Archives for July 2012

There and Back: It’s Uphill Both Ways!

Last night I gave a lecture on color theory. The public was invited to join (for a modest fee of $25.00) with my workshop students and partake of the knowledge offered.

When I teach, I try to break down deeply embedded erroneously preconceived notions and replace them with truths. The subject of color can be a particularly prickly one, but by the end of the evening lots of lightbulbs were going off. During tonights’s lecture, I demonstrated how I mix up and arrange my palette, a practical manifestation of the theoretical tenets from the previous night. Once I mixed up the palette I showed how straightforward it was to match any complexion. My point being that, if one can perfectly reproduce life-like flesh–the holy grail of color mixing–then one can easily mix any color.

While I mixed out the colors, we chatted. One subject that came up, and comes up repeatedly, during my workshops and classes, is how frustrating color mixing seems when presented in the typical overly complicated manor (mixing via compliments and navigating with warms and cools).

Today I experienced an epiphany. Simplicity is a function of clarity. Many teachers out there may be very good at what they do, but numerous factors come into play. Competence can also be a result of innate talent and/or good intuition, and therefore, deep understanding may often elude those with admirable abilities.

Just because someone is good at something, it doesn’t mean they grasp it. That’s the reason so many great athletes make terrible coaches. Many teachers have big followings, students returning year after year even after making minimal progress. They return–like spawning Salmon–hoping to eventually reach the elusive understanding; from someone who doesn’t have a clue. The perfect way to camouflage not knowing, is to obfuscate your explanation.

Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you…

The other week, I led a drawing workshop in New York City, at the School of Visual Arts. One of my students, the highly entertaining and engaging, Arlene Ellis, blogged about her experience. Here’s an excerpt:

What I loved about Marvin’s approach to teaching portrait drawing is his intellectual generosity. He demystifies the drawing process through step-by-step demos, using everyday language. You quickly realize that you don’t need to have read an art history book to know what a square, circle, or triangle looks like. Plus, chances are you know how to draw these shapes. And this is where the magic began for me, how Marvin could make me (who was so intimated by drawing faces) finally begin to see a face objectively—just a bunch of shapes. The difference between my portrait on the first day, and those of all the other students, compared to the last day was impressive. If four days (I missed day 1) of learning from him  made that much of a difference in my drawing skills, I can’t imagine what type of results I’ll see after a semester of taking his class. I’m so grateful that I invested in his workshop and can’t wait to take his painting class in the fall!

You can read her complete offering here on, Organic Lyricism | Illustration and textiles inspired by nature.

Until next time…

Atlanta Portrait Artist Workshop – Day 1 Demo

Today I started a two-week portrait artist workshop at Binders Art and Framing in Atlanta. This is the underpainting phase of my workshop demo–the first time I’ve ever posted one in progress. Being a part of history in the making is exciting, right? While I painted, I described–to my students–what I was doing and why. First, I toned the canvas with raw umber. Next, I scratched a drawing into the wet tone, working from large to small shapes. Once everything was in the relative right place, I lifted out the light areas with a rag and brushed for the darks. I continued to refine shapes and values until the session ended. I made no attempt, whatsoever, to finish anything. What would be the point of that? I’m just trying to set things up with the end in mind.

Annie, my model, did a terrific job and I’m very excited to paint her, because the set-up feels like classic Boston School. (Note to self: Don’t be so funny if you want the model to keep from smiling!) Teacher, students and model are all having the greatest time.

Lucky students get to paint for the next two days. Tomorrow night is the first in the lecture series. Wednesday, I’ll add my first layer of color.

Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson Atlanta Portrait Artist Lecture Series

For the Next Two Weeks, the Hottest Thing in Atlanta May Very Well Not Be the Temp!

The above portrait, of model Catherine Pica, painted during last years Atlanta Portrait Artist Workshop, by my student Marybeth Lumley. As previously announced, I’ll be returning to lead a two-week workshop in Atlanta from July 9th through the 21st. When I do my out-of-NYC workshops, I schedule my lectures in the evenings and on the intervening Sunday. This way I can cover valuable information without taking away from model painting time. The lectures are free for my workshop students, are also available to the public for the cost of $25.00 each. All lectures are geared towards oil portrait painters, though the underlying concepts and information can easily be applied to any genre of painting.

All lectures will be held at Binders Art Supplies & Framing, 3330 Piedmont Rd. Suite 18 Atlanta, GA 30305. For anyone interested in attending the workshop, there is still space available. You can also to audit the workshop. To register for the workshop, audit or lectures, call Jacob Gunter at 404.237.6331 ext-203, register online or sign up at the store.

Color Theory with Marvin Mattelson
All Levels | Price: $25 | Min. 10/ Max. 25
ARTZ1183 | Tue. July 10, 5:30-8pm

Marvin Mattelson will break down conventional notions of color theory and explain a more accurate, efficient and concise way to think about color. He will dispel a number of popularly held misconceptions that can handcuff an artists ability to be in control of their color mixing. He will explain how to easily analyze any color you see and then mix it repeatedly with consistent results.

