August, 2016

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  • Ben Fenske Landscape Class August 2016

    Last weekend was our summer guest landscape course taught by Ben Fenske.  The last courses that Ben had taught through my studio were centered on structural concepts in figure and portrait drawing (click here to read about his last class).  Like his approach to the human form, Fenske’s method of teaching Landscape Painting is based on structure, theory, and preconceived tonal hierarchies to have in mind.  Through rigorous study and thorough understanding one can achieve free, fluid painting.

     

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    Like always, our landscape class was at the whim of the weather, and the forecast was somewhat grim.  We completely lucked out, though from one day to the next we had somewhat drastic changes in light- the first day was overcast, quite cold and humid like a fall morning, and by the second day we were in the high 90’s, a total scorcher. Luckily, our hosts have a beautiful farm with plenty of shade and all sorts of animals to keep us entertained.

     

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    Laying in the scene as a linear drawing

     

    Ben Fenske did a series of demonstrations throughout the class- on the first day, he talked through first setting up your scene as a linear drawing- designing each shape, carefully measuring the proportions to make sure to have not only accuracy, but a pleasing sense of scale on the canvas, and then checking each of your objects in linear perspective.  Ben explained that the more confident one is in their drawing’s accuracy, the more free and interpretive they can be with their painting.  He also took some time to do a simple 6-value representation of the scene, to set up the tonal hierarchy that he would use to paint that light effect. Unfortunately I don’t have an image of his large demo after the first day. •edit 8/23/16 thanks to student Mike Rohner for sending me the below image-demo at the end of Ben’s first session.

     

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    Surprising no one (this is New England after all), by the second day the weather had entirely shifted, and we had a sunny, hot morning.  Rather than starting over, Ben decided to talk everyone through how he would go about changing his grey day picture to a sunny effect, scrambling to change the color/tonal structure of the painting.  One of the students mentioned that this was particularly helpful, to watch how quickly the decision making process had to happen, and that he clearly had a mental image of what he wanted it to look like before he put the changes to the canvas.  Fenske also talked at length about how to keep your painting ‘open’, to not lose freshness and how to delicately balance in the painterly space between unity and variety, and in his words ‘to keep a lively surface’.

     

    Ben Demoing

     

    Below is Fenske’s demo after the second day, having rapidly changed his painting from an overcast effect, to a backlit sunny day.

     

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    finished demo, sunlit effect ~24×28″ 60x70cm

     

    Ben then spent the rest of each day critiquing the students working on their individual paintings, here are some images:

    Fenske Carmody

    Meghan

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    ben and mike

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    ben and hal

     

     

    On the last day of the class Fenske gave a different demonstration, during which he did not paint from a scene in front of him, but painted instead a series of small scenes from imagination.  During the first demo (top right on the below canvas) he first went through describing the division of structural planes in the landscape, whether a building, tree, cloud or road.  Then, after setting up the painting he was able to demonstrate how color and tonal modulations, however slight, can give the effect of depth in your canvas.  I have seen Ben give versions of this demo over the years, and I would rank the talk he gave on the last day as one of his best.

     

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    Ben Fenske explaining two separate techniques for controlling and modulating greens

     

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    Ben’s initial demo, top right was about color value divisions in the landscape.  Same scene, top left moonlit effect and bottom right “golden hour” effect, with a dark post storm sky

    Our visiting artist continued to paint for much of the morning.  After doing a small talk on application techniques, Ben spoke about at length about controlling your painting’s surface and a variety of different techniques to achieve color vibration.  I agreed with Ben when he said that color vibration is a huge part of painting that is now rarely talked about.  Not only did Ben give effective examples for keeping color vibration, he showed how one would lose color vibration as well, showing us how one might kill an area, create a dead spot in the painting.

     

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    Ben continued paint different effects of the same view, showing how the same 6-color approach could represent any number of different atmospheric light effects, times of day and moods.  In my opinion, this was a particularly instructive part of the class for the students, I got the feeling they would have been content to have Ben continue to paint out of his head for the rest of the day…. and Ben nearly did.

