Archives for July 2012

Is Portrait Painting More Difficult Than Brain Surgery?

Are You Up for the Challenge of Being a Portrait Artist?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself! So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Obviously, FDR never tried to enroll anyone in a portrait artist workshop. Fear is something that people–particularly those considering whether to reach for their dreams–need to face.

Not that learning to be a portrait artist isn’t a terribly daunting task. Although many–my wife included–would debate the following comparison, I always tell my students, “Portrait painting isn’t brain surgery, it’s much more difficult.” It’s my way of saying that the number of variables a realistic portrait artist must deal with is exceedingly high. Seriously though, I’m not trying to belittle the difficulty faced by those in the field of neurosurgery. To be a brain surgeon, you must be ridiculously smart. Surgeons deal with life and death situations, although to be fair, some portrait artists able to create the illusion of life. Creating life–or the illusion thereof–is pretty awesome.

I truly believe achieving greatness as a portrait artist is one of the most difficult things a human being can attempt. I base this on the fact that–as I see it–very few portrait artists in history have reached that exalted position. (What constitutes greatness in portraiture will offer much fodder for future blog posts.)

But just because something is über challenging, what exactly is there to fear? A lot of people site fear of failure as the reason for refusing to challenge themselves. If you think about it, fearing failure makes no sense. You’re automatically a failure the instant you back away. Even if you fail, you’re no worse off than when you started. I think what people truly fear is success. It’s human survival instinct to want to maintain the status quo–at all cost. Success can potentially overturn the apple cart. How will being successful alter your life? Confronting success takes courage.

I recently spoke with a woman considering my New York Portrait Workshop at the School of Visual Arts. She expressed great trepidation with regards to participating–although she eventually registered. I thought maybe something’s in the air, because a couple of my recent Atlanta students said they were fearful, as well. One of them, Margaret Kaufman, called Binders’ Director of Education, Jacob Gunter, many times, waffling back and forth, unsure if she should attend. Fortunately Jacob was able to assuage her fears and ultimately, she chose to come.

Margaret is very new to painting. She had recently taken a couple of plein air workshops and one on flower painting. Prior to my portrait artist workshop, she had never even attempted to paint a human head. Margaret had the following to say about her experience:

I feel I learned a tremendous amount. You helped me overcome my insecurities and are a dedicated amazing teacher. If you ever need me to speak directly with any insecure potential students I would be pleased to help out. I feel you have helped start me on my journey as a portrait painter and I look forward to working with you and learning from you next summer. It is about the journey – and you have helped me get a great start. I can’t thank you enough.

The awesome portrait at the top of this post is her first ever. She managed to push through her fear and she blew her own mind in the process. It was an honor to witness her growth and I look forward to seeing her fulfill her great potential. Near the end of the workshop, Margaret emailed a picture of her painting to her husband, so he could see the progress she had made. His response, “Did you sign up for Marvin’s next workshop yet?” I thought that was a pretty smart thing to say. After all he is a neurosurgeon.

Until next time…

The Last Marvin Mattelson Portrait Artist Workshop Ever

At Least According to the Mayan Calendar!

What a chilling thought! This is my final workshop for 2012, so if the Mayans turn out to be right, and the world goes poof on 12/21/12, you’re out of luck. You’ll never get to experience a demo like the one above of Karen–painted at last year’s New Your City portrait workshop. However, if taking a portrait workshop with Marvin Mattelson is on your bucket list, now obviously would be a most fortuitous time. In the event the Mayans blew it and the world keeps on keepin’ on, you’ll still be so much better equipped to deal with the rigors of painting portraits. Denise Brown Norton, a participant in the recently completed Atlanta Portrait Artist Workshop had the following to say:

Wow, another great day of learning! As sad as I will be to see our two week workshop end, I will be leaving more prepared and equipped to “face” the canvas’ awaiting me at home. It has been the most EXCELLENT workshop! Thank you, Marvin Mattelson, the teacher of all teachers, with patience and generosity of a saint! It FINALLY all makes sense…after so many years of mis-learning, you have given me the greatest gift-the truth!

What Denise discovered was that in order to transform her abilities first she had to transform the way she thinks about painting. It’s not about some magic medium, nor is it about digesting a litany of rules and formulas. If you believe that there is an artist residing inside of you, one who just can’t seem to break out, consider taking my Portrait Artist Workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. The dates are August 6-17. This workshop also includes a guided trip through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the mindset that is common to all great realist painters will be revealed. Click here for more information about the workshop and links to register. There is still some room and I hope to see you there.

