A beautiful future

Ambitious Austin academy has designs to rival famous European art schools

Ambitious Austin academy has designs to rival European art schools

Atelier Dojo Austin art school
Atelier Dojo offers a space for artists to learn and train. Atelier Dojo Austin/Facebook

For those looking to receive a classical arts education, academies in Florence, Paris, or New York City may come to mind, but for many, hopping a plane (or moving to a different continent) is a wild fantasy. And while Austin has an ever-growing creative and art community, an academy up to snuff with such institutions like the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze just doesn’t exist. That is where Jennifer Balkan, Denise M. Fulton, and Karen Offutt come in. 

“Karen and I had been painting together for a very long time,” explains Baltan, a figurative artist. “We met ages ago at an open studio and became fast friends. At the time, we had already been fantasizing of a place in Austin where we could go and take workshops with renowned people.”

The friends were later joined by Fulton, a landscape artist, for a weekly painting sessions. All three had been in the industry for years, and all felt Austin was missing an educational space for aspiring artists in classical realism. But it was Fulton’s business acumen and experience running video game companies that became one of the most important factors in bringing their idea to life.

During one of the first times the women met to discuss what would eventually become Atelier Dojo, an East Austin arts academy offering open studios three times a week, bimonthly workshops, and group classes, Fulton came prepared with a list of potential places to rent and had already spoken to the city. 

“Sure enough, she was there with her whiteboard and Post-it Notes,” Offutt remarks. 

The three co-founders soon found their home at Canopy, a hub they adore for its proximity to Big Medium and its flourishing community of artists. There, students can hone their skills, enhance their understanding of the craft, and enjoy sessions with talented painters. The trio all offer classes at the Dojo of their own eight-week courses on everything from Intro to Portrait Painting to Artistic Anatomy, plus multi-day workshops. 

And while the students that come to Atelier Dojo range in age, background, and artistic level, the founders say the all come with a purpose and understanding that practice truly does make a picture perfect. 

“I’ve been asked how long it takes to become a professional artist,” Balkan says. “Much like regular athletic training is necessary to achieve professionalism in a sport, mastery of drawing and painting requires daily exercising of one’s growing skills. Through the routine practice of study from observation coupled with instruction from a master, the student of drawing and painting can attain a proficiency in this visual language. And then once that student finds their voice, they can achieve greatness.”

For those craving even more serious study, the studio is now offering Dojo Academy, a three-year program comprised of three 12-week terms each year with a two-month break each summer. Classes run daily from 9 am- 4 pm and are taught by Dojo staff.

Artist Justin Balleza, who happened to learn the academic approach in Florence, believes Dojo Academy also has a more modern vision for the future of fine art. 

“There [are] still those studios in Paris, Florence, and New York where you study for years and learn the traditional methods, but it’s very slow going,” he says. "It can also mean that training in a very specific method can make it so you miss out on other techniques.”

Balleza, alongside artist Danny Grant, will be teaching foundational art skills, which includes methods on how to make this arts training work for each individual student.

“We provide different points of view and from the beginning talk about where the training is going,” Balleza says. 

As Atelier Dojo's last pillar, Dojo Academy continues to fill Austin’s arts education gap while providing a destination in Texas for artists to both teach and learn.

For those interested in joining the Dojo Academy, signing up for a monthly membership or wanting to drop-in on an open studio, visit atelierdojo.com. Memberships are available and prices range depending on class.