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  • Ben Fenske Portrait Concepts August 2017

    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

     

    Just wrapped up another class with visiting artist Ben Fenske; a new, slightly different version of the portrait construction class he taught back in 2015 (click here to read about that course).

     

    Like Ben’s other courses, this was a mountain of information to get through in just a few days.  After lecturing extensively each day, Ben would demonstrate, and we had a variety of information for the students to draw and paint from.

     

     

    Below, a few of Ben’s demonstration boards from the class:

     

     

     

    On the last day, Ben gave a quick demo showing how he approaches using these construction concepts in paint.

     

     

     

    Here are a few images of the students at work during the class:

     

    Many thanks to our group of students, many of whom traveled to get here.  Until next time.

  • Ben Fenske Landscape Class August 2017

     

    We just finished another super informative landscape painting class with visiting artist and friend Ben Fenske.  It’s always great to have him here.  We had a really nice group of students, full class, and many of the students with lots of painting experience.  I think the group seemed very happy…  Besides the fact that all of Fenske’s courses are just dense with information, this time the weather was just fantastic.  Sunny all three days, with not too much humidity or heat (for a Boston summer).  There may have been a sunburn or two, but other than that, I think it all went off without a hitch.

     

     

    Like Ben’s last landscape course (click here to read about Ben’s landscape painting class in 2016), there were a large variety of demonstrations.  The first day, Ben spent a long time explaining his approach, and went to great effort to explain the importance of simplification in all aspects.  As you can see in the demo below, Fenske started with a review of tonal values, and a five value ‘tonal plan’ for his landscape: a simple, sensible way to hold onto the effect as it changes, and to not get lost in the accents and minutiae of nature as we observe it.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ben did other demos in the mornings of the second and third days, and was asked to focus particularly on how to achieve a strong start.  Above, Fenske showing how he would lay in and simplify the garden and sunflowers, and below, a morning sketch of a tractor.

     

     

     

    Each day after lunch we would meet in my studio for the afternoons.  Ben showed a few slides on the computer, and did a series of demos out of his head, based on light effects and times of day, color theory, atmospheric perspective, linear perspective, composition and more.  After that he would take questions from the class, and paint things after their suggestions for an hour or so.  It was a marathon.

     

     

    The above picture is just a nice picture, but the below picture has Fenske explaining a morning backlit effect on the right side of the canvas, and then a sunset effect on the other side.

     

     

     

     

    Above, a board from Ben’s talk on linear perspective and atmospheric perspective as it applies to clouds, and below, the afternoon group.

     

     

     

     

    And here are some nice images of the students at work during the class.  It was a lot of fun- many thanks to Ben for offering so much to our students.  Currently we have his portrait class going on in the studio- a blog post will be coming on that sometime next week.

     

     

     

     

  • 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

  • Ben Fenske Figure Construction Class, March 2016

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    Ben Fenske taught an stunningly informative class earlier this month in my studio.  It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call his courses ‘drawing classes’, although most of the time is spent drawing: either Ben demonstrating while lecturing, or the group drawing from the live model.  We advertise Ben’s courses as ‘construction’ courses, ways to study building the figure, with the goal being the ability to draw with or without the live model.  Perhaps more accurately, we could say that these are courses in theory and abstract conception of the figure through the memorization of specific anatomical points and surface references.  But it’s easier to say ‘Construction’.

     

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    Ben puts a huge amount of effort into these classes (see above two of Ben’s life-size sculpted examples for this class,  two different constructions of the core of the body, ribcage and pelvis, with anatomical references marked).  For those who don’t know Ben and his work, he is a painter who uses a fast and loose impressionistic technique, and as the history of representational painting has shown us, the best ‘loose’ painting requires a huge amount of theoretical and academic understanding.

    Each day Ben would lecture on anatomy and draw examples, the class drawing along with him and taking notes.

     

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    Below, see a few of Ben’s boards from his morning lectures.  The top image is on proportions of the figure and begins outlining Ben’s system of points which are to be mapped out on the figure.  This technique is an amalgam of what Fenske studied at the Russian school in Florence, and his own studies on artistic anatomy.

     

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    Then, each afternoon we had a model, male and female.  The students were all very ready to draw after spending the morning taking notes and drawing from Ben’s sculpted models.

     

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    Here’s one of the students, Vaijayanti Meweda at work, and below, her drawing.  I think it was a nice example of some of the concepts Ben was trying to trying to have the students work with, hatching and directional modeling rather than value-based modeling- especially since she had a backlit view of the model.

     

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    Additionally, Vaijayanti gets an extra-special shout-out for helping to organize our pot-luck lunch on the last day.  The food was great, and while everyone ate, Ben gave a lecture on the computer on some of the art that inspires him.  All in all, the class was amazing, just overflowing with practical information, and I’m glad to say Ben will be back to teach this August.

