Lewes is home to an enormously talented painter who has established an inspirational atelier devoted to teaching students the techniques and skills used hundreds of years ago to produce some of the world’s greatest works of art.
Jason Tremlett not only creates superb work himself but wants to ensure others benefit from the invaluable classical training he received.
He believes such a sound foundation gives artists the ‘building blocks’, the fundamental aspects of drawing and painting from life, that enable them to progress to developing their style to significant effect.
He is now combining a highly-successful career as a professional artist with passing on his knowledge and experience at his atelier in the beautiful surroundings of Lewes House.
“What has become known as the Atelier System is modern artistic training based on 19th-century Paris studies,” Jason explains.
“In that era, a handful of artists brought back to life the kind of teaching that dates back to the Renaissance. Now a handful of others who were their students are bringing that approach to teaching back to life and I aim to keep that momentum going.”
Jason’s love of art dates back to his early childhood.
“I’ve drawn and painted as long as I can remember,” he says. “I did A-level Art, but when I went to university, I studied maths which was my other love.
“After my degree, I worked in insurance and finance, but in my early 30s, I found myself in the unique position of having a lot of freedom and the opportunity to rethink what I wanted to do.
“I did a foundation course in art at the City College Brighton and Hove and loved it. I realised that was what I wanted to do full-time.
“I visited various universities to look at what courses were available, but it seemed that the best thing for me was to get my education in art from Charles Cecil at his studio in Florence.
“The teaching method Charles uses stems directly from the leading ateliers of 19th-century Paris who drew on a 500-year history of painting, starting from the early Renaissance right through to Impressionism.
“I think the most significant influence on me has been the paintings by Velasquez who in terms of Impressionism, was the first true Impressionist.
“I try to pass on the knowledge I gained with Charles to the students at my atelier, hopefully, a continuation of those ideas, taking them forward.
“I’m well-known for portraits, but I think of myself as an artist who paints portraits rather than a portrait painter. I also do still life and landscapes, and when I do a portrait, I don’t just try to capture the character, I am fascinated by the atmosphere and the light behind the subject matter. A good painting has to work on a visual but also a conceptual level. That comes through the training.”
Jason spent most of a four-year period, from 2012 to 2016, studying at Charles Cecil’s studio, where he also taught on both the full-time programme and drawing and painting summer courses. During that time he also studied briefly at Studio Escalier in France as well as establishing a small teaching studio in Vera, Spain in 2014.
Having returned to the UK, he set up a small studio in Brighton but then came the move to Lewes, where his wife Jennifer Kahlo, has a family.
“We were searching for a site for a new studio which had the right light and the space we needed,” Jason explains. “That isn’t easy in the south of England, but we found a place in Lewes, at Fisher Street Studios, and moved there in 2017. “
Jason says the studio at Fisher Street was a beautiful place to be, and he and Jennifer were sad to leave it, but they had outgrown it after a very successful academic year in 2018-2019 and needed more space.
In September they established their new studio in Lewes House, a beautiful building with a secluded garden yet still in the heart of the town. The new, larger space can accommodate more prominent, more ambitious projects as well as a daily figure drawing class.
At Jason’s Atelier, students work alongside him and benefit from instructor demonstrations and individual critique as well as the class discussion and experimentation that exists naturally in a working studio. It is one of only a few studios in the UK teaching the Atelier methods.
Classes are suitable for all levels of experience, from complete beginner to experienced artist and Jason’s atelier offers a full-time and flexible part-time programme.
The rigorous and focused training allows students to develop both their eye and their handling of contour, value and colour for an accurate representation of light. They are introduced to the ‘site-size’ approach taught in major modern ateliers and used historically by painters such as John Singer Sargent, the origins of which date back to the Renaissance.
“There’s a great tradition of painters opening their studios to students so that it becomes a place to pass on knowledge and also a place for experimentation and exchange of ideas,” Jason says.
“Studying in Florence was not cheap, and a lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford that. I felt I wanted to be able to provide somewhere students could learn the same techniques and skills, share the same ideas.
“Through my atelier, I’ve found a much cheaper way to allow someone to experience all that, which I think is very worth doing, and from my point of view, it gives me space and a sense of community as well as providing a regular income. I can also continue with my projects and commissions.
“We have a mix of students with very different backgrounds and experience, and they have different goals and aspirations. The youngest is 18. The oldest is 70 — a small number desire to become professional artists.
“There has been a resurgence of the demand to learn traditional craftsmanship and drawing skills. Particularly in the first year, these skills and techniques are no different from learning your scales on the piano. Having learnt the right skills, you might then go on to develop your own thing, choose to become a free-jazz musician or a classical musician.
“I have a passion for both painting and teaching. I aim to make sure the traditional skills don’t get lost, they are the building blocks, and I want to pass them on to others.
“Lewes is a great place to be doing this – it has its own creative and artistic community, and that does help as well as being a beautiful and inspirational location.”