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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sunshine Coast plein air workshop

"Gibsons Landing"
Original oil 6x8"
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Robert Genn and I taught a plein air workshop on the Sunshine Coast last week. I taught 4 days and Robert parachuted in for a couple of demos and some wonderful sharing of wisdom mid-week.

Robert doing a demo for the group

I have watched Robert paint several times in the past, but this time I was particularly struck by what an intuitive painter he is. He spends a few moments resting in his custom designed painting rig (has to be seen live and in person to be fully appreciated), and then he begins his process of shape making on the canvas, pulling ideas from all that is in front of him, rather than a particular, specific scene. His strength as a plein air painter seems to me to be in his wonderful ability to bring his imagination to the game. He adds so much of himself to the scene, a bright red spot here, a gorgeous gradation there, an expert balancing of elements that leads to a compelling and captivating design. "Commit and correct" is his mantra, it's all about finding out.

Robert's demo in progress (acrylic on canvas)

This is a demo before the important next steps of glazing and refining, but you can see the strength of design and interesting elements that are already present, ready to be pulled together in the final stages. Sorry I didn't take a finished photo, so this is all you'll see unless you track the finished piece down online.

Next post I will talk about a couple of the exercises I worked on with the students that really seemed to support huge progress by all of them through the course of the week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Burdick/Lyon workshop - Part 3

Oil on linen - 11x14"

This will be the final post on Scott and Sue's workshop.

This portrait of Doulton (Sue's Spanish teacher) was from the afternoon of the 10th day, when things finally began to click in and integrate. Had some help from Scott on this one, and I loved painting it. Doulton posed for us twice, and there was something so wonderful about his energy - he had a big, easy smile and a warmth in his presence that was immensely captivating. It was super rewarding to bring all the learning into capturing the essence of this wonderful model.

Scott and Sue's morning demo of Doulton

"Begin in a slow, steady, meditative mindset" - Scott
"Don't work out of stress - work out of thoughtfulness." - Sue

We saw this demonstrated again and again - a slow, deliberate approach by each of them. And at least once every hour, Scott would spontaneously announce, somewhere between a question and a declaration, "Isn't this fun?!" - I was never quite sure if he meant it or if he was trying to convince himself - but it definitely seemed to keep him in the zone and connected with his process.

So here are some key pointers:

5 Darks of the Face: (when lit from above)

  • eye sockets
  • base of nose
  • top lip
  • beneath lower lip
  • under chin

Initial block-in:
  • Immediately establish the correct angle of the eyes, nose, mouth
  • Initially draw changes in angles, point to point - round things off later
  • Don't move off of one point until you're sure it's accurate (get eye correct before moving to nose, look for the smallest jumps possible, nose correct before moving to mouth)
  • Think only of shadow and light at first, the largest division of lights and darks
  • Squint and lose halftones to create the drama of light, otherwise you will over-model the lights and not make the shadows dark enough - everything will come too close to the middle
  • It's easy to make the halftones too dark, remember they belong to the light
  • Color isn't critical at this stage - value and temperature relationships are what's important
  • Open eyes to see color - squint down to see value

Once the block in is complete, begin refining shapes and edges, using halftones to turn form.

When you've got a lot done and are trying to decide what's next - ask:
  • Where is my lightest light?
  • Where is my darkest dark?
  • Where is my hardest edge?
Put these in and diminish everything else.

"I am not concerned with getting a likeness. My focus is on getting the drawing, shapes, values and colors correct - and trusting that this will result in a likeness." - Scott

You can see that almost all of these pointers are universal - your work will grow if you apply them to whatever subject matter you're painting. It's impossible to try and share in a few short blog posts all the learning that happened in a 10 day intensive workshop, but I hope these few things have been helpful, and inspired you to put these two wonderful teachers on your list of important ones to study with.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Burdick/Lyon workshop - Part 2

Susan and Scott demo-ing quick sketch in tandem.

I have been home from the workshop for a week now, and as I am processing all the learning, my strongest feeling is what a truly great honor and privilege it was to study with these two incredibly gifted artists and teachers.

What I would like to share today is the biggest thing they impressed upon us every day of the workshop:

Confident, well honed drawing skills are essential for a painter to become masterful. Top level painting requires constant, careful attention to keeping these skills sharp, and drawing from life, because it is so much more difficult than working from photos, is the best way to achieve this end.

Scott Burdick - 45  minute figure demo

In the first few days I really couldn't believe how slooooooowly and carefully they had us drawing, insisting we were measuring, checking, rechecking - not moving from one point to another until we were sure where we were leaving was accurate. It felt truly painful to hold my attention for this long as all the old familiar voices that have kept me from focusing this intently on drawing in the past rose up: "It's close enough, my measuring tool is out of focus, it's too hard to see it accurately anyway, I can't find a measurement that matches, even when I measure it doesn't come out right (read: even when i measure incorrectly ...), this is way too hard, does it really matter? I'll fix it later..." and they just kept circling the room, reminding us again and again that "Artistic license comes after the careful, accurate drawing is mastered."

So I believed in them and stuck with it, and somewhere around day 4 or 5 it began to click into place. My drawings actually started to look like what I was drawing - well proportioned, everything fitting on the page exactly where I intended it, a little like magic. Timed perfectly to move us into painting, where we spent the next 5 days really experiencing how inextricably intertwined these two aspects of creating art are. More next post, for now I'll leave you with the workshop mantras:

Squint and compare. Slow down. Work carefully.
Squint and compare. Slow down. Work carefully.
Squint and compare. Slow down. Work carefully....

Susan Lyon - 45 minute figure demo