“Return to Florence” – a documentary on Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy


Life as a classical art student in Florence, Italy

Click the image to order the DVD at Amazon.com

I always dreamt of having the money to go to Florence and learn classical art at an academy – if it’s the Angel Academy, Florence Academy or Cecil Studios. The documentary “Return to Florence” wasn’t really helpful in relieving this desire.

I saw an ad on this documentary on the Art Renewal website and asked my girlfriend if she is still looking for a birthday present for me. So then I got the DVD for birthday.

It is no instructional video where you learn something on making classical art but it is rather a documentary on some foreign students living in Florence, Italy to learn a traditional craft at Charles H. Cecil Studios. All of them have different family backgrounds and prerequisites but all have one thing in common: the desire to learn a traditional craft just like I do and I think the majority of this website’s visitors too.

Besides the student’s view we also learn about the views of a student’s mother, a writer, a model and others.

What are they doing now?

Return to Florence was filmed in 2005 so now after 10 years I was curious if the students made it as an artist or not. Here are the student’s websites if you are curious too:

Watch the trailer:

Order “Return to Florence” at Amazon.com:

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Let others pay for your education

 Crowdfund your classical art training and give something in return


As you know classical art training at an academy is expensive but what if your desire to attend an academy is so strong that you don’t want to learn it on your own at home?

Aspiring artists Eliza Moser and Arthur Haywood started their own crowdfunding projects at Kickstarter.com to make their dream come true. While Eliza aimed to go to the Florence Academy of Art Arthur crowdfunded for the Grand Central Atelier.

Each of them made their own calculations on how much they would need. If you are interested just look in the description of the respective Kickstarter project:

As a supporter of a crowdfunding project you get something in return. Eliza offered free prints of a stil life for those who donated more than $500. Arthur offered staggered rewards – depending on the amount of the donation.

So how can I get people to pay for my education?

Ok, you are convinced that this method brings you closer to a professional art education at an academy? On the blog of Tim Ferris I found an article on “How to raise $100,000 in 10 Days“. This should be sufficient to attend a classical art school in Florence including accomodation, eating ect. 🙂

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Sculpt your own anatomy reference

Joseph Duplessis - Christophe Gabriel Allegrain, Sculptor - WGA06874The classical ateliers also offer – besides drawing and painting classes – sculpting classes where you are taught anatomy either with an écorché figure or a nude figure (see here their Facebook photos with lots of sculpures!).

Écorché simply means flaying/skinning. An écorché figure is a sculpture where the bones and muscles are visible. Here I’ve already talked about some anatomy learning apps for your smart device.

Drawings and paintings are two dimensional representations of a three dimensional reference. Beeing able to make this transfer from three dimensions to a flat surface is the skill you are aiming for in becoming a painter. That’s why you do cast drawings and – in the best case – figure drawings as a preparation for going into colors.

I’ve already shown you how to make your own – and very inexpensive – plaster casts, but now I’m going to talk about how you can make your own reference sculpture without having to buy a large italian marble block and chissels. What you will learn is a three dimensional understanding of form (and patience!). That’s why the painting academies also teach sculpting.


How to start

Today’s materials are superior to those used by the old sculptors – like marble or clay. Marble allows no errors and clay would dry out too fast for a novice sculptor and it has to be baked at temperatures much higher than a regular kitchen oven.

Super Sculpey is an oven curing synthetic clay which you can knead just like putty. After you are finished with your work, you can bake it in the oven so that it gets hard enough for finer improvements like carving details or sanding to a super smooth surface.

After having watched some Youtube videos (see the videos at the end of this post) I started to make a wire skeleton first and then built up an écorché figure.

Now comes the part where the story gets a little complicated for you as a reader but in brief: I made an écorché figure with Super Sculpey. Baked it, made a silicone mold, the figure broke and it looked awful, I made a new figure which is larger.

ecorche figures

From left to right:
1. first figure in Super Sculpey with broken arm
2. first cast with broken hands
3. second figure in Super Sculpey with broken leg
4. perfect cast with Artestone

Super Sculpey has a skin color but in case you’d like to work with a grey clay like I did you can either do it by mixing one part of black FIMO with 20 parts of Super Sculpey or you can use Super Sculpey Firm.

So here are the process pictures of my Super Sculpey 1:6 ecorché figure with skin on its right left side and skinned on its left side:


And this is how it turned out after one week of pure sculpture work and one week for molding/casting:

Anatomy Reference Écorché Figure

Anatomy Reference Écorché Figure


You would like to start now?

Here are the videos I watched prior to my project. Julian Khor’s channel has many many many videos, showing start to finish. You’ll learn a lot about anatomy, since Julian is building his figures from the bones up to every muscle.

Super Sculpey Ecorche Figurine Sculpting-Part 02/34

Unfortunately there is no Part 1 – but here is part one of Julian’s Hercules Ecorche figure:

Go to Julian’s video channel on YouTube: click here

Clay Écorché in 5 minutes:

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Video: Cast drawing ‘Ear’

cast drawing Ear_800

I’ve made a video for my website www.cast-drawing.com

It’s a cast drawing of the ear plaster cast that I am offering in my shop and which is the best selling product of them (besides the skull). You can also see this ear in a drawing by Heather – I wrote about it here.

Another cast from my shop is the mouth piece – here is a cast drawing of the mouth with critiques. And also a Beethoven cast drawing.

For my drawing I used a regular fine 185g/m² drawing paper from a drawing pad and 3 pencils H, HB & 2B and it took me about 8 hours. The editing of the video took even longer 🙁


In my little studio (attic) I just have flourescent light tubes that don’t make a spotlight. Instead of mounting a regular bulb for a spot light source I just wrapped some black card board over the excess tubes. Since flourescent tubes don’t become hot I wasn’t concerned about burning my studio down.


Not shown in the image: I also covered the window to be able to work during the day without changing light conditions. So here is a quick sketch of this setup:


First I taped the paper onto my multi purpose chipboard and then the cast was mounted on the board with a screw. Simple but good.


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I am not alone

In July I posted a list of blogs of professional artists and art schools which I find useful and informative for those learning classical art at home.

But there are also blogs in the internet by other self teaching people just like me.

For example this is Heather’s blog and I must say she is doing verrrry well.

Though she started to blog in August 2012 she took the structured atelier way in October 2012 with a Bargue drawing.

When I found her blog I was happy to see that she used the ear plaster cast from my shop. And this is how it turned out after 50-60 hours:


And this is a cast drawing of a horse head:


So visit her blog and watch her learning classical art at home – her most recent cast drawing project is a Gargoyle.

Heather’s Art Journal

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