The Frank Reilly School of Art

The Frank Reilly Teaching Program and the Doug Higgins biography.
Soft cover, 8 1/2 x 11, 156 pages, color. Available on Amazon, $39.99

The Entire Art Teaching Program of Frank Reilly
by Doug Higgins Actor/Artist, Reilly Student
Click here




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Frank J. Reilly as a young teacher at
the Art Students League.

Mr. Reilly when I knew  him at
the Frank Reilly School of Art.









The teaching program of Frank Reilly consisted of communicating an accumulation of knowledge and skills beginning with the elementary and building to the complex. He primarily taught the craft of drawing and then painting the nude figure. Each step in his lectures followed logically upon the step which had been previously taught. His students moved forward in their learning with a degree of confidence as skills were accumulating. The lectures included drawings on a blackboard and always began with something humorous. We continued to attend lectures while in the painting class. There were no grades and the length of study was decided by the student.

Mr. Reilly contracted to write four books that were neither completed nor published which is the reason for my undertaking this project. A complete survey of his program, if it existed, would be far more extensive. “The Frank Reilly School of Art” is an honest account of his teaching as I experienced it during the four years or so that I was his student and monitor during the 1960s. It accurately describes the substance of his teaching.

- Doug Higgins

“COMPOSITION” by Doug Higgins, based on the teaching of Frank Reilly.

Click here to Preview & Purchase “composition” by Doug Higgins.

"Compostion" by Doug Higgins








The classes were from seven to ten o’clock each weeknight and included a ten-minute break every hour. The time was kept by the monitor who called the poses and kept order. After a pose was called students were not allowed to enter the room and disturb the class. The poses were five, fifteen and thirty minutes in length beginning with the fives. A nude model was on a model stand two to three feet high and the male models wore jock straps.

A floodlight was placed a few feet higher than the model and directed at about the center of the torso. The placement of the light was such that the entire figure was about 3/5 in the light for the the forty or so students. There were three rows of seats and the row farthest back was elevated. Where the students sat depended on arrival time and preference. The monitor sat in the middle of the first row.

We drew on 9″ x 12″ sheets of loose, smooth newsprint or tracing paper, with a kneaded eraser within easy reach. The paper was secured by a clip at the top of a masonite support. Using a razor blade and fine sandpaper, we fashioned a chisel edge on a 4b or 6b charcoal pencil which kept its shape due to the way it was used during drawing…




Hold the charcoal pencil thumb up swinging the wrist and arm to create a graceful line and rest the fingers lightly on the paper. When holding the pencil as if writing and moving the fingers, it can be moved only a few inches but when holding the pencil thumb up and moving the wrist, the range of motion is greatly increased. I began to think of drawing as similar to dance…





Sit with the drawing at a 45 degree angle supported on the back of a chair…







The pencil is in motion before it hits the paper (sometimes with a few mid-air test swings). Draw in a downward motion initially using the “fat” portion of the charcoal for a light wide line. Twist the pencil and use the edge for a sharper, darker line or tip up to the point.


The six line figure is not the way to draw, it’s the way to think…







The axis, #4, is an imaginary line through the center of the figure which appears to be straight when viewed from the front. Side view…







The abstract figure becomes more life-like as anatomical features are added…







Mr. Reilly’s six line abstract figure is the way I was taught to think about the relationships of the various parts and proportions of the figure when drawing. I would initially visualize the abstraction and draw with a wide light line and then, as the drawing progressed, adjust more closely to the forms of the model. As I became more certain of placement the lines became darker and more committed…









One great difficulty is the tendency to, ‘tack things on.’ Which is to say, parts of the figure are added to parts already established and the relative lengths and placements are misstated, (frequently due to the model moving). This was overcome by imagining the abstraction and ‘seeing through’ to visualize attachment points, the lengths of body parts and their positions in relation to one another. It was not necessary to ask the model to move to the original position.











In a standing pose with the weight on one leg, I knew about where the head was, the feet and the center of the figure so I began with these, (known quantities). Related to the head, I knew about where a thrust out hip was, the other hip in relation to this, the angle of the shoulders, (with the rib cage), and so on…














Action is the direction of the movement of the figure, initially established with a wide, light line.

A line comes from somewhere and goes somewhere. I formed the habit of constantly looking for relationships when drawing, making certain every line was in relationship to something else.

By first indicating the head, then the center, (crotch), and then the base, I didn’t draw from the top down and hope the feet would be on the page.

A drawing isn’t exact so mistakes were made on the side that would help, eight heads high instead of seven, for instance.

The word relationship in this context means that the position of everything on the figure was found by finding imagined connections.

“Relationship” was the word most used by Mr. Reilly, (drawing and painting) and was key to placement, shape, balance, proportion and structure.


Art school drapery studies. The cowboy and the man with the sunglasses are from photographs…




























When drawing a figure with clothing, be conscious of form, action and tailoring. Think of supporting surfaces, gravity, pull points and structure based on the six line abstraction.

Drapery is used to design a figure and is mostly fairly straight lines and the shapes of folds is generally triangular.


Keep drapery on the form underneath…











This demonstration piece shows a White, a Gray and a Black cube. These are their local values. The White cube is lightest in the light and the shadow, the Gray cube is intermediate in the light and the shadow and the Black cube is darkest in the light and the shadow. These relationships remain constant on the three visable planes of the three boxes. The cast shadows do not change. A simple way to say this is that… a White box will not be Black on the shadow side. Holding the relationships of the values (and color) true in both the light and the shade is called…’holding a local’.




