Paris Moment: Art Classes

Paris Moment: Art Classes Image

I took my first official drawing course when I first moved to Paris five years ago. It was at this little art school on the outskirts of Paris. The studio was large and open, natural sunlight flowed in through the skylights overhead. There was a large rotating platform at the center and easels neatly lined the room. Each day a different model posed for us and we began to draw under the direction of our diligent professor: A 15 minute pose, then 10 minutes, two 5 minutes poses, three poses for 2 minutes and the most challenging, drawing the model while she was in constant motion. “Keep your eyes on the model! Don’t focus on your paper, focus on the model!” was our professors constant advice as he circled the room and enlightened our artistic ability. My friends and I would be out as late as 10pm drawing from the model, usually laughing at our distorted figures. And then there were the days we were filled with pride when everything seemed to come together. At the end, it didn’t matter; we were taking life drawing courses in Paris!

When I moved away from Paris, I was constantly looking for ways to incorporate the life I had in France with my life back in the states. I had such fond memories in the studio that I looked at my university drawing courses though for some reason was not allowed to enroll, as if drawing the human form required credentials. I thought I had lucked out when I found a small atelier in the small university town that offered life drawing courses. I quickly paid my fee for 10 sessions and showed up, ready to be transported back to Paris.

Well, to say the least, it wasn’t Paris. I arrived at this small, cluttery “studio” filled with old works of art, finished, forgotten or broken. I followed the teacher weaving through piles and shelves of art throw-up until we arrived at a large table in the back. He told me to sit, shuffled a few things so I’d have space to draw, then handed me my art supplies: a sheet of printer paper and one of those yellow #2 pencils with a red eraser. I should have left then, but I’d already paid and my optimism was getting the better of me. I looked around the tight space trying to figure out where the model was going to be. Where were the easels? A #2 pencil? Um, Really?

Other students began to arrive and settled into their seats around the communal table while my mind tried to process what has happening. Then the model arrived… he climbed up on the table and sat in the middle, nekkid only inches away from my white sheet of inkjet paper. Ok… this is new. So I began to draw. After an hour I started getting bored and my eyes trailed to the stick figures the woman next to me was doodling with Crayola Coloring Pencils. Who’d she have to sleep with to get those? She never once looked at the model who held only two poses for the duration of the three hour drawing “course”. Too many things were just wrong in only a short period of time and I missed Paris more than ever.

I never went back.

Once I returned to Paris, I had always intended on taking more art classes. It wasn’t until recently however that I finally gave into my desire to create and expel what little artistic energy I have. I called my old académie des beaux arts (not really wanting to give another one a chance), signed up for a semester course, and a few days later was headed to the same atelier on the outskirts of Paris, my spirits soaring high. I entered the open space just in time to escape the October downpour. Despite the clouds outside, the room was filled with beautiful natural lighting. I put on an old well-worn smock, picked out my easel and hung a few large sheets of pristine paper. The teacher came around passing out bamboo pens and cups of thick Chinese ink. “Don’t focus on your paper, focus on the model!” It never felt so good to be back.

Want to take an art class in Paris?

Painting and drawing in Paris creates beautiful memories, personal souvenirs and is a great way to experience the city that has attracted artists for centuries! If you are interested in signing up for a class during your visit, here are some great places to start:

Paris Painting Workshop
A guided painting tour in Paris that takes students to popular sites in Paris that have inspired the masters. You’ll get an introduction into how they interpreted the site on their canvas before beginning to create your own. Courses are all taught en plein air and all supplies are included.

Paris Loisirs Culturels
Offers single, three hour courses in drawing and painting while studying the works of Early Modern Art masters (Matisse, Bonnard, etc). If you are interested, they also have french/english conversation groups and organize visits to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay.

Laboratoire du Voyage Imaginaire
Focus is on creating art journals, including travel journals, using a variety of techniques and mediums with Paris as your muse. They regularly host workshops, from four hours to three days.

In Paris for a few months? Speak a little French?
Then check out L’Académie de la Croix Nivert which is where I’ve gone. The courses are varied, all skill levels accepted.