Until next time…

Atlanta Portrait Artist Demo – Day 11 Demo

Fifth and Final Demo

Today I completed my demo painting. Not as refined as my portrait commissions, but a very good representation of my process, none-the less. It was a day of small touches, complete with many subtle hue and chroma shifts. First I worked on the hair and background, followed by the face, then the jacket and finally the last little facial adjustments.

Tomorrow my students will complete their paintings. I’ll be returning to Atlanta next June to lead another Portrait Artist Workshop at Binders Art Supplies and Frames.

As often as the painting changed it’s appearance, so did the name for it. It turns out that our model, Annie Jefferson, and I are both irrepressible punsters. First we started with Anne Maria, her official given name. Since Annie is a trained opera singer we went with Little Opera Annie, switched to Little Awesome Annie, and finally settled on Little Morphin’ Annie.

Atlanta Portrait Artist Workshop – Day 9 Demo

Fourth Demo

Today I continued to develop my demonstration painting. I started out by oiling out the painting with Natural Pigment’s Oleogel. First I scumbled over the skin and then began to restate my flesh colors.

Next I developed the jacket and lastly worked on the face a bit more.



So far, so good! I’ll finish up this painting on Friday. My students will be painting tomorrow (Thursday) and finish their work on Saturday.

Until next time…



Atlanta Portrait Artist Workshop – Day 4 & 7 Demos

The workshop is moving along in the blink of an eye. I’m so impressed by the progress my students are making. Since my last post, I have given two more evening lectures: one: how I mix up my palette, and the other–my epic slide lecture: Everything I Know About Painting I Learned at the Met. The reaction was quite enthusiastic. The über talented Mary Beth Lumley commented on her experience in my previous entry, but I’m reposting it below because some of you may have missed it and I’m proud to share it with you.

Hi Marvin – In hopes it will benefit others, I wanted to post what I shared with you yesterday, after attending your “Everything I know About Painting I Learned from the Met” lecture. It never ceases to amaze me how enlightened and inspired I feel after leaving one of your lectures or workshops. All of yesterday’s epiphanies (and there were MANY), were suprising, given I’ve heard your lecture three other times! I realize most readers are probably thinking – Wow, she must be a really crappy listener and note-taker. :) On the contrary, I hear every word, but understand now that it’s only possible for us to absorb the information we’re ready to hear. Because I had been painting more than ever in the last year, I was further along in my development as an artist, and had the ability to absorb a new layer of information. While ‘doing’ is absolutely critical to becoming a skilled artist, it seems the consistent interweaving of doing, and giving yourself the opportunity to learn from a truly gifted teacher, is what can propel you rapidly to new levels. I thought of about 60 things to address in my current painting by applying the concepts in your lecture yesterday, and couldn’t wait to get to the easel today to practice what I learned while it was fresh. The beauty of your teaching is that you have a way of communicating things so that everyone – from the timid beginner to the proficient artist – benefits equally. Your passion and enthusiasm for painting is deeply infectious. Thank you so much, Marvin, for your incredible generosity and for continuing to point me towards a new horizon line.

Second Demo

My demo painting is moving along very nicely. Here is the progression as I built up color over the umber wash-in under-painting during my initial color lay-in, this past Thursday. I developed the painting by establishing both the drawing and color relationships. I work towards an end, rather than trying to finish from the start. I’m more interested in establishing the big relationships before going after smaller aspects. My motto: it’s better to be approximately correct than specifically wrong. Following this demo my students spent the next two days laying in the color on their portraits.

Third Demo

Yesterday (Monday) was the second day of color for me. Now that the umber underpainting has been covered, I was able to focus more on the refinement of the values, the hues and particularly on the drawing. To me, drawing is the most critical factor in painting. Unlike those artists who start with a very precise drawing, I enjoy having everything come together at the end. It gives me an opportunity to get a better sense of the model, so I can embed her character in with her likeness. By the end of today’s session the painting was beginning to shape up.

Today my students will apply what they learned yesterday. On Wednesday I’ll attempt to pump a bit more life into Little Opera Annie.

Tonight, Tuesday July 17, from 5:30-8:00 is my lecture on modeling factors–turning the form. It takes place at Binders Art Supplies and Framing in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Admission is $25. For further info, call Jacob at 404-237-6331, ext. 203. If you’re in the neighborhood this week, please stop in Binders and say hi!

Until next time…