When I was hitchhiking around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, when you could to that sort of thing, I eventually came to Florence, Italy to meet up with my mother and family. There I happened to learn about Studio Simi, taught by Nerina Simi, who learned from her father, Filadelfo Simi. He in turn had studied with Gerome in Paris. There I learned the skills of close observation and processes for putting it down on paper and canvas. Nerina Simi created a sanctuary for learning classical technique and had a big impact on the atelier system we have today, as she had John Angel and Douglas Graves among her students.
What I learned there has remained the bedrock of all I do, and is especially useful in my imaginary figures.