Tuesday – Introduction to Painting from Life with Alex Tzavaras


Tuesdays for three twelve week terms
Flexible study available
Times: 10.00am-4.00pm or 7.00pm-9.30pm
Autumn term: 11th September – 4th December 2018
Half term 23rd October

  • Learn traditional methods artists used up until the start of the 20th century.
  • Discover a simple method for drawing accurate proportion
  • Use light and dark tonal “values” to create a sense of volume.
  • Understand colour with a few basic principles to produce strikingly lifelike images

This structured course uses straightforward step-by-step exercises, specifically designed to clearly explain and familiarise students with the fundamental principles of representational painting. In depth, individual instruction and demonstrations will be given throughout.

It is divided into three parts which the average student will be able to complete in one year.

Why learn to paint with Alex?

Drawing and painting from life isn’t easy. The first time we attempt an ambitious subject like the human figure or a portrait, we struggle and when we do, it’s easy to become discouraged. But why expect to succeed at such a difficult task, without being shown how?

With any other activity, a sport or learning to play a musical instrument you start by learning the basics. Representational art is no different. There are fundamental principles, like natural laws, to help us make sense of the phenomena we see when working from life; proportion, light and colour. If you want to produce work that is really lifelike, you need a thorough understanding of these principles.

Up until the 20th Century, these fundamental principles formed the mainstay of art education, but when representational art went out of fashion these techniques and practices stopped being taught in art schools. Many of today’s tutors have lost this knowledge.

Alex Tzavaras is a contemporary realist artist who is believes strongly in rediscovering the methods used to train the artists of the past and preserving them for future generations.

Alex says: “I was introduced to the exercises and techniques you will learn on this course over a decade ago. They are the foundation of my whole approach to painting. The more familiar I’ve become with them the more I realise how valuable they are. They are probably the single most important thing I know about painting”


Portrait of Mark by Alex Tzavaras

The Course

Part 1 – Mass Drawing, Proportion and Form

Developed in the 19th Century, Mass Drawing is a system of measuring proportion which involves simplifying the complicated appearance of a subject into large abstract shapes or “masses” before working on details. It is essential for working with oil paint directly onto your canvas using the “Alla Prima” technique favoured by artists like John Singer Sargent.

Working in monochrome or “grisaille” from still life and the plaster cast, students on part 1 of this course will learn:

  • How oil paint works and how to use it correctly
  • A system of comparative measurement to draw accurate proportion
  • How light and dark tonal “values” are used to create 3D form
  • To understand edges and their importance for creating a lifelike appearance
  • Practical information about brushes, paint, canvas and other materials

Part 2 – The Principles of Colour

With the endless variety that nature presents us with, colour can be one of the most perplexing areas to tackle when painting from life. Fortunately, there are a few basic rules we can use to make working in colour much less complicated.

Working from still life, first with a limited palette and then in full colour, students on part 2 of this course will learn:

  • The key principle of Relative Colour Temperature.
  • How to replicate the interplay of warm and cool colours to create stunningly lifelike images.
  • Mix colour charts to discover how different pigments behave
  • When to use colour boldly and when to make more subtle choices

Part 3 – The Human Figure

Drawing and painting the human body has been a core practice, used to train representational artists throughout history. One of the most demanding forms of study, to be successful requires a firm grasp of all the principles of working from life.

On part 3 of this course, participants will apply all they have learned about proportion, tonal values and colour. Progressing from plaster casts to working from the life model, students will learn:

  • Capture the “Gesture” of a pose using key anatomical markers
  • Use mass drawing to simplify more complicated subject into easy to manage shapes
  • Mix realistic flesh tones with a convenient limited palette of just four pigments
  • Further develop their understanding of tonal values and edges to sculpt or “model” the human form with paint.
  • How to retain a painterly quality, and avoid getting bogged down in detail

Here is an example of how Alex teaches us to describe simple shapes and relationships which go towards the final complex image in a process he calls “Mass Drawing”



Nominally this course takes one year of of one day a week’s study to complete. Those who can only do half days or evenings may take longer to work through the course and there may be some who already have some of the skills in place who will progress more quickly. In each case Alex will make sure that you are working at the level most appropriate to you.

David Hodgson says

” I came to Alex’s class as a complete beginner in oil painting. He taught us all aspects of using oil paints, brushes, canvas, palettes, cleaning etc.
We also learned the mass technique of painting which is easy to understand but tricky to master but Alex patiently corrected our technique and by the end of the course we had a painting to be proud of.
A very informative and successful course, highly recommended!”

Jane Campion says:

“I’ve completed a term’s study with Alex, having attended many other schools and courses.  He offered clear teaching from his own history acquiring superb, professional painting skills. This was first-hand stuff. …. Alex gives clear step-by-step instructions, layering them as we gained in competence each week, leaving plenty of room for every student to develop a mature, unique style.  And he’s great fun to work with.”

Course fees

12 weeks day class : £600
Fees for any six full days, or twelve half days £350
12 weeks evening class: £350
Fees for six evenings £200

Concessions may be available, please call to discuss.

If you’d like to talk to Alex about this course his phone number is 07717 886609


If you’d like to attend this workshop please register your interest by filling in the form below and paying a £50 deposit to secure your place. We will assume you are signing up for the next term unless you tell us otherwise.


Pay your £50 deposit securely by clicking on the button below.