SVA Spring/Winter Continuing Education Classes: Realistic Figure & Portrait Painting

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Happy New Year!

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than by taking a life painting class with me. Can you? Every time I take a class or workshop with myself at the helm I get markedly better. It’s like magic. That’s why I keep doing it. It’s exciting and inspiring and I truly believe there’s nothing like it out there.  If you want to raise up the level of your work, this is the time and place to do it. But don’t take my word for it. Follow this link to my site and read the comments posted by many of my former students. See what they have to say on the matter.

Above is a recent portrait commission I completed, Portrait of Evan. When I was in art school, the idea of being able to do anything even remotely resembling the painting displayed here was beyond my wildest dream. Back then I promised myself, if I ever had the fortune to actually figure this out, I would become the teacher I wished I’d had. It took a lifetime of study, dedication, frustration and perseverance to get to where I am today, but I eventually transformed that sad pathetic soul, who knew for a fact that he could never paint to save his life, and transform him into the artist responsible for the painting above! For those with similar goals the struggle doesn’t need be so drawn out. The kind of information and training I have created can make as huge a difference for you as it has for me.

I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes for the upcoming winter/spring semester at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Both of the classes are titled, Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting. Each class is divided into 12 six-hour sessions. There will be two professional models posing for each class session, one portrait and one figure. Every student has a clear view of the model they are painting. The classes are not overcrowded like in many schools, where it feels like your model is in the next zip code. The facilities are top-notch. The duration for each pose is approximately half a semester. During the course I thoroughly demonstrate and explain my approach to realistic painting. I will demonstrate the underpainting phase, the lay-in of the color as well as finishing techniques. In addition, I will show you how I lay out my palate and explain a practical and bulletproof form of color theory. There is a reason for every action so while I demonstrate I clearly explain what I’m doing and why. I am present and teaching the entire duration of each class. There are no monitors or assistants giving second and third hand feedback. Just me, Marvin Mattelson!

This class is for artists of all levels, from rank beginners to the most advanced. My students progress is unfathomable, compared to what you see in other classes and workshops. A well known teacher of academic painting – who for obvious reasons chooses to remain nameless – said he had never seen the kind of progress he witnessed in my class, and that included his own teaching. By the end of the semester mind numbing progress takes place for those who surrender and cast off the shackles of myopic methodologies.

Old habits die hard…what you’ve done up to now is both the reason for your current success but, unfortunately, also the reason you aren’t the artist you aspire to be. I break down and streamline the key aspects of the painting process into digestible and understandable pieces, casting aside archaic rules and regulations and mythologies passed down from one uninformed instructor to the next. One of my recent students, Cynthia Brewster, eloquently stated:

“Each component is so logical, and allows me to review in my mind as I am reading. You always have something new to add, as well, from an historical or technical perspective. What I like best is that you have done the research from which I benefit! You do not create rules, but give a clearer path for making decisions.”

My goal is to develop artists whose full understanding allows them to manifest their own intrinsic artistic sensibilities without the constraints of rules and considerations. My teaching is an outgrowth of my own forty-year journey to discover the core truths that lie at the heart of all great painting. Whether you want to be a portrait artist, a figurative painter, a still life painter, a landscape painter or even an abstract artist, the valuable lessons that you will learn about painting will serve you in reaching whatever artistic aspirations you may have.

The Friday class begins January 31 and the Saturday class starts the following day, February 1. Sign up by clicking on the following links:  register for Friday’s class and/or register for Saturday’s class. Registration is now in progress. The classes are also available for undergraduate credit. For more info please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212-592-2050. If you’d like additional information regarding my teaching you can go to the teaching page on my website and follow the numerous links.

For those interested, there is an open house for fine art continuing education classes that I will be attending, if you would like to meet me and discuss my teaching or any other subject of your choosing. The fine arts information session takes place on Wednesday, January 8 from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM. It’s open to the general public free of charge. It will be held that 133/141 W. 21st St., room 602C in New York City. I hope to see you there.

