Atelier Dojo -
Instructor Justin Balleza (photo by @bigmediumaus…ashtagvince)

Austin-based art studio Atelier Dojo, which is on the Advisory Board for Realism Today, recently announced the launch of their new intensive study program, Dojo Academy, geared toward students who are looking to further their education in classical realism and achieve the highest levels of draftsmanship and painting skills. Dojo Academy will offer students extensive courses in practicing figurative art from direct observation of both cast and live models and mastering formal techniques, enabling students to better deliver the unique vision of their own work.

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Painting during the East Austin Studio Tour

“Refining skills in drawing can only serve both to strengthen one’s ability to understand the overall visual language of art and also to create work with depth and conviction,” said co-founder Karen Offutt. “Here in Austin, we want to help students be able to take their abilities in realism to a new level so that they can achieve the type of mastery that allows them to apply those skills in their own work in the contemporary realism movement.”

The name “dojo” comes from the Japanese word for “place of the way.” In other words, it is a place of profound discipline and commitment, where people can come from all over to learn in physical and/or mental practice until they achieve true mastery over their subject. As students progress in their subject, they often become instructors themselves to new students who enter into the training.

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Early Academy Project drawing simple shapes

“I’ve been asked how long it takes to become a professional artist,” said co-founder Jennifer Balkan. “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.”

Traditionally, aspiring students have had to travel to New York City or Florence, Italy, to attend world-class art academies to expand upon their professional training in figurative art. And while universities offer courses in such disciplines, the daily practice of drawing and painting over a sustained period under the guidance of a professional is invaluable for understanding and implementing the classical principles of design theory and painting practice. Thus, the Atelier Dojo founders sought to fill a void in the Austin art community and throughout the southern region with the opening of Dojo Academy.

“We’re excited to be able to expand the Dojo’s offerings to include a full-time program,” said co-founder Denise Fulton. “Aspiring artists no longer need to leave Austin to get a formal education in classical realism.”

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Instructor Justin Balleza demonstrates sight-size method

2020 Program Terms

The Academy’s schedule comprises three 12-week terms each year with a two-month break each summer. Students may begin the program at the start of any session where both full- and part-time study will be offered. Applications are currently open for the Winter session, which will launch January 6, 2020, and run through March 27, 2020. Courses will be offered at Atelier Dojo’s East Austin studio, located at the Canopy Arts Complex (916 Springdale Rd, Building 2, Suite #106B, Austin, Texas 78702). Full-time students will have access to the studio space during each weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Part-time students can choose to study either mornings or afternoons, and all students will have access to all open studios.

Winter (January 6, 2020 – March 27, 2020)
Spring (March 30, 2020 – June 26, 2020)
Fall (August 31, 2020 – November 20, 2020)

Contemporary Realism Figure Study
Figure study by founder Karen Offutt


Atelier Dojo is a professional art academy and studio that is the dream of three female artists determined to cultivate a community of representational painters in Austin. Nationally recognized founders Jennifer Balkan, Denise Fulton, and Karen Offutt have embarked on a journey to create a home for emerging and established artists through workshops, classes, and open studios.

Drawing the feet
Student work: Konstantin Popov

Atelier Dojo is located in East Austin’s Canopy Arts Complex. The studio features classes, workshops, open studios, and memberships for artists looking to refine their skills. The Dojo has a talented and diverse group of instructors who teach on a rotating basis. The school believes that the foundation of realist art is the trained eye for observation. Classes are led by artists who are nationally recognized in their field and teach a curriculum based around the classical skills integral to realist drawing and painting. Students are also encouraged to attend open studios where they can hone their newfound skills alongside students of all levels. Atelier Dojo is a haven for all artists, not just those who are enrolled in current classes.

Portrait sketch
Sketch by founder Karen Offutt

The academy was founded by a collective of women who all had unique journeys with one thing in common through it all, painting. From the executive boardroom at Microsoft and Dreamworks to PhDs and self-taught art careers turned academic, these women all found their paths led to the world of fine art and refined skill.

Figure drawing
Student work: Shama Dasi
Contemporary realism painting
“When I Grow Up” by founder Jennifer Balkan


Jennifer Balkan grew up with a pencil in hand. She studied neuroscience and obtained her PhD after conducting anthropological fieldwork in Mexico. She longed for artistic creativity and soon thereafter sought out painting classes, open studio sessions, and book study where she pieced together training in representational oil painting. She has been teaching figure and portrait painting in oils to private groups of students since 2005. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and in Europe and has been featured in a number of national and international art publications. Her portraits have received awards by the Portrait Society of America. She was named “Best Visual Artist of 2015” by the Austin Chronicle’s Readers’ Poll. In 2016, Jennifer was invited by the Academy of Realist Art in Boston to participate in their figure painting competition. In 2017, she was included in Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine’s photo essay on leading contemporary figurative painters. This year, Jennifer was nominated by the Austin Critics Table for Austin’s Best Visual Artist of 2018.

Contemporary figurative art
“Hope” by founder Jennifer Balkan

Denise M. Fulton earned a BFA in painting and pattern design before entering the corporate world for over two decades. She oversaw the development of high profile video games at Microsoft, Dreamworks, Electronic Arts, Eidos, and Midway while still spending her free time honing her painting skills. She left the boardroom in 2009 to pursue a career in the professional fine arts. Since then she has exhibited her work in prestigious shows across the country and organized and curated local exhibitions: Painters Painting Painters at Davis Gallery in 2016 and Refigured: Radical Realism at the Dougherty Arts Center in 2018.

Contemporary realism figurative art - atelier dojo - denise fulton
Figure painting by Denise Fulton

Karen Offutt is a native Texas figurative artist who was self-taught until she decided to endeavor a more formal approach to her education at Austin Fine Arts Classes. From there, she attended workshops from nationally renowned artists to refine her skills. She focuses on drawing and painting with oils while taking a more introspective approach to her art. Since 2002, her work has been exhibited all across the country as well as being featured in major art publications. Her portraits have received awards by the Portrait Society of America and Oil Painters of America. Since 2017, her work has been included in the Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine’s photo essay titled “More Than Just Faces.” This year, she was featured in the May issue of Southwest Art Magazine.

Contemporary portrait painting
“Sprite” by founder Karen Offutt

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Jennifer Balkan figurative artist
Jennifer Balkan of Atelier Dojo – Austin drawing a model during a Studio session at the recent Figurative Art Convention & Expo.