School of Representational Art

Chicago, IL


The School of Representational Art (SORA), founded by artist and instructor Bruno Surdo, is located in the heart of Chicago's artistic River North area. The school was established to bring the great painting traditions of the Old Masters to a new generation of artists. SORA exists as a viable and traditional training ground for artists wishing to achieve excellence in drawing and painting. The instructors at SORA are the newest legacy in the atelier system of art instruction. SORA's link to this heritage is through Richard Lack and his School of Classical Realism which stretches back to the great academic and impressionistic painting schools ofthe 18th and 19th centuries.

SORA strives for excellence and demands the best from its students. Through intensive and personalized critiques, art students are thoroughly trained in drawing and painting, color theory and craftsmanship, Lectures in anatomy, perspective and composition round out the artist's education. Composition is especially stressed as a critical component of the art curriculum.

Left: David Abed, Still Life with Brown Jug, Oil; Right: student work by Karen Larson Turner

Students at SORA spend time acquiring the knowledge and skills that form the foundation for continued artistic growth. Each student is given a private work space for his or her own individual projects. Under both artificial and natural lighting conditions, students concentrate their efforts on analyzing and rendering the subtle beauties of their subject. Beginning and advanced students work together under a large north light to study the human figure. Weekly critiques given by the instructors serve to inform and guide students in their step-by-step acquisition of drawing and painting skills.

Of first and foremost concern to an art student is the development of drawing skills. At SORA, students learn several different approaches to drawing, primarily sight-size and comparative/gestural drawing. The sight-size method is a scientific approach to drawing which helps to train the eye and mind to observe and render the subtleties and visual truths in nature. Employing this method, tools such as plumb lines, mirrors and levels are used to analyze a drawing and to check and re-check the student's efforts. This practice also helps to develop criticaljudgment.

Left: drawing by Michelle Haklin; Right: Craig Biletz, Portrait of a Man, pastel.

Sight-size drawing places the observer at a measured distance from his or her subject matter and drawing board. This arrangement allows students to easily compare nature (the subject in form and space) with their own drawing and painting. Students gain the ability to accurately render shape and value relationships on a flat surface. The ability to represent the illusion of three-dimensional form is also dramatically strengthened.

Knowledge of human musculoskeletal anatomy is of utmost importance in the education of a figurative painter. At SORA, a series of lectures is presented during the school year using body casts and anatomical charts. Students incorporate the study of artistic anatomy with gestural drawing. These combined practices teach the student to understand the movement, strength and structure of the human form. Supplemental materials and resources are made available in the school's library. Right: David Abed, Nude Study, charcoal

Sound craftsmanship is also emphasized during a student's training. SORA provides detailed instruction and a clear approach to the use of methods and materials in oil painting. Students learn the process of developing paint layers combined with understanding the "fat over lean" principle. Demonstrations, lectures and visits to the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago are provided as part of the curriculum.

Composition is a major component of an artist's education and is especially stressed at SORA. The acquired technical knowledge of drawing, painting, perspective, anatomy and craftsmanship is of little value or benefit to the art student without an ultimate purpose. Like any other aspect of a student's training, composition must be learned and mastered. At SORA, we believe that composition can and should be taught at all levels of a student's education. Left: Michelle Haklin; Cast Study, charcoal

Learning to organize and creatively express one's thoughts pictorially is perhaps the supreme challenge for the artist. ·It takes many years of guidance, study and practice to acquire and incorporate knowledge of the creative process into the creation of realistic imagery. The structured program in composition at SORA also challenges students to incorporate one-point and two-point perspective problems into their assignments. By this practice, students learn how to compose 3-dimensional space. Problems dealing with the interpretation and expression of ideas, gestural clarity and the use of decorative color are also addressed. Periodic lectures and group discussions about composition are held to encourage and reinforce student progress.

The volume of knowledge, skills and techniques to be mastered while at SORA may sometimes seem overwhelming to the student. However, a disciplined and enthusiastic learner does succeed. Instructors are themselves guided and taught by the council of the Old Masters' paintings and writings, and they seek to create a collaborative work environment in the studio. At SORA, students acquire a solid foundation fiom which to pursue their own artistic endeavors, creating artwork that speaks to the present and to the future. Above right: work by instructor Bruno Surdo


Editor's note: On February 19, 2006 Ms. Amy Boyd wrote to RL and asked that the following information be added to this article. We are happy to add:

School of Representational Art 
Address:  116 W. Illinois  Chicago, Illinois
phone:   847-491-6630


rev. 2/20/06

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