Archives for September 2013

Underpaintings Blogspot – A Post About Me!

My former student and friend, Matthew Innis is the author of my favorite blog Underpaintings.

Underpaintings – A forum posted by Matthew D. Innis which celebrates excellence in Representational Art – past, present, and future.

Yesterday Matt posted about his experience as my student in the Continuing Education program at SVA and shared how he came to study with me. It’s a very nice read. If you have yet to visit his blog you’re in for a big treat.

Matthew also posted some of my pre-portraiture illustrations. If you’re not familiar with that aspect of my artistic development, you can see a little of what I used to do.

Another former student of mine, Nanci France-Paz, generously commented on her experience studying with me as well. I’m very grateful to all my past and present students who have nice things to say about the time we’ve spent together.

Marvin Mattelson Portrait Unveiling: Wil de Hollander, President & CEO, Velcro Industries N.V.

On Tuesday September 10, my portrait of Wil de Hollander, the recently retired CEO and president of Velcro Industries N.V., was unveiled. I assisted Wil’s successor, Alain Zijlstra, in removing the drapery that covered the portrait. We had some difficulty pulling it off, so of course everyone joked that it had probably been attached with Velcro – it hadn’t! After he spoke about Wil’s legacy, Alain asked me to say a few words about the portrait’s creation and this is what I said:

I’m very excited being here today for the unveiling of my portrait of Wil de Hollander. It was a great pleasure for me to get to know Wil and an honor to paint him.

I’m very passionate about what I do. If I were to win the lottery, I would probably build a larger studio, perhaps on the French Riviera, but I would still keep doing exactly what I love to do the most: paint portraits. I consider myself very fortunate, in that regard.

My goal for each portrait I create is for it to be my best to date. In the words of Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

When Wil and I first sat down to discuss the portrait, I was impressed by his charming, down-to-earth and engaging nature; as well as his sharp wit and intelligence. He mentioned that, unlike most CEOs, his career path came via the manufacturing route, and not through the business side. So right off the bat I ruled out a formal standing pose.

I’m a firm believer in allowing the best solution to reveal itself, and I immediately realized the way Wil sat before me, with the window light coming from the side, would make for a great portrait. The paneled wall and a low credenza behind him set him off beautifully. They also created a series of verticals and horizontals, which I felt could serve as a perfect metaphor for corporate structure.

I felt that the painting still needed something to balance Wil and visually connect him with the background. I saw in the far corner of the boardroom a brass sculpture which demonstrated the basic way that Velcro worked. I removed it from its pedestal and placed it behind Wil. I liked the way it mirrored the arabesque of his pose and it’s symbolism.

I terms of my technique, I build up of many thin layers of color to achieve a lifelike impression. It’s a very traditional approach and I feel is the most effective way to create the translucent and subtle transitions I seek. It’s very time-consuming but the results, I hope, speak for themselves, and the painting was well worth the wait.

A former client once told me that he felt people would always remember him based on his portrait. Being chosen to define someone’s legacy is a great responsibility, and in the case of painting Wil de Hollander, a very pleasurable experience as well.

Here are some close-ups and details of the painting:


After I spoke, Wil said a few words. He thanked everyone for coming and acknowledged me for my efforts, but what he was most emphatic about pointing out was a very small detail in the painting – which could have been easily overlooked – a Heineken bottle cap.

During our first meeting I had asked Wil, as I do all my clients, if there was something I could add to the painting to personalize it. He immediately responded that he would love being painted holding a bottle of Heineken Beer. Heineken was the first company he worked for and it’s his longstanding beverage of choice. Of course, he said, there is no way it would be appropriate for a boardroom portrait. I suggested that I could paint a Heineken bottle cap hidden in the sculpture’s shadow. There would be no logo visible and unless someone was specifically looking, it would probably remain unnoticed. Wil loved the idea.


During my little speech, I had purposely said nothing – wanting to keep the secret intact – but Wil was so excited upon seeing it in the painting, he pointed it out to everyone.


Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson’s Fall CE Classes at SVA

I’m teaching two continuing education classes this fall. My Friday class at the School of Visual Arts is called Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting. It’s 12 sessions from 12 PM to 6 PM starting September 20, 2013. You can register and find more info here. My Saturday class, Classical Portrait Painting, runs from 10 AM to 4 PM. It starts September 21 and it’s 12 sessions as well. You can click here to sign up or to learn more. These classes are also available for full college credit at a substantially higher fee, which is why each class is listed twice.

Rather than me harping on why you would greatly benefit from studying with me I thought I’d have one of my students share her experience.

