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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.

     

     

     

     

  • Materials Class, Florence Academy of Art US

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    I spent last weekend with the students and faculty of The Florence Academy of Art’s US branch, in Jersey City.  The school is set up in the Mana Contemporary complex, click here for an interesting article from the New York Times on the history of the Mana complex.  It’s an interesting place to run an atelier-modeled school- not only because of nearby NYC’s endless galleries and museums, but also what’s going on in the building at any time.  Right now, there’s a show of Andy Warhol’s silkscreens in the building, as well the Mana Urban Arts Project showing work by Shepard Fairey, Adam COST, a RIME tribute to NACE, and any number of specifically not-traditional-painting-related-things.  Clearly the students of the FAA NJ branch will not be able to convince themselves that they are at the forefront of the art world, but in a new niche existing in parallel with the greater art scene, vying for attention.  This is probably a healthy bubble for an art student to be developing in, plus- Newark Ave in Jersey City has the best Indian food in the States.

     

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    grinding yellow ocher

     

    This branch of the school is new, they’re in their second year.  The director of the school, Jordan Sokol had asked me to come to help get the student body started in making their own materials, as many are now beginning to paint after finishing with their Bargues, casts and figure studies, and it seemed to me that I came at the right time.  Everyone had lots of questions, and we talked about everything from grinding paint, to oiling out and sinking in.

    It’s always nice to have a large group of students that are really hungry for information- they ask such a variety of questions  that I don’t really need to ‘lecture’, it’s more like a two day workshop.  Here are some photos from the weekend.

     

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    talking with the students about different supports, rigid and flexible

     

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    sizing linen with rabbit skin glue

     

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    mounting raw linen to panel with Rabbit Skin Glue

     

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    cooking gesso ground with the students for their panels

     

     

    We covered a lot- we talked extensively about paint rheology, ground 15 tubes of yellow ocher, around 10 tubes of ultramarine blue, made 17-20 stretched linen canvases with oil ground applied, mounted linen to wood panel with animal hide glue, mounted pre primed linen to aluminum composite material with BEVA 371, cooked and tested rabbit skin glue, cooked a gesso ground, and made 30-odd gesso wood panels.  I hope the students enjoy using all the handmade stuff that we made together.

     

    My next weekend materials class will be at the studio in Waltham, on January 21-22nd 2017.  Email me if you are interested in joining.

    click here to read a blog post on my materials class last year at The Florence Academy of Art branch in Gothenburg, Sweden

     

  • 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

     

  • Snow Painting at Drumlin Farm

    I really look forward to painting the snow each year.

     

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    Last weekend I ran my yearly snow painting course at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln- I almost always run it during the last week of January, a period during which New England typically has plenty of snow.  This year, the weather has been weird to say the least- yesterday was over 60 degrees, and currently there is up to 8 inches of snow coming down outside the studio window.   We have not had much snow yet to speak of this year, this is only the second small storm, so I am working on still life in the studio and taking my snow paintings very slow- trying to really make them count.

    I have been thinking a lot on process and am preparing another blog post on this topic: that when approaching nature, the obvious truth is that representing something exactly as it is in front of you, however ‘correct’ it may be, will at times make a boring painting.  You may find a view outside that composes perfectly from time to time but that’s the exception, not the rule: the truth is that typically some editing needs to happen to arrive at a strong design that pleases the eye.  Lately, I’ve started to edit more and more, to figure out what each individual picture needs to create a satisfying image, not just chase the tactile minutiae of the scene.

     

    Here’s a few shots from this weekend’s demo, with broad strokes of what we discussed- I painted much slower than usual, spending a lot of time working in monochrome, moving the drawing around and talking about why I made each choice:

     

     

    initial composition

     

    I approached this weekend’s class from a more advanced level- each of the students in my winter painting class had also done Stape’s marathon painting class back in November, and one of them had previously attended my landscape classes.   So, rather than talking about the basics I wanted to spend a lot of time discussing composition- since we didn’t have tons of snow to speak about the opalescent color shifts within it, I instead tried to paint simplified examples of both what would and would not work into my painting.  In the above image I am laying out the painting in a very simplified design, outlaying the big rhythms and proportions- notice on the left centre canvas I have started to place the very large horizontal barn that in nature competed with the barn in the center- potentially destroying my focal point, through the competing nature of its scale.

     

     

    Tree Line

     

    You can see in the above and below image I have scaled down the barn on the center left, sent it from foreground to middle ground/background, and reduced the pine tree line which meets the sky.  Both of these were moved to give proportional interest to the central barn- and especially the central tower.  Additionally, I painted examples of the road in incorrect perspective (so that it looked uphill) and moved the road’s design and fence around until it gave interesting lead in to the picture.

