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  • Mario Robinson Demonstration, October 2016


    This past weekend Mario Andres Robinson came up to Boston to share a bit of what he does with us in the studio.  For those unfamiliar with his work, Mario is one of very few American artists holding to a tradition of high-finish, realist watercolor.  He also paints in pastel and oil, and now is a published author.

    I’ve known of his work for over a decade, as we came up in a common gallery (Ann Long Fine Art) I was able to see many of his watercolors, pastels and graphite drawings years ago- though we hadn’t met til this past weekend.  Mario is a generous, open artist, and it was a lot of fun speaking with him and sharing the studio for a few days.


    During the demo I took a few snapshots of his process, below, a few of the steps that Mario’s demo went through:







    Many artists (cough cough *me*) find watercolor frustrating and mystifying.  Watching Mario paint on Sunday through the early afternoon, I was struck by how similar his approach was in many respects to the techniques that I use in indirect oil painting- he starts off with a line drawing to allow him to paint more freely through the session, and layers his work with an attention to tonal relationships that really are near analogue to my oil underpainting process.  Of course, watercolor moves differently, dries a different color, and is affected by gravity- lots to think about.

    I wholeheartedly recommend his book, it’s all explained in better detail there.



    click here for an Amazon link to Mario’s new Book, Lessons in Realistic Watercolor


  • 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.




    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.



    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.



    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.



    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





    ben and mike


    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.



    Ben Fenske explaining two separate techniques for controlling and modulating greens



    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.



    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.


    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:






    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



    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.






    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:






    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.










    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


  • Ben Fenske Figure Construction Class, March 2016



    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’.




    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.




    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.











    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.


    BF pan 1a



    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.


    IMG_6109 IMG_6154


    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.







    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:
  • Stapleton Kearns Class, November 2015



    Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for Stapleton Kearns, who over the course of the past 40ish years has made his name very well known and respected in the American painting community.  Personally, I was excited to have someone with his experience come teach, Stape has a unique perspective…. after all, he was working outside in all seasons long before the current ‘plein air’ movement made it popular, back when it was just called ‘painting outside’.

    Still, it seems most people know Stapleton these days for his work online; he regularly churned out posts on his blog for about three years, rarely even missing a single day of posting.  He wrote about art and landscape painting from every angle, some angles twice.  I’ve often called his blog the best (and free!) online resource on landscape painting, because in my opinion it is.  During the class, we were happy to be able to announce to the students that finally, Stapleton will be releasing a book- curated from both from his blog’s content and new writings, edited into a much more digestible package (the publishers have scraped his blog for content, it runs over 1300 pages, and it’s all there to read online, apparently longer than War and Peace).  If you are interested in updates on the book project you can sign up for the mailing list by clicking here, following this link.  The book is only in very early stages of development, so late 2016/early 2017 I would imagine.  

    In spite of the first day’s brisk weather, the pace was set by the seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for painting and art history that Stape brings, his class ran 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 7 hours the third.  It really was a bit of a whirlwind of a weekend.

    Each morning Stapleton worked on a demo- he started a painting on each Saturday and Sunday morning, and on the third day did a demo that was particularly interesting- rather than working from nature, he worked on the painting as if it was in the studio, turning it into a ‘studio landscape’.  This seems to be one of the most common questions students ask during landscape courses- what do you do to the paintings in between working outside and having them framed, hanging in the gallery?



    Tonal Portrait

    Adding Color 3

    Here’s a shot of Stape’s demo-  in action on the first morning

    Saturday’s demo at the end of the first session 


    So the demos in Stape’s class are a bit different than what you might expect- he goes to great efforts to make his painting non-literal, but interpretive, leaving out or adding in great swathes of the landscape.  He stressed that observation is but a means to an end- as he says, “You cannot observe design into a picture“.  This raises an interesting point- while many today (myself included) teach outdoor painting based on the optics of light outdoors, teaching the basics of atmospheric perspective as they affect color, Stape prefers to speak on the aesthetics of color and choices that he as an artist would make along the way.

    In spite of raising this clearly advanced concept, he repeatedly reminded the students that the first step is for them to learn to copy exactly what they see in front of themselves, either through studying cast drawing and painting, or faithfully representing the landscape in front of them.  That attitude of tackling both the most complicated aspects of aesthetics and design, while being true to the struggles of learning to draw from life allowed us to really talk about art more than just painting throughout the weekend.


    The evenings we met to go over hundreds of images of paintings- and eat pizza


    There were two nights of evening lectures in my studio- the first night, Stape went through a brief history of modern landscape painting, from barbizon to hudson river school, to American impressionism.  Afterwards, a tour many of his own paintings, showing us briefly the sort of work he does in the studio from his outdoor paintings- and for those who stuck around, a brief talk on design as it applies to landscape painting using as example Aldro Hibbard – if you are interested, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Hibbard’

    On the second night, the lecture was reserved for another of his heroes, Edward Seago.  Along with talking about his pictures, Stape gave an impassioned summarization of Seago’s career and personal life that I was unfamiliar with.  Again, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Seago’


    IMG_4924 (1)

    Nadine and Vaijayanti hard at work, totally surrounded


    Taking Questions


    Here’s Stape on the last day finishing his demo from imagination and memory





    Bonus shot of the piglets and chickens, only because they were awfully cute.