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    Clockwise from top right: Front-Lit Sunlit effect, Backlit ‘Silouhette’ effect, overcast ‘Grey Day’ effect (with added reds to liven up the view) and Sunset effect (which he started adding a body of water to)

    Ben Gray Demo

    Fenske’s initial 6-color black and white representation of the grey day effect, from the first day

     

     

    And here’s a few of our friends from the class:

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    Pigs

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    Ben’s suggested Reading List for this Class:

    John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, amazon link to the most inexpensive and complete text on landscape painting 

    The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Color by Sir Alfred East, the book that Edward Seago would reference that Ben and I mentioned

    Birge Harrison, Landscape Painting (this edition includes Asher Durand’s text on the landscape which admittedly I have not read-leo)

    a few artist’s monographs:

    Arthur Streeton 1867-1943 by Geoffrey Smith (other monographs on Streeton are great too, but this happens to be the one I have in the studio)

    Isaac Levitan: Lyrical Landscape 

    Hidden Treasures: Russian and Soviet Impressionism 1930-1970s

    Edward Seago (price has been rising on this monograph, but still reasonable)

    Soviet Impressionist Painting by Vern Swanson

    Masters of Russian impressionism: Sergei Petrovich Tkachev & Aleksei Petrovich Tkachev

  • Adrian Gottlieb Class, July 2016

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    I had the pleasure of sharing my studio at the end of last month with an old friend from our Florence Academy days, Adrian Gottlieb.  Though Adrian and I hadn’t gotten together since somewhere around 2002, over the years we’ve kept in touch over the internet, and I was very happy to have the chance to get us together again for a 5 day portrait painting intensive at my studio.  Additionally, we went and painted copies together at the MFA, and had some fantastic meals together.

     

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    Starting the first morning, Adrian gave an extended talk and demo, running through comparative proportional measurement tools, 3D structural plane concepts (Ben Fenske’s sculpted planes of the head models came in very handy), and a thorough talk on the materials list.  As far as it pertains to demonstrations,  the studios in Italy that Adrian and I trained at do hardly any teaching through demonstration, rather pure theory and discussion on the students’ individual paintings.  Here in the states, there tends to be a large amount of requested demonstration in workshops, and often the demonstration is a central portion of the class: there’s just less time to impart information from an instructor in a few days than there is in 3 years.  This leaves students hungry to get an overview of each artist’s process, and a demo may be the fastest way to achieve that.   As I’ve become accustomed to the demo-centric model I’ve really come to appreciate instructors who during their demonstrations paint slowly and deliberately, as they would in their own studio, rather than rushing through the steps in a slapdash manner, a sort of performance art that may be entertaining to watch but may often be a less-than-solid example.

    Gottlieb is a very thorough instructor, each morning he took time going through not only what he was doing in his demonstration, but also why he would go through each step, down to changing mediums for different layers of the painting, and a bit on paint rheology.  Adrian and I did a bit of back and forth during the class on materials (both of us were resident materials geeks at The Florence Academy during our respective times there).  Personally, it’s nice having someone around that I can get lost in a discussion about the advantages of one oil over another.

    Here are a few progress shots I took of Adrian’s demo over the course of the week:

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    Also, a not-so-secret part of me running these guest workshops out of my studio is to bring people to the Boston area that have a style or aesthetic that is parallel but markedly different than my own; to give people a chance that study here with me to hear the perhaps same things I am talking about when teaching, but from a slightly different perspective. Same prism, but through a different facet.   Gottlieb’s class has been a great example of that.  Adrian works up very finely painted, subtle heads, far more refined than my more blocky, broken brush approach, but through the class I overheard him telling my weekly students the exact same working methods and ways to streamline their process than I teach, whether it applied to drawing, tonal comparison, or simple color mixing.  When those things echo through the studio it makes running these workshops and demos very gratifying.

