The class is getting ready to start. The students get comfortable, they take out their drawing pads and pencils. The teacher puts on a bossa nova tune and proceeds to arrange the still life. The space is small, but charming and cozy. The walls are covered with paintings and drawings by the students and the teachers. In Syn Studio, art is all around.
Blending traditional art education with modern teaching methods, Galerie Synesthésie, now being shortened to Syn Studio, proves that anyone can learn how to draw, and is becoming one of the fastest-growing art schools in Montreal.
Syn Studio was born four years ago when Anthony Walsh was pursuing his master’s in psychology. When he found out about new teaching methods in art education inspired by recent psychology research, he became fascinated. He met art teachers who taught with these techniques and in 2007, decided to open an art school that embraced these discoveries.
“What we kind of decided upon was that the philosophy of the school would be this idea of drawing on the right side of the brain, which is the idea that anyone can draw,” said Walsh. “It’s not really about talent; it’s about being in the right stage and using the right side of your brain.”
Walsh started beginner classes and was impressed to see the breakthroughs the students would make as they would switch to right-brain mode. With experiments such as getting them to try a left-hand drawing or putting the model in uncommon positions, he realized that anyone can learn to draw and that art is really about looking at the world in a different way and using your brain differently.
Walsh says when people focus too much on technique, it takes them more time to do things because they have to fight with what they know and with what they’re already used to seeing and doing.
“We’re not really looking at the world until you’ve been trained to see the world for what it really is. But in fact, we’re just looking at our own mental representations of the world, and that’s what you have to break people out of to really teach them to draw,” said Walsh.
The name Galerie Synésthesie comes from these psychological breakthroughs. Synésthesie is French for synesthesia, which is a psychological or neurological condition where your senses mingle together. Famous artists are eight times more likely to have this condition than the rest of the population, but as children we’re all synesthetes. Babies’ senses are mingled together, and as we get older, we learn to inhibit this, which is exactly what Walsh wants to either avoid or bring back in students.
Besides teaching students how to colour outside the lines, the art school also offers classes that are hard to find in Montreal. In addition to drawing, painting and illustration, classes on comic book making, digital art, and video game environment design are also offered.
As if that weren’t enough, Syn Studio also provides a high quality art instruction with teachers such as Meinert Hansen, who is the senior concept artist at Warner Brothers Games, and Geof Isherwood, a highly renowned name in the comic book world, having drawn for Marvel and DC Comics since 1985.
And even that is not enough. Walsh also has a side project called Sketch and the City, a classy and sexy drawing event for bachelorette parties and a completely different concept than the one we’re used to thanks to movies like The Hangover and Bridesmaids. It basically works like this: it takes place either at Syn Studio or the girl’s venue of choice. A male model is hidden and nobody knows he’s there except for the girl who booked the event. Strawberries and champagne are given, as well as charcoal or coloured pencils. Guests are given drawing pads and they warm up a bit with some fun exercises, maybe using their left hand or doing something that suddenly activates the right side of their brain.
As they’re trying to sketch their friends’ faces, the left side of their brains is shutting down and the right side is activating. They start giggling at how silly they make each other look. Now, they’ve got some champagne in them, and as soon as they are really warmed up, the male model comes out and takes his robe off. The girls get shy and giggly, but then they sketch him and they start being amazed at how good their sketches become, and by the end of it, they’ve had a fun, sexy and artsy event.
“You have to walk this line between being kind of naughty, sexy and giggly and being innocent, artistic and classy,” said Walsh. “That’s the fine line where we always stay on.”
Walsh has big plans. With Sketch and the City, which has already reached Toronto and is currently being launched in South Africa, he wants to continue expanding into other countries, solidify their base in the United States, and eventually in the U.K. He’s aiming for the whole English-speaking world.
As far as the art school goes, he wants to focus even more on the video game classes and eventually move to a bigger space where they can run simultaneous classes, and maybe someday offer a full-time program. He expects to have 120 students next semester and about 300 students a year from then on.
“I think that Montreal, which is such a game and film industry and is such an artistic city, lacks a really good place for people to learn from industry professionals,” said Walsh. “And that’s really what I want to offer.”