Matt Mancini and a student at the Academy Of Realist Art.


Matt Mancini has found a way to pursue his passion for art and make a living in the process. Mancini is one of 125 full and part-time students that attend the Academy Of Realist Art (ARA) in Toronto. When he’s not refining his painting techniques, the talented 23-year-old artist instructs fellow students and does portrait commissions.

“Passing on a great teaching to others is a reward in itself,” he says. “It’s another way to incorporate all aspects of what I love about art and share with those who love it as well.”

For more than 10 years ARA — under the leadership of Fernando Freitas and Colleen Johnston — has drawn a steady stream of local and international students. ARA started when Freitas and some friends, desperate to learn academic- style painting, pooled their resources to bring an instructor from Florence, Italy, Michael John Angel. Demand for their apartment-based workshops quickly grew to the point where ARA needed to move into its new 11,000 sq. ft. digs at the corner of Dundas West and Pacific Streets.

Many ARA students have won awards for the work they produce there. The studio is in fact one of a rare handful of approved ateliers around the world that trains students in the classical academic style, a rigorous process that takes people through a series of drawing and painting exercises.

While the learning regimen is disciplined, the atmosphere is as relaxed as it can be. The open, communal environment combines informal and formal studio sessions for students of all ages and skill levels, with plenty of one-on-one instruction time.

Freitas and Johnston are both deeply committed to the belief that anyone can learn to draw and paint if they have the desire. That’s why the school has an open door, pay-as-you-go policy so students can put in the hours they choose. People can start at any time, with fees starting at $200 a month for nine hours of studio time a week, including life drawing. (Unlike other art studios of this calibre, ARA does not require a portfolio for admission (hobbyists and beginners are welcome).

Johnston believes this approach is what truly inspires creativity. “Every single student from the beginner to advanced helps to refine the process. Everyone learns from each other.”

“I want every student that comes in here to succeed,” adds Freitas. “I get such satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment when they ‘get it’. That’s a great moment.”

And for those who think art studios are only for dabblers, guess again. Students like Matt are building successful careers as instructors and/or painters. For example, Shaun Downey sells his works at galleries in Yorkville; Heather LaRue is a well-known children’s portrait artist; Tyler Figueira is using his artistic skills in high-tech marketing; and Diliana Popova does commissioned historical paintings. For information, visit www.academyofrealistart.comor call 416-766-1280.

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