     

    Here are a few more photos from the course- Adrian should be back again to teach out of my studio in 2017, so sign up for the mailing list if you want a spot in that class.

     

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    Here are some shopping links that came up during the class:

    A link to Adrian’s new favorite arm palette, the portrait society’s John Sargent replica palette

    Here is an Amazon link to one of the plaster planes of the head casts we used during the class

    Here is another Amazon link of planar features, based on Michelangelo’s David

    This is a link to John Asaro’s planes of the head, one of Adrian’s preferred structural teaching examples (N.B., original head only)

    This is a link to Solomon J Solomon’s Practice of Painting and Drawing

    Another book link, Harold Speed’s Oil Painting Techniques

     

  • Brush Washing Soap

    Every time I am talking with a new group of students, maintenance of materials comes up, and invariably everyone will ask what soap is best for brush washing.  I have avoided writing this blog post for about two years.  That said, as this question keeps coming up over and over again in workshops (it did last week in the Gottlieb class) and finally I figured I should just put it here so it’s searchable.

    In the US here are the winners for brush maintenance…. these are the two I keep at the sink:

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    Fels Naptha was the historic choice of brush washing soap of the Boston School painters- as Tom Dunlay recounted on Facebook, Ives Gammell used it, as did his teachers, teacher’s teachers and so on.  It’s a laundry soap, not in with the hand soap in the supermarket.  What’s unique about Fels-Naptha is that unlike many other major soap brands, they have not changed formula and become a detergent product, it’s still glycerin soap.  It is hard to find glycerin soap these days in America.  John Carlson recommends in his guide to landscape painting to wash brushes after cleaning in kerosene, and clean the surface of dirty paintings with Ivory Soap.  Ivory of course still exists, but I would strongly recommend not cleaning your brushes or painting with it, it’s a detergent/lotion blend product now and will leave crazy residue in your brushes- and I shudder to think what it would do to the surface of a painting.

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    The other brush washing soap I use in the studio is Lava.  Lava is a heavy duty cleaning soap with pumice blended into it, so if there’s old paint in the ferrule, or the brush really needs a good cleaning, Lava is what I’ll use.  That said, sink washing is the most aggressive thing you ever do to a brush, so I try to use Lava on a brush infrequently.  It’s great for cleaning but will probably wear down the hairs with time if you use it daily.

     

    Honorable Mentions:

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    The Masters Brush Cleaner-  this is wicked nice brush washing soap, it’s what it’s designed to do, and also has pumice for tough-to-wash brushes.  That said, like all art materials, it comes at an added premium.   If you have a trust fund, or if you like literally pouring money down the sink, I would recommend that you use this stuff.  In my experience though, there is nothing that this soap does that the above two can’t do.  I haven’t bought it for years, and like other ‘branded’ artist materials (cough cough GAMSOL cough cough cough) it is essentially exactly the same product you buy in the hardware store or supermarket, just 5-10 times more expensive.

     

     

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    Murphy’s Oil Soap is an amazing product, it has many uses (I often clean my wood floors at home with it, but also my friend Rob Bodem uses it when he’s making casts of his sculptures), I know some love it for washing brushes.  It’s never worked for me for washing brushes, and it’s also terribly expensive.  Some folks like it though- maybe I just can’t get used to a liquid soap for cleaning brushes.  Still, deserves a mention here.

     

     

    Come to think of it, there is one other soap worth mentioning:

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    This is the soap I used for years in Italy, SOLE (yellow type only, the white one has some lotion or something which remains in your brushes).  It is probably the Italian version of Fels-Naptha, another bar laundry soap (though I do not think it has the addition of naphtha, or like Fels is recommended for treating poison ivy, especially since they don’t have poison ivy in the mediterranean).  Like Fels Naptha, it’s dirt cheap and in the supermarket, not the art store.  I only now, writing this post realized that they are probably analogues.

     

     

    Feel free to argue with me in the comments about what brush soap you like, but be forewarned, you are probably wrong.

     

    *whew* silly blog post on brush washing over with

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