Growing Up in an Art School

An artist shares the experience of having an artist and teacher as his father, leading him to begin teaching in art school at the very young age of 15.

Painting of a ram
Daniel Bilmes, “Aries,” 60 x 96 inches, Oil and silver leaf on linen

Growing Up in an Art School

(originally written and published in Artists on Art, 2014)

Why not start from the beginning? I was born in 1989 in Oregon to a family of artists. . . My father Semyon Bilmes had an art school, and I started studying with him when I was eight. I literally grew up in an art school. For me studying drawing was the same as math (which I actually loved) or riding a bicycle. And mind you, there was no finger painting or paint splashing—my father was trained in the Russian art academy, and I started with cast drawing and perspective.

I began teaching (in my father’s school) when I was 15, and have kept it up since then. Teaching has been an amazing learning tool for me as well. When you have to explain and demo something to a group of students with diverse backgrounds, you begin to understand things at a deeper level (at least for the sake of your students I hope you do). In 2010 we moved the school to Maui (renaming it “Atelier Maui”).

Being raised in an art school has given me a unique perspective on art education, as well as the struggles and pitfalls involved. I was also never rushed to finish my art education. I studied for about ten years (seven of which were full time) before I worried about selling paintings.

Narrative painting figurative art
Daniel Bilmes, “Held,” 30 x 46 inches, Oil and gold leaf on linen

Advice for Art Students

Leave your ego at the door. Whether it’s art or something else, the role of the student is to soak up as much information as possible, not to impress his/her teacher and peers with his/her knowledge (That comes later when you start to teach, then you can strut all you want!) I truly believe that one of the most important things one can learn is the abstract skill of how to learn . . . Makes sense, right?

Charcoal portrait drawings -
Daniel Bilmes, “Toni,” 3-hour drawing demo, 18 x 24 inches, Charcoal and chalk on toned paper

Get as much schooling done as early as possible, because technique is just the beginning. Learning how to draw and paint doesn’t make you a good artist, it makes you a good technician. What you do with your skills is what counts. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe: “Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it ‘the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.’ The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of ‘Artist.’”

A problem I see with many of the atelier programs is that students are taught only one technique (usually more of a copying method), which limits them to painting in a very specific way. A group of artists graduating from an atelier often come out with a very similar painting style, esthetic, and even subject matter. There are many ways to paint well—many different styles and methodologies that can lead to beautiful works of art.

After experimenting with different styles and levels of finish in my painting methodology, I realized that I loved the interaction of different textures and degrees of polish. I strive to adapt the painting process to represent the subject matter most efficiently and honestly, instead of painting the whole world through the filter of a specific style.

One of the biggest challenges for me is sometimes deciding on a specific subject matter or composition—all those options. There are so many beautiful and interesting things in this world (and beyond this world), that settling on a concept and exploring it far enough is quite difficult sometimes.

As far as where I get most of my ideas and inspiration, I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason behind it. Sometimes it’s an abstract grouping of shapes I see somewhere. Sometimes I’ll be reading, and a certain arrangement of words calls forth a clear image in my head. Also looking at other art and film can be very inspirational—basically, whatever works.

The older I get (and yes, I’m getting really old) the more I’ve been enjoying the exploration and the journey. It no longer seems as important to be so sure about . . . everything.

I plan to get more and more ambitious with my work, and hopefully help bridge the gaps between all the -isms and factions in the art word. To help educate and empower people to be more independent and less institutionalized in their tastes.

Learn more about Daniel at:

> Visit (Publisher of Realism Today) to learn about opportunities for artists and art collectors, including:

  • Art retreats
  • International art trips
  • Art conventions
  • Art workshops (in person and online)
  • And more!