14 comments… add one
  1. Lindsey October 19, 2012, 12:31 pm

    Glad you gave it another go – great list here, will be sure to share this with others!

    1. Stephanie October 20, 2012, 10:56 am

      Great! Glad you found it helpful!

  2. Ann Mah October 19, 2012, 2:14 pm

    I love this story — sometimes you CAN go home again (if “home” is an atelier in les banlieues de Paris :). This is a wonderful list of resources — I can’t wait to share it, especially with my dad. He has a weekly drawing with fellow artist friends and I bet he’d love to break out the sketchbook sur Paris the next time he visits me!

    1. Stephanie October 20, 2012, 10:58 am

      I believe that too – going back home has always been an idea my parents have told me isn’t possible. But I disagree, you can go back home so long as your expectations are open. I’m glad you’re dad would be interested in some of these courses! It’s great there are options for tourists and visitors who can only sign up for a few rather than a semester.

  3. Murissa @TheWanderfullTraveler October 19, 2012, 8:06 pm

    Ha! What a funny moment when the woman has coloured pencils – well done!
    A funny post for certain and what a beautiful idea to take art classes in Paris. Would make a lovely and meaningful souvenir.


    1. Stephanie October 20, 2012, 11:01 am

      I know, right? Mind-blowing and disappointing moment. If you plan on checking out any of those art classes, let me know! I’d love to join!

  4. Milsters October 20, 2012, 4:48 am

    Oooh – I’ve been thinking about taking an art class in Paris for a long time! Thanks so much for the recommendations; I’ll be sure to check them out.

    Hope life is treating you well 🙂

    x Milla


    1. Stephanie October 20, 2012, 11:01 am

      Hey! Are you back in Paris? If you are planning on staying longer, I can let you know about some places that offer semester-long courses.

  5. satsumabug October 21, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Cool list — thank you! I’ve been traveling since April and have done life drawing in Toronto, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London. Next month I’ll be in Paris and am hoping to find something there too. 🙂 Do you know if the class you took is still going on?

    1. Stephanie October 21, 2012, 2:09 pm

      Yes, I’m currently enrolled however it’s by semester. The ones I listed are available by single class and great if you are only going to be in Paris for a short time. Best of luck!

  6. Kat October 22, 2012, 11:05 pm

    You’re very talented! I once took a life-drawing class as well, when I studied abroad in Spain. The professor was a bit of a snob though — he made a point of telling us how in his day it took years of studying and drawing from plaster casts before art students drew from live models, and he didn’t seem so thrilled with those of us taking the class as mere dilettantes. I had a lot of fun however, and learned a lot as well!
    Glad you’ve found a great class to keep up the skill!

  7. Lisa Estes October 31, 2012, 5:33 am

    Hi, I loved your story. I laughed out loud at the #2 pencil. The horror!
    I am thinking of spending 6 months or so in Paris taking a few at classes, painting, drawing or whatever. I am open to almost anything. I would love to check out that school outside of Paris. It sounds like heaven.
    My background is a varied mess of all kinds of art and I find myself desperately missing it.
    Please let me know if you can help.
    Thank you, Lisa

  8. Vilde November 23, 2012, 12:24 am

    I loved your post. I am a Norwegian moving to Paris for 4-5 months after New Years. Rather than taking a language course were I will meet no French people, I would like to take an art class. Do you recommend anyone (I understand the ones you listed in the post are mainly for single lessons)?

    I have found some courses that have one class a week, but this would be my main occupation so the best alternative would be a course with lessons every day.

    Thank you! I will really appreciate any advice you may have.

    1. Stephanie November 27, 2012, 5:45 pm

      Hey Vilde, thanks for writing! You can always check any of the Academies des Beaux-Arts. I would recommend calling them rather than emailing or navigating their websites to see if you could attend a single course. As for every day courses? That’s a pretty heavy load as most programs meet only once a week for about three hours rather than organize daily classes that are shorter. Hope that helps and best of luck!


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