(available at




Male Female

Negative shapes


Station points


Cross Section

Related forms







Muscle groups

Bones and muscles of the head


Light and shade

Shadows are…




Planes of the head



One point perspective

Two point Perspective

Three point perspective




Black, white and gray backgrounds

General abstract ideas

Color abstraction

Color choices

Composition ideas


Simplified color wheel


Art school palette and supplies

Color charts

Required paint, their values and chromas

Yellow/red chart

Wash-in for figure painting


Order of importance

Order of doing



A figure painting is most dependent on…



Graduations and progressions



Types of illumination

Four light conditions




Landscape color








To Frank J. Reilly, my undying gratitude for lighting the way and providing an excellent example of how to live a life.

Rudy Hornish had been a professor of English at Seton Hall University before he came to work at the Prudential Insurance Company where I first met him. We both became New York actors and stayed in touch over the years. Rudy eventually became an Executive Producer with Paramount Pictures. Thank you, my friend, for your guidance and encouragement.

Charles Movalli, is the editor of number of fine art books and former contributing editor to American Artist Magazine. Charles is an accomplished and gifted artist as well and a friend. Thank you for your helpful and needed editorial advice and content suggestions.

Candido Rodriguez had been the monitor of the drawing class when I first enrolled in the Reilly School. He has been of great assistance, supplying me with details missing from my Art School notebook.

My appreciation to Susan McGarry, former editor-in-chief of Southwest Art magazine who began this project by suggesting I write an artist statement and recommending a list of possible headings.

And, for your interest, thank you! My great hope is that you are finding my books worthy of your time and of assistance.

Fare well!

Doug Higgins

Doug Higgins and Whalley – Photo Bill Hudson

32 Responses to The Frank Reilly School of Art

  1. Hi Doug,
    Enjoyed your book very much. I often pull it out as a reference!
    Thank you,

  2. Great work Doug. Glad to see your work again. You live in pretty country. Enjoy your Spring up there.
    San Juan Capistrano
    (We painted in miserable Laguna for a Museum Show. I enjoyed your sense humor. We needed it there.)

  3. Thanks for your comment, Mark. The few days in Laguna were unpleasant for me as well. Something I’d never do again. I did enjoy the artists I met, you among them. I navigated around you web site and was struck by how fine the work is. I told one of my students to take a look at your work on line and she liked it as well. Hopefully we both learned a thing or two.
    Best, Doug

  4. I’m very pleased, Kathy, that you have my book and are using it as a reference. My site has had over five hundred and fifty thousand page views, mostly viewing the portion of the book that can be seen, and artist and art student visitors from about fifteen countries a day. Please excuse a little boasting but it’s rewarding to think that so many people are responding especially after all the work that went into it. Of course, most of the credit goes to Mr. Reilly.
    Good to hear from you,

  5. I am planning a trip to Santa Fe next spring and am interested in taking some oil painting or pastel classes. Do you give classes or workshops or can you recommend anyone who does. Thank you.

  6. Hello Amy. Sorry for the delay. I don’t have any workshops planned for next spring at this time but if there are changes I’ll leave a message here for you. Probably be best if I had your email address. There are other classes here but none that I would recommend. Sometimes Michael Lynch or John Poon teach one-week workshops here. You might get in touch with them and I would recommend either one.

  7. Harvey M. Feinrider

    Dear Doug Higgins,
    In the summer of 1961 between terms at Queens College I attended Frank Reilly’s school on 57th street above the fur shop. Frank’s drawing program, his teaching ability and his
    personal kindness are treasured memories. I remember an advanced student who assisted Frank during class. I wonder if that was you? After Queens College I studied architecture
    at Pratt and practiced architecture until retiring a few years ago and have now returned to my first love, art, and so, after a slight hiatus, I have come back to Frank Reilly.

  8. Dear Harvey,
    I was Mr. Reilly’s monitor both in the drawing class and then in the painting class for about four years up until the time that he passed away. If you were there in the night class at about that time then yes that was me. teaching ability and personal kindness are what I remember as well. Remember the little office he had in the lobby? He used to invite me in there to discuss all manner of things. I recall his telling me about “Brownie” (Arthur Brown) who had just passed away and it was clear how much he missed him. Well I still miss Mr. Reilly just as much today as then and can still hear him giving me advice as I’m painting.
    Welcome back to Mr. Reilly and I wish you all the very best with your drawing and painting.

  9. Doug..ran across this site through the post you put on WetCanvas. Just read through much of your material and sketched the figures you show from Rielly’s teaching. You have much information here for all to use and I for one am thankful for it. Happy Thanksgiving and a long life to you.

  10. Thank you, Max, and there’s much more information in the book which may be purchased for $14.00 or so.

  11. Great moments here to read , and impressive to see your passion and such open sharing ….from a Figurative art student/ Artist on her own Journey – Sandra Heading !

  12. Thank you for making this available, Doug.

    I’ve been curious about the Reilly method for years, but what little information there is has ranged from the oblique to the downright mystical. But today I read through one of your discussions on and the systems you describe seem unique and worthy of attention. I was impressed how down-to-earth your explanations were. So I’ve ordered a copy and look forward to reading it.

    Have you considered releasing an ebook version?

  13. C, I have taken your advice and am in the process of creating an e book. It will contain all of the Reilly teaching material plus my biography as it pertains to my art career and will have many color images.

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