May 29, 2022

The Fourthny

Art is beauty

Student Interview: M. Joy Lemon

5 min read


I am beginning a series sharing interviews with some of my students. Please enjoy this first interview with Online Atelier member M. Joy Lemon:

Artwork by M. Joy Lemon completed during her studies at Sadie Valeri Atelier

“Shell In Drapery”, charcoal and white chalk on toned paper


How did you decide to start studying at Sadie Valeri Atelier?

After I obtained a BFA from a local university I was producing decent work, but felt I lacked skill and refinement in a way I could not clearly define at the time. For painting I used photo references and projectors to get the drawing in as I didn’t want to “waste time” drawing by hand. I remember hearing “a good painter is a good drawer” and I wanted to be a good painter, the best I could be. The need to produce and sell work was pulling against a deeper inner desire to really learn how to draw and paint.

In the spring of 2020 I began to seriously research art, artists, art practices, etc. and came across Sadie online speaking at an art symposium [Sadie’s talk at the 2018 AWA Symposium on Women in the Arts link]. She opened my eyes to a whole different world of art based around classical realism with an academic approach to learning. That led to viewing Sadie’s art, reading her blog (from 2006 on) and realizing how much someone’s ability can grow after just a few years of classical training and workshops with a master artist. That’s when I decided to join the atelier and start the process myself.

How long have you been a student at Sadie Valeri Atelier?

For just under two years I have been working through the atelier drawing courses, from ellipses to spheres to objects, learning to block in the proportions of an object(s) and then the process of turning form or shading. Initially this was done in graphite, but now in charcoal and chalk, which is a wonderful painterly medium and a great precursor to working with paint. I didn’t anticipate staying so long in the drawing curriculum before moving into painting, but seeing my abilities and understanding progress so well encouraged me to stay with drawing and continue to hone my skills.

Artwork by M. Joy Lemon completed during her studies at Sadie Valeri Atelier
“Drapery Study III”, charcoal and white chalk on toned paper

How did you feel when you first started?

I was excited and surprised to find something like an online atelier program completely set up by a very talented and competent artist who had years of experience teaching and working within the atelier system, that being Sadie Valeri. I felt I was entering a dedicated, well thought out and strenuous training program that had the rigor I was seeking and could bring forth from me the discipline and dedication needed for the work ahead.

After purchasing some initial supplies and getting my studio space set up, I read through the handouts, watched a number of training videos, got a handle on the process and began with the first project. I also read through a number of student threads which I found very inspiring and educational. The ability to watch other students progress, and even struggle in places, is a tremendous part of this learning process, not to mention a form of community for each of us.

How do you feel your art skills have improved through the course?

With technique I have learned about the importance of setting up a good composition; working through planning decisions by utilizing value studies, value scales, contour drawings, and a shaded sphere with light source; gained proficiency in representing form and proportion through the process of block in and form turning, which requires innumerable value decisions; and learned the significance and essence of observation and how to express rather than copy what I see.

I am also developing a daily discipline that can hopefully be sustained for a lifetime; finding a healthier approach to facing failure and imperfection in the creative process; learning to pause and reflect on the art and what it is or is not communicating; and lastly the necessity to continue to research and draw inspiration from our great lineage of art history.

Artwork by M. Joy Lemon completed during her studies at Sadie Valeri Atelier

“Spires”, charcoal and white chalk on toned paper

What kind of feedback do you find most useful?

For me the feedback that is critical, visual, and specific is best. I am noticing more and more the subtleties and nuances in the artistic and observational process and how much there is that I don’t or can’t see with my level of (in)experience. The depths of understanding just can’t be exhausted, which makes for an adventurous and challenging journey.

Acquiring greater knowledge of both the technical and the visual has been tantamount to receiving gold from Sadie and her team. An example would be the time Sadie, in a feedback session, brought to my attention a major yet easily remedied issue in my drawing. Instead of just pointing it out she walked me through a visual reflection process so I could discover for myself what she was seeing. It was an opportunity for me to stretch my observational and meditative muscles while also learning about a technique to add illumination to an object with in a drawing.

Where do you live?

Grand Rapids, MI

What is your home studio space setup like?

My eyes were opened to the impact of a proper studio space when I placed a vase in a shadow box in my brightly lit studio and noticed light coming from all directions including the ceiling. The vase was washed out and not at all inspiring. Later that night in complete darkness, I illuminated it with a small lamp and all of a sudden it just glowed with beauty, making the form and its characteristics very evident. I couldn’t believe the difference.

M. Joy Lemon’s home studio setup

With that in mind I proceeded to move my whole studio space to another room where I could paint all the walls and ceiling a dark muted neutral and cover any windows and doorways with drapery to block the light. I built a smaller standing easel to save space, purchased daylight (5000k, 90+ CRI) bulbs for my easel lamp, set up a movable table/shelf system, scavenged a few additional lamps for still life setups, added some wooden boxes and objects to work from and I was off. It was all done on a budget, but it works pretty well.

M. Joy Lemon with her personal artwork
“Ornamental Cabbage”


M. Joy Lemon is a
Feedback Member in Sadie’s Online Atelier. She has completed the courses Intro to Classical Drawing, Bargue Plate Drawing, Cast Drawing, and Drapery Drawing with Charcoal and Chalk. She recently completed her own personal self-challenge to create “8 drawings in 80 days” with a series of highly developed charcoal and chalk still lifes, using the principles and techniques she learned in the program. Within the 80 days she actually completed 9 drawings.

M. Joy Lemon’s Website
Follow M. Joy Lemon on Facebook



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