    Reading List:

    Here is a link to Amazon with all books tagged ‘Edward Seago’ (I just picked up the new one)

    This is a link with all books tagged ‘Aldro Hibbard’

    All books tagged on Amazon with ‘Willard Metcalf’

    And as Stape said, ‘if there was only one book on landscape painting’ John Carlson’s guide to Landscape Painting would be it.

  • Ben Fenske Demo, Halloween 2015



    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.





    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:










  • Teresa Oaxaca Class



    I’ve had the pleasure of having Teresa Oaxaca sharing my studio for the past few days- she is running a charcoal drawing workshop out of my space while she is here.  It’s her first trip to Boston, and I’m looking forward to showing her the museums in town.  She’s a big Sargent fan, and we certainly have plenty of Sargent’s best works here.

    I know Teresa from Florence, she had gone to John Angel’s school and then transferred to the Florence Academy during her last year.  That always created a quiet uproar in town- when a student transferred it felt like a bit of a statement.  Plus, her work as a student was good, and if anything gets you noticed and remembered in Florence it is certainly that.  Being a hybrid between schools has created some of Florence’s best painters; thus Teresa has gone on to be very well-known in realist painting circles in a very short amount of time.





    Here is Teresa’s block-in demo from the first day




    Her class is going great- Oaxaca’s enthusiasm for drawing is infectious, and she goes around the room quickly, critiquing basically non-stop, taking breaks from talking to students only to demonstrate her techniques in charcoal on paper.  Besides of course trying to get the model’s likeness and general proportions, Teresa is helping the students with their technique: expressivity of line, directional hatching, calligraphic shading, and tonal control.  On a personal note, I very much like overhearing how each of these guest instructors I have brought to town have been explaining concepts that we focus on in my studio- but explaining them in a different way.  It’s great for my regular weekly students to get a different perspective on the same thing.







    some of the student work 


    Additionally, Teresa has been doing charcoal portrait commission work out of my studio in the evenings.  The below one was accepted by the client last night.  She is here for a couple more days, if you would like her to draw a portrait for you just inbox me and I will set it up.



  • Stapleton Kearns Demonstration



    This past weekend, Stapleton Kearns was kind enough to do a long talk and seascape demo for a crowd of some thirty-odd guests in my studio.  Having seen a couple of his talks, I was very happy when he accepted my offer to come and do one for the folks in my studio.  Kearns is an interesting character; besides having ~40 years of experience painting and selling his pictures, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of art history and a particular affinity for late nineteenth-century century American Impressionism.

    Perhaps what he’s most known for on the internet is his blog: he set out to do a post on art every day for a year, and instead continued uninterrupted for over a thousand days, a three-year torrent of information that became the best free resource on outdoor painting on the web.  One of the students that came on Saturday told Stape that his blog changed her life, got her started.  I thought that was touching.  He was also kind enough to bring in a couple of 24×30″ (~65x80cm) recent paintings, so that everyone could get a glimpse of actual finished pictures while watching him sketch and talk.  Paintings below:






    Since starting to turn my studio into more of an art center than just my own space, I have been making a concentrated effort to invite guest artists to Waltham who bring something unique to the table: either top-of-their-game artists who haven’t ever taught in New England (Dalessio, Fenske, Oaxaca and Bodem), or in Stapleton’s case, a New-England based artist who is doing something outside of the ‘plein air’ paradigm of today.  Stape does not do 8×10’s, and does not do your standard demo.

    Most artist demonstrations you see are straightforward: an artist paints a model that’s in front of them, a landscape or a still life, or paints from a photo.  In each of these cases you can see the subject as well as the demo, and oftentimes these days the artist demonstration is the central portion of the workshop, then auctioning off the demo to the highest bidder.

    Stape does not do his demos like that.  He almost always will paint a seascape, from imagination and memory.  His only reference was a lump of anthracite coal (which only marginally looks like a rock, to be honest) and a glass of saltwater which he would glance at and jokingly slosh around while he worked on his wave.





    A couple of progress shots and Kearns’ finished seascape demo


    Seascape painting is a different animal than studio or landscape painting.  Observation can only get you so far- design, invention, and memory are how some of the best seascapes were done.  If you look at some of the outstanding paintings by Frederick Judd Waugh or William Trost Richards, there’s no way they could have actually set and easel up in that vantage point- they’d be washed out to sea.

    Below are a few books Stape recommended- he said there is no ‘one book’, a comprehensive study like John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting (which my friend Marc has somehow put off reading all these years) but that between the below books you could certainly learn a lot.


    Stapleton Kearns’ Seascape Reading List:

    Here are a few books on Seascape Painting by E. John Robinson

    Click here to be taken to Amazon links of Harry Bollinger’s books on painting the sea

    Here are a couple of books on William Trost Richards

    Click here to see the instructional seascape books by Borlase Smart

    This link will bring you to one of the only catalogues on Frederick Judd Waugh

    Here is ‘how to paint’ Walter Foster’s book on Frederick Judd Waugh

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