Atelier Dojo Launches Full-Time Art Academy

The Austin powerhouse of figurative art goes deep

This time last year, we told you about the fine art school founded by Jennifer Balkan, Denise Fulton, Karen Offutt, and Karen Maness, and how it was starting up within that Eastside hotbed of creative industry called Canopy.

Courtesy of Atelier Dojo

We told you about Atelier Dojo because we were so impressed with the founders – their skill, their dedication, the artworks they’ve produced over their careers thus far, just how passionate they are about spreading the gospel of figurative art and its practice to the greater Austin community – and we’re telling you about it again, right now, because … well, because everybody else seems to’ve been just as impressed.

We mean: The school has become so successful in just a year, its classes and events so well-received, that they’re going to offer a full-time curriculum: Dojo Academy.

“We’ve gotten email and messages from people far away, wondering if that’s what we were already,” says Jennifer Balkan. “And since we started, we’ve been open to the possibility of being that – of keeping what we already are, but expanding a bit.”

“People have asked about full-time at different points since the start of the school,” says Justin Balleza, another of the Atelier’s talented instuctors. “But with the classes we’ve had so far, there’s been a limit to how much we can provide.”

“People that had the time and the interest were signing up for the same classes every single term, because they wanted the education,” Karen Offutt tells us. “So we decided to shift it so we can actually provide a complete path for them – all the way through, for a three-year program, rather than having to repeat for newbies every time.”

“Extensive training in classical realism,” says Denise Fulton, nodding. “Turns out there’s a real demand for that here in Austin.”

So, even in these days of so much digital artwork going on, with all the manipulating of various software programs, there’s still a desire for more traditional artistry?

“Well, it’s very applicable,” says Offutt. “Some of the very best traditional artists who are working today are in videogames or at animation studios. Those are the kind of people who need the traditional grounding to do that kind of work. We’re in a discussion with Rooster Teeth right now, in fact, about setting up a class specifically for their artists.”

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

Note: The Academy’s schedule will be composed 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 Jan. 6, 2020, and run through March 27 of that year.

And, sure, art is a lifelong discipline and a person never really stops learning, but – is there a definite, maybe even sheepskinned, endpoint to the Atelier’s education track? Someone signs up for a certain amount of time, and then, eventually, they’ve Officially Graduated?

“That’s sort of the idea,” says Belleza. “But some places will have a strict bar that you have to reach, certain specifications before you graduate; and other places, it’s more like, “Okay, you’re fine, go ahead.” And that’s the one we’re closer to, because the students that we have are very diverse – coming from all sorts of backgrounds, agewise and experiencewise, different levels of skill. There’s definitely a case to be made for some people to advance more quickly. Ideally, we’d get people in who are mostly previously untrained and ready to start from scratch.”

“I think the bottom line is the time you put in,” says Balkan. “People that are kind of starting out in the hope to have an artist’s profession, they’re wondering, what does it take? What do I need to do? And you just need to do it all the time. You put in your 15,000 hours or whatever it is to get good at the thing. I didn’t have the luxury of a school for that, when I was a little teenybopper. I had to piece-meal all these different things, putting in my time when I could, wherever I could, learning from this person, from that person. And here, with doing a three-year, full-time program, Monday through Friday, that’s one way to do it: It’s mapped out for you.”

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