- to 17-year-olds, teaching the same classical techniques.

"They already have the skills; it's just teaching them the methods and honing in on where to go with them."

For people who "just want to have fun," Spar offers an informal painting and drawing class on basic art skills

where students can work on their own paintings or bring in a project and get guidance without delving into the nitty-gritty details of classical art.

"Atelier is not for everybody - I know that," Spar said.

"I'm definitely not saying it's the only way - I was

self-taught until a few years ago - but I feel like it's a good way to learn."

Ashley Miller can be reached at

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