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…

Warm and Cool- The Exciting Game Without Any Logic!

Hit or Miss Color Mixing–You Bet!

“The most confusing part of painting is mixing color.” How many times have you heard that?

Did you ever see the movie Bang The Drum Slowly? It’s the first time I ever saw Robert De Niro. He was amazing. The movie’s based on a novel by Mark Harris about a group of major league baseball players. What impressed me the most was actually a very minor part of the movie. The ball players would play a form of poker called TEGWAR. It stands for The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

TEGWAR is a con game. The baseball players would sit in their hotel lobby and play. Eventually, some unsuspecting and starstruck fan would be tricked into joining them. The object of the game was to cheat the poor fellow out of as much of his money as possible. If the fan thought he had the best hand, one of the players would make up a new rule and proclaim himself to be the winner. For example, in TEGWAR a Full House or a Flush would lose to a Red Rooster or a Butchered Hog. The fan, even though he had no idea of what was going on, was willing to bow to the lack of logic because he wanted to fit in and was too embarrassed to admit that he was clueless. TEGWAR reminds me a lot of, what I consider to be, the most perplexing concept in painting: Warm and Cool.

Many artists claim the key to painting is in understanding warm and cool color relationships. This is their compass for navigating through color space. However, warm and cool are relative terms, and are therefore imprecise. It’s vague language, at best, for describing temperature–whether color or room. What’s warm to an Eskimo is extremely cool to a Floridian. If you wanted the room cooler, and asked each to adjust the thermostat, you’d get very different settings. If you wanted to be precise, you could ask either one to set the thermostat to 68°.

Adjusting colors, via warm and cool, makes no sense to me. If you want to modify a color, specify your target mixture. What exactly does “to cool a color” mean? It’s very confusing. Blue is a cool color. Does that mean you add blue to cool either yellow, red, green, purple or orange?

Warm and cool are comparative terms. Green is cool when compared to yellow but warm when compared to blue. You can have cool yellows and warm blues. Really!?! To warm a purple, you could add a cool red. If you want to warm a color should you add either red, yellow, orange, purple or green? Sometimes even a blue can warm another blue.

To further confuse the issue, consider the concept of Simultaneous Contrast, the brainchild of French chemist Michel Chevreul. He said that our perception of a color is biased by what surrounds it. A middle value gray appears darker against white but lighter against black. A neutral gray appears to have a blue-green cast when surrounded by red.

As human beings we seek balance: hot tea in the winter; iced tea in the summer. To effect visual balance, your brain superimposes the compliment of any color you see, over itself. The compliment of a larger field will influence the appearance of a smaller note. That explains why gray looks blue-green against red. (Blue-green and red are optical compliments.) Hold a red card against a white wall. Stare at the card for 30 seconds. While keeping your gaze on the same spot, quickly pull the card away and you’ll see a blue-green after image. The same thing holds true for values. Do the same experiment using a high contrast black and white image, and the values will reverse.

Because of simultaneous contrast, if you place a neutral gray square in the center of a blue field, it will appear to have a slight orange cast. In warm/cool-speak, the neutral grey is warm. If you’re a portrait artist and add a neutral gray to a flesh tone, in warm/cool-speak, it would be considered cool. So gray warms cool colors and cools warm colors? Warming or cooling implies a change in the temperature, which means a shift in hue, but when you properly gray down a color, the hue doesn’t shift at all. Only the intensity is affected.

Does it make any sense to use warm and cool to describe changes in both hue and intensity? How could anyone ever know what you’re talking about? How would you even know what you’re talking about? Can you name one example of amorphous guidelines leading to a specific result? The only one that pops into my mind is TEGWAR, The Exciting Game Without Any Rules!