Flesh-tone Palette Mix with Marvin Mattelson
All Levels | Price: $25 | Min. 10/ Max. 25
ARTZ1184 | Wed. July 11, 5:30-8pm

Marvin Mattelson will demonstrate his unique palette arrangement for painting stunning life-like translucent skin tones. Marvin will mix up all the colors he uses to paint the flesh tones in his realistic portraits. This palette can accommodate any type of complexion coloration, regardless of ethnicity, age or health. Though not necessary, it would be very helpful for students to have attended the previous nights lecture on color theory.

Everything I know about painting I learned at the Met with Marvin Mattelson
All Levels | Price: $25 | Min. 10/ Max. 25
ARTZ1185 | Sun. July 15, 2-5pm

Slide/power point lecture which will explain the historical precedents behind the teachings of Marvin Mattelson. He will analyze a number of portraits-both refined and painterly-from the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He will explain how each artist, while maintaining their own stylistic integrity, used the same thought process. He will also show examples of artists who lacked this type of strategic thinking and what the consequences were. Marvin will also discuss how he has been able to integrate this understanding into his portrait painting commissions.

Modeling Factors with Marvin Mattelson
All Levels | Price: $25 | Min. 10/ Max. 25
ARTZ1187 | Tues. July 17, 5:30-8pm

This lecture covers the transition of values which characterize the effects that light has on three-dimensional objects, from the deepest shadow accents through to the brightest highlights. Understanding these modeling factors and their interrelationships will allow you to visually represent solid form in a far more convincing way, regardless of your subject.

Promotion and Marketing with Marvin Mattelson
All Levels | Price: $25 | Min. 10/ Max. 25
ARTZ1186 | Thurs. July 19, 5:30-8pm

Marvin Mattelson will explain a very simple, logical and effective way to promote yourself in the world of portraiture. Topics covered will include portfolio set-up, cards, contracts, agents, galleries, shows, fees, establishing an online presence and strategies for getting your work out in the public eye. You have the option to bring your current portfolio, promotional materials and questions.

Hope to see y’all there!

The You Can’t Get There From Here School of Color Mixing

Get Lost? Not if a Portrait Artist Knows His Latitude, Longitude and Altitude.

Maybe it’s because I started out as an illustrator, but I think of myself primarily as a problem solver. A problem solving portrait artist! That’s why I love painting portraits so much. To me a portrait painting is a giant conundrum waiting to be unraveled. My approach to coming up with the best answer is hierarchical, going from large to small. I face the biggest issues first, and from there I keep navigating my way down to and through the minutia. The most prevalent question–what color do I want and how do I go about mixing it?–is the problem we painters ask ourselves most often. We precede every stroke with a touch–or many, many, touches–of the brush to the palette.

I don’t really like to use color theory with regards to overall color composition. It can easily become predictable, were every painting looks the same. Boring! I like to play around and find a harmony that sings to me. There are intrinsic limitations with every problem. The best solutions are the ones which turn those into strong points. In a portrait we always start with our sitter, and work backwards from there. I like flattering my subjects while staying honest to their character. I don’t think it’s a matter of one versus the other. I choose clothing and background elements that I feel work the best. When a client wants a particular item of clothing or a specific background included, I need to find the best way to create unity. With regards to solving problems, its necessary to realize that one exists. The more specifically I can clarify it, the greater my chances of succeeding.

Once I’ve worked it all out I can go ahead and paint. Since I have taken great care with my compositional decisions, I feel that being faithful to the colors I’ve chosen makes the most sense. In the detail above, from my portrait of the Hart-Cohen Family, you can see that the seemingly daunting task of painting her hoodie could have been a real deal breaker. However, when mixing a color, the more specificity I can describe it, the better my chances of nailing it. I know a lot of people use warm/cool terminology to specify their intended mixtures, but if you read my post on that subject, you know I feel it’s not specific enough to go on. The reason is, if warm and cool are terms both used to describe shifts in hue as well as intensity–two totally different characteristics of color–confusion can easily result. Furthermore, depending on what you add to cool or warm a color you will invariably make it lighter or darker in the process. It’s the color mixing equal of you can’t get there from here. Most people learn about color in two dimensions: value and temperature. If we break down color into three dimensions: hue, value and chroma, you’ll always know where you are and how to get there from here. Using a GPS tracking device won’t tell you which floor your stolen computer is on. You need to know latitude, longitude and altitude. Being able to specifically describe the hue, value and chroma gave me the kind of control I needed to turn a potential disaster into a big win.

I was very lucky, when I started painting, to discover the theories of Albert Munsell. Munsell developed a system of color identification based on describing hue, value and chroma.

Until next time…