     

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    Ben’s Recommended Book List:

    Gottfried Bammes (in english, but not complete) http://amzn.to/1Um4hvp
    Gottfried Bammes Die Gestalt des Menshen (this is the more complete book, all images) http://amzn.to/1RoKWtc
    The other Bammes Figure book, also in German and excellent http://amzn.to/1UaJ4oQ
    Nikolai Li’s figure drawing book (in russian, great images) http://amzn.to/1Me4luK
    Nikolai Li book on the Portrait (in Russian, great price right now) http://amzn.to/1RqFEr2
    ‘Struttura Uomo’ Pozza book volume one http://amzn.to/1Me3r1n  (I can’t currently find easily volume two, ebb and flow of book availability)
    Richer’s Artistic Anatomy http://amzn.to/1Me3GcD
    Hatton’s Figure Drawing: A Complete Guide http://amzn.to/1RT84uj
    Russian Fundamentals of Drawing Textbook (in english, not as extensive as the Li books, but very good) http://amzn.to/258GMK9
    Russian Academy books on alumni and teachers, these are all paperback and in chinese:
  • Ben Fenske Demo, Halloween 2015

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    This past Saturday I hosted a painting demonstration by Ben Fenske in the studio.  We hired a model, and Ben talked through how he approaches a figure painting as he worked for ~2.5 hours.  Like our last demo in the studio, we had a large group, 30something people in all.

    One of the aspects of hosting these demos that I really enjoy is that it starts to feel like we are building a bit of community-I like the idea of getting a group of people together to discuss art.  Although I am teaching plenty these days, I am actually not trying to start a school.  The artists that I invite here are all people that I respect, who i wouldn’t mind sharing a studio with for a few days.

     

     

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    Ben will be teaching another course through my studio in mid-March, which will be announced on my website and mailing list next week.  If you’re interested, inbox me: it’s already half-full.

     

    Below is a shot of Ben’s painting and palette at the end of the session:

     

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  • August 2015 Workshops

    The end of August was action packed here in the studio in Waltham.  After we spent time painting together in Maine and Canada, Marc Dalessio and Ben Fenske came down to Boston to teach 3 workshops; Marc taught two 3-day courses in Landscape Painting on the Charles River Esplanade, and Ben taught a 5-day Constructive Portrait Drawing course in the north lit studio.

     

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    We also had a little welcome party/get together here, so we could all have a relaxed drink and show the students some of our work from Nova Scotia and Marc’s Cape Cod pictures in the studio.  As an added bonus, Michael and Karyn Harding from Michael Harding Artists Oil Colors were kind enough to come out to speak and show off their wares to our group of students as well.  I hope to have Michael back sometime soon to do a proper talk and demonstration here in the studio.  His colors are great, and I finally picked up a couple tubes of his lead tin yellow, a color I haven’t been able to find for a few years.

     

    Here’s a few notes on each of the classes, and how they were structured:

     

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    Ben Fenske’s portrait course was divided into two- a morning and afternoon session.  Each morning, Ben would give a talk and demonstration of exercises in conceptualizing forms, and schematic drawings of the simplified structure of the head and its features.  On the first day, he began with a long talk on perspective and the basic forms we are confronted with: Cubes, Spheres and Cylinders.  Every morning afterwards, he would apply these shapes and concepts to the features- a day on the nose, one on the eye, one on the mouth and ear, and a final day tying it all together.  After Ben’s demo, the students spent the remainder of each morning working one the exercises, referencing 3D sculptures that Ben had made for the course, or casts from my collection here in the studio.

     

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    Here is the planes of the nose in perspective

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    Ben’s Planar Head Demo

     

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    and Ben’s more advanced planar head 3d demo

     

     

    Here are a few of Fenske’s boards from his talks:

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    Then, each afternoon, after a short demonstration by Fenske, the students would work from the live model, applying the planar construction concepts to their specific facial structure.

     

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    Here’s one of the demonstration paintings Fenske did for the group:

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    Marc Dalessio‘s classes began with the best demonstrations I’ve seen him do.  Often in workshops, the instructor will knock out a quick sketch, almost like performance art, brush moving at a speed much faster than they would normally paint, and certainly faster than a student should try to paint during a course.  A quick demo has a certain ‘wow’ factor, but is counterproductive, in that it sets the students pace much faster than it should.

    Marc likes his students to devote as much time to their painting as possible, working on the same sketch over a number of days rather than working only an hour or two- so he didn’t paint quickly to give them the wrong idea; instead, Marc spoke at length and painted more or less at his normal pace.  In both the morning and afternoon, his demo lasted about two hours, and there was still white canvas.  That set the pace for his class, and was a great example in helping the students slow down.

    If there was a single concept from Marc’s class that seemed to stand out,  it was the reminder that if you are able to paint precisely, though slow, you will get faster while maintaining precision.  If you paint quickly, but imprecise, that does not lead to eventually increasing your accuracy, only your speed.  Most of the students worked three solid days on their landscapes.

     

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    Here are Marc’s demo paintings after touching them up throughout the course-

     

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    afternoon

     

    I am hoping to have Ben come back this winter for another construction class, next time focusing on the full figure- and Marc and I are talking about when to schedule his next landscape course in New England.  Head over to the classes tab on my website and join my mailing list to find out first about these upcoming courses (get to it early though, as Marc’s first landscape course filled in under 24 hours)

     

     

     

     

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