Since we’re talking baseball, what about Abbott and Costello’s, vaudeville comedy routine, Who’s on First? Bud Abbott tries to tell Lou Costello the nicknames of baseball players. Abbott informs Costello that the first baseman is Who, What is the name of the second baseman and I Don’t Know is playing third. It’s hysterically funny to see just how confused and frustrated Costello gets because he can’t understand that the answer to the question: Who’s on first? is the declarative statement: Who’s on first! Confusion isn’t so amusing when you’re trying to mix up a color and all that come to mind is, “I Don’t Know!”…third base!

Until next time…

Breadcrumbs Among the Piles of Paint

Breadcrumbs? What’s with breadcrumbs? I thought this was a blog about painting. Well it is a blog about painting, and I have, over the course of my 40 year career as both a professional artist and educator, come to certain conclusions, many of which I will be sharing during the course of writing this blog. So I thought I would give you some insight into how I roll.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wasn’t formally trained as a painter. I had to scratch and claw until such a time that the puzzle pieces came together. I don’t accept anything on face value. I need to know why things work, before I can use them. Here’s the tricky one. How can you figure out how something works before you’ve tried it? So in the beginning there was a lot of trial and error utilizing many different approaches. If I now say that approach A works better than approach B, it’s based on my having experiencing both. Believe me, if I knock it, I’ve tried it. I also had mentioned that I had the resource of sharing my discoveries with my students and making sure that what worked for me was universal.

After a while my instincts became keener and I developed (I guess you’d call it) a sixth sense, an uncanny ability to ferret out the truth from the rhetoric. This is not to say that I haven’t gone down the wrong tunnel, but the fact that I’ve developed to the degree that I have, I owe primarily to my instincts. I equate my particular journey from being a non-painter (to the portrait artist and teacher I am today) to having been lost in the forest and following  breadcrumbs. By now, I feel like the trees have thinned out a bit. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped searching for better solutions, because I haven’t. I have no agenda and nothing to defend. If I were to discover that mixing Day-Glo paint with egg whites, while standing on my head and whistling the Star-Spangled Banner made me a better painter… up I go!

Anyway, this is the story of how I found my first breadcrumb. When I was in art school, in my first ever painting class, we were given a list of colors to use. We were given no instruction with regards to mixing color or anything else technical. When I looked up at the model, the colors I saw looked nothing like the colors on my palette. Trying to mix the colors was very frustrating for me. I had no guidelines for mixing color. If I would mix of color for skin tone I’d start with an orange and lighten it with white, but the color would be too intense compared to the model. So I would mix the complementary color (like I was taught in elementary school) to gray it down, but it also darkened it. When I added white, it lightened the color but it also made it cooler. When I’d add something to make it warmer,  it would change the value again. By the time I mixed something that sort of resembled what I saw in front of me I had no idea how to duplicate it. I found it all very frustrating because I felt I had no control.In the meantime my teacher would walk around the class and say things like, “Don’t you see that green in the middle of the forehead?” I never did!

Flash forward a dozen-or-so years, I was working as an illustrator, doing pen and ink drawings. When I looked at my finished drawings, I felt that I should be able to peel the paper up and underneath would be a painting. Unfortunately, I still had no clue on how to paint. But the desire to paint was absolutely driving me nuts so I had to do something. Whenever I would walk by an art supply store I would go in and look at the paints. I would look at all the different brands to try to figure out which would be the best to paint with. Then I would leave, empty-handed, still haunted by my color mixing nightmares. This went on for about six months until one day I walked into a Sam Flax and I saw a new product, called Liquitex Modular Acrylics (see pamphlet above.) Modular acrylics were based on a new concept. Rather than labeling each tube according to the pigment name (i.e., Ultramarine Blue), the Module Acrylics were labeled according to the color’s properties: it’s place on the color wheel [hue], how light or dark it was [value] and how intense it was [chroma]. I immediately bought the entire set. The logic behind this labeling was so remarkable because it allowed me to modify each property of a color without effecting the other two. Incredible!

Subsequently I found out that the labeling was based on the Munsell Color System, developed by Albert Munsell. Within 2 weeks I had completed my first full-color painting for the National Lampoon. My entire method has stemmed from bread crumb number one.

Until next time…