     

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    So- now that we have plenty of fresh snow outside (it’s really coming down out there), I should be able to take this painting out again and finish it, as my intention is more of a winter view than autumn scene.  Below is the way the painting looked at the end of the workshop- still quite unresolved, with a lot of that cobalt violet underdrawing still coming through, but the scale of the barn and design of the sky are starting to work well.  There is still lots left to do in that foreground, though.  I’ll add it to this post whenever (and if) I finish it.

     

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    *edit April 26th 2016* finally did finish this piece

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    Drumlin Farm 22×28″

  • More on Copying Paintings

    As an artist you should never really stop studying and learning.  Doing master copy was among the first things I attempted when I was learning- and I’ve continued to do them, every few years or so.  Copying a picture gives you an entirely different perspective, a view into the process that you just can’t get otherwise.  It continues to be a tool I use in the development of pictorial concepts, looking for new color and technical ideas.

    One thing I would mention is the importance of doing master copies in person- copying from a reproduction simply doesn’t cut it.  Particularly in oils, you’ll need to see yours next to the real thing so you can see the technique as well as the image.  Plus, reproductions really aren’t to be trusted when it comes to color.  You don’t necessarily need to finish the thing, or even copy it in the same medium, but spending a period of time analyzing a picture like that is invaluable.

    Over the years some of the things I’ve attempted copying: a Rembrandt (failed miserably, way above my pay grade at the time), an Edmund Tarbell, a silverpoint of Raffaello Sanzio’s around the time I was getting into metalpoint, a portrait of Antonio Mancini’s (that one came out great, hangs in my dining room), an Edgar Payne classic high sierra’s view… and this week, an interesting project.  I spent the past few days with Stapleton Kearns, studying a seascape by Frederick Judd Waugh.  I made a timelapse of the whole process, see video below.

     

     

    This is my first attempt at making a video of any kind, so excuse the excessive jitteriness- but it does convey the frantic nature of trying to copy a picture this size, full of impastos and glazes in just three days.

     

    Since the video is a bit shaky, here are a few snapshots of the copy’s process along the way:

     

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    3-lunch-second-day

    4-end-second-day

     

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    24×36″

     

    I’d love to put some more time into the copy and really ‘perfect’ it.  Though I have a lot done here, there is much to be gained by continuing to bring something ever closer to the subject.  Maybe I’ll get some time to do that later this year- in the meantime I can study my copy in the studio.

     

    Click here for a link to Realist Art Resource‘s page on copying pictures- a (still under development) trove of information on which institutions allow copying.

    Click here for my previous post on one of my painting students copying at the MFA Boston

  • Robert Bodem Sculpture Class

    Last week I had the pleasure of having Robert Bodem, Director of The Florence Academy of Art’s sculpture program, come teach a week long portrait sculpting workshop out of my studio.  The class was a whirlwind, five short days in which my painting studio was transformed entirely into a sculpture studio.

     

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    I knew long before scheduling this class that it would be full, successful and dynamic- it’s just plain hard to find really solid information on figurative sculpture.  I’d wager that these days, you can find some version of atelier-styled traditional painting/drawing education in nearly every major city- the same is just not true for sculpture.  There are very few institutions, professionals and studios that teach figurative sculpture today at the level that Rob does.

    Besides the fact that the program Robert Bodem’s developed has a particularly good reputation, I know his teaching style- I taught with him in Florence and ran his drawing program for years while I as over there; and on top of that, our wives are first cousins.  We personally know each other very well, and I know the program he developed in Florence intimately.

     

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    This class was different than what Rob does at the FAA.  His program typically accepts people for three years, and once a year he hold a 4-week sculpture class- so a five-day, 20-hour portrait sculpture class is a fraction of the time he runs his courses for; this was a sort of ‘overview’.  Having seen the work he does with students in Italy over that period of time, I think this first short course was wildly successful.  Everyone did a great job (whether they had previous experience or this was their first sculpture), and by keeping the class size small everyone got a lot of individual attention.

    The first day, Rob gave a short talk and introduction and quickly started a demonstration illustrating his technique for building a portrait from the profile out, outlining the nine points in space he works from.  He worked on his demo intermittently throughout the week, though spent the bulk of his time working with the students individually on their portraits.

     

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    Above is Rob’s demo halfway through the week 

     

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    A few shots of the students at work

     

    Robert Bodem

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    And below, a few shots of the final sculptures:

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    In 2016 Rob will be back to teach at my studio again, and during the next course we run he’d like to focus on sculpting the full figure.  To find out first about that when I announce it, sign up for my mailing list on the classes tab above.  For those interested in Rob’s techniques, he has a manual he sells privately.  To order a copy, drop Bodem an email at [email protected]

    This will be my last post of 2015.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you.

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