Free-fullThe above portrait was painted by my former student Kathleen Speranza. It’s an outstanding portrait and I’m so proud of her. When I saw this painting posted on Facebook I immediately asked Kathy for permission to reproduce it here. And this was her response:

I would be honored to have my painting up on your blog! I love reading it and anything you might say would be great. For my part there were many things that I learned in your class that are very visible in the portrait of Jeffree. Most important would be the large mass organization and the clear division between light and dark shapes. Keeping the shadow masses in the front of the face joined together aids in the impact of the gaze which is obscured but implied by the turn of the head and the light on the lashes. Free is a very gentle, soulful individual and I thought this use of light helped to depict those qualities. The color shapes are pretty obvious and are not fully covered by subsequent layers of paint. This may be of use to students since the process is “on the surface” For me, your class jump-started an investigation of classical form and composition in all of my work. It has been a great way to simplify and organize my compositions in still life, and landscape as well as portraits and figures. Something I never learned in art school! The palette is of course the most complex part of the process and has been of enormous help. There is much more but that’s probably enough for now.

Here’s a closeup:

Kathy took a two week workshop with me about five years ago. At the time she had the following to say:

It was a fantastic experience for me to participate in the workshop. My instincts had been pointing me in that direction for some time now and it’s very gratifying to know that they were correct. I was able to connect to a part of myself that has been dormant for many years. The supportive environment and the excellent instruction were exactly what I needed to become involved with portrait painting again. I’ve decided to put all of my other obsessions on hold and pursue this direction for the entire next year. I’d also love to make studying with you an ongoing “habit”. I know that I have only scratched the surface of the knowledge you can provide.

I searched the web for examples of contemporary portrait painters and was disappointed to find that 98% of the work I saw was not really painting. Most of these works were clearly copied from photographs with little to no understanding of effective composition or color structure. Your paintings stood out clearly as luminous and elegant images that also happened to be portraits. It was clear that you were creating sophisticated color harmonies as well as classically structured compositions. Your extensive study of masterworks was evident and the paintings combined naturalistic likeness with pictorial integrity. Your were the 2% I needed to study with.

I would also like to say that I think your generosity is rare indeed. All of the hard work and research you have done over the last several years is a gold mine for your students. Your own work is a testament to the beauty and logic of the color system. I have been describing it to my friends as a typewriter analogy. I have been hunting and pecking for 25 years and have finally been given a keyboard I can understand. I’m confident that with practice I’ll be able to reach that all important “flow state” with respect to color and value.

At no time in my education, which includes a BFA from Boston University and an MFA from Yale, did I encounter anyone who was qualified to teach on this level. I believe you have isolated some of the core truths in figurative painting. Thank you so much for helping me to see them. I feel that a whole new direction in painting has now opened before me.

And one last amazing detail:

The bottom line is, reaching your full potential doesn’t necessarily involve years of servitude. It’s about understanding. Kathy took a two week workshop — the equivilant of a one semester continuing education class — and it transformed her approach to painting. Just sayin’!

Until next time…

You Can Get There From Here!

ReneeFinkelstein3Generally, we think of spring as the time of birth and growth. As far as educational institutions go, Fall is when the ball gets rolling. Fortunately, growth and learning are not seasonal, so with that in mind, I’m happy to announce that my continuing education fall classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City will be starting on Friday and Saturday September 20th and 21st, respectively.

As a teacher it’s always exciting to watch my students evolve. Generally they make great strides, however, everybody develops differently, but it’s always satisfying knowing that I help people keep moving closer towards achieving their goals. Occasionally, when the stars are properly aligned, mind-boggling progress will occur. A case in point are two students, Renee Finkelstein and Zuzanna Kozlowska, both of whom started studying with me this past spring. They had both done well during the semester, so much so that each signed up for my summer workshop. The summer workshop at SVA is 10 eight hour sessions – the approximate equivalent of a full semester of painting classes. The progress that each made during the two weeks of the workshop was quite mind-boggling, superseding their wildest expectations. Above, is the first of the two fantastic portrait paintings that Renee painted of Kyli during the workshop.

Below is the second, from the same workshop:
Compare it to the one she did in the Spring.

How does this happen? I believe that my teaching methodology facilitated both students because my approach to teaching painting is based on aligning one’s mind to the mindset of great painters, not by weighing them down with a set of constraining rules and bylaws, which is time intensive. Rather, my goal is for them to discover their own capabilities while maintaining their own uniqueness. I teach my students how to make choices, not which choices to make. The problem with a regimented approach, is that individualism can be easily crushed. My approach is unique, time tested – I’ve been teaching for 40 years – and highly effective.

Bellow, are Zuzanna’s two paintings. First is her workshop painting of Megan:

Followed by her painting from the Spring semester.

For those interested, my Friday class at the School of Visual Arts is called Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting. It’s 12 sessions from 12 PM to 6 PM starting September 20, 2013. You can register and find more info here. My Saturday class, Classical Portrait Painting, runs from 10 AM to 4 PM. It starts September 21 and runs 12 sessions as well. You can click here to sign up or to learn more. These classes are also available for full college credit at a substantially higher fee, which is why each class is listed twice.

There will also be an open house for Fine Art Continuing Education classes on Thursday, September 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. at the school. I’ll be there if you’d like to come and meet me. The address is 133-141 West 21st Street in room 602C.

Hope to see you there.

Until next time…