John Evans: Art Lessons at Apollo Academy of Fine Art

After hearing about it from Lisa Qi and Yamaoka Sensei, I started attending art classes at the Apollo Academy of Fine Art in late September. Every Thursday, I would ride the subway from Doshisha to Karasuma Oike. Afterwards, I would walk several blocks southwest to the apartment building in which the classes took place, surrounded by various stores and traditional merchant homes (machiya). Though the idea of a class in an apartment seemed strange to me at first, the class was very comfortable and organized and had the familiar accumulation of random sculptures, kitchenware, and fake flowers used for still lives back home.

I was initially thrown off by the fact that the majority of students were adults, many around my dad’s age – I had been expecting students around my age. The students were more or less consistent every week and had been attending for quite some time. As of such, they were very talented. There was the occasional foreigner that came to classes, though we still spoke in Japanese. I would spend 3 and a half hours working, though the professor and the other students often urged me to stay longer. I had no materials with me in Japan, but luckily the professor sold them, (i.e. pencils and a sketchbook). Throughout the class period, the professor would walk around the room, pointing out strengths and weaknesses in everyone’s work, but I often had a hard time understanding his suggestions since I lacked the proper vocabulary, which led me to search for helpful words to use in future classes. I had initially signed up for watercolors, but for the first month and a half I only worked on still life drawings. However, I reminded the professor I would only be attending until December, which allowed me to start painting a little earlier.

Although all of the students were serious about their art, the class was not solely work. About halfway through, the professor and his colleague would set out snacks and tea. This break was a great opportunity to speak to get to know others in the class. My classmates often asked me not only about my hometown, but my family’s heritage, which I personally do not know a whole ton about since it is not a common conversation for me back in the US. I was also surprised after I contributed tea one week because I was thanked the following week as well, even though it had seemed very minor to me. Like many American students, I had only ever had female Japanese teachers, which led to issues understanding my professor and my male classmates. I received the occasional chuckle and comment about being “cute” or “too formal” because I was so used speaking formally. However I have had more experience speaking casually after this class. One of my classmates who was designing a poster would occasionally ask me to check her work to see if the spelling and meaning made sense in English. I also received invitations to my classmates’ exhibitions and galleries in the area.

Overall my experience in this class was very rewarding because I was able to sue Japanese in a somewhat “familiar” environment and meet various people who shared my own interests, regardless of background.

4 thoughts on “John Evans: Art Lessons at Apollo Academy of Fine Art

  1. Your CIP ounds really fun although I do agree I’d be a bit hesitant to take formal classes in a regular apartment building! I’m a bit confused on the class setup. How much traditional “instruction” would you receive? Did your teacher lecture at the start of each class or simply assign a theme or object for everyone to draw? I’m sure you went in a skilled artists, but did you meet many total beginners, and if so, what did their progress look like compared to yours? All in all it seems like you really found an amazing outlet to improve a skill while meeting people of all walks of life!

    • I was initially worried about it because you’re supposed to work on your own, rather than together like in a club activity, which can restrict speaking time. I suppose it is a bit confusing, but it’s an apartment that has been converted into a classroom setting. The teacher would often just assign us a still life to practice, then leave us to our own devices, coming over to check on us every half hour or so. While many of the other students were quite good, many claimed to have been beginners several months before when they started the class. I’m unsure if this is true or the classic Japanese modesty.

  2. I am glad you got to continue to practice drawing while studying here– although I’m studying kimono making right now, I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous to miss out on the opportunity to hone my skills. Perhaps I’ll try to pursue something similar next semester. Did you ever move on to studying watercolors, or are you still working on still lives?

    • Me too! I’ve been able to make use of watercolor pencils I’ve brought, but I haven’t been able to use watercolors to the extent I’ve wanted to because of the way the professor wants us to progress in the class. Still lives are the bread and butter of the class, for better or for worse.