Oil Portrait Painting Workshop 2016

11 Day Workshop with Marvin Mattelson

August 1 – 12 (No class August 7)

Includes a 1 Day field trip to the Met


Workshop demonstration by Marvin Mattelson

Painting is a function of problem-solving; the key is understanding how to control pictorial space on a flat surface. Every paining is different, every lighting condition has its own specific issues, and every situation requires it’s own unique solution.

“Common observation and a plain understanding is the source of all art.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds

After having devoted myself to a life-long in-depth study of the old masters, I have come to the conclusion that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula which will solve the myriad of problems an artist encounters in the course of  creating a realistic painting.

Recently I went to see the Van Dyck portrait exhibition at the Frick Collection here in New York City. I went a total of four times. Each time I went back I was able to pick up on more subtle touches, which served to further validate the ideas that have been percolating in my head for over thirty years.

Van Dyck is one of my great heroes and he has played a significant role in my artistic evolution. In 1988, The National Gallery in D.C. had a show of over 100 Van Dyck portraits and figurative paintings. It was there my ideas about painting took a 180 degree turn when I realized it was possible to not merely replicate reality but to greatly enhance it. Compared to the people looking at the paintings in the gallery, Van Dyck’s figures appeared far more alive and dimensional. To be able to achieve that same enhanced sense of reality became my Holy Grail.

I wasn’t interested in having my paintings look like they were painted by Van Dyck. To merely copy his stylistic devices, would be the artistic equivalent of feeding myself a fish rather than learning how to catch them. I didn’t want to merely copy what he did, rather, my sole focus was to get inside his head and fully understand his thought process.

Understanding why and when he varied his approach seemed to be the key, since he solved seemingly similar problems in a plethora of ways. Little by little, I was able to assimilate his thought process and, I realized, when I began analyzing the paintings of the other great artists I admired, they too employed a similar strategic way of thinking and were also able, without compromising their own unique look, to achieve the same sense of enhanced dimensionality and aliveness as Van Dyck.

With each subsequent Frick visit, this past spring, I felt more and more validated in the approach I utilize when I’m painting and teaching. I believe that once understood, this knowledge can help any artist take their work to a higher level.

What I teach is not a dogmatic cookie-cutter solution but a context within which you can make intelligent and appropriate choices. Conventional thinking never worked for me. I don’t believe that keeping halftones cool or shadows warm or any specific action or series of actions comprise the secret to exceptional painting, No magic medium, fancy palette or specific color is going to transform you into a great painter.

I’m leading an eleven day portrait painting workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from August 1-12. I will be demonstrating all aspects of my teaching. (You can see the demo above, from a previous workshop.) We’ll be working from live models and also be spending one day at the Met, where I’ll be analyzing some of the greatest portraits of all time, and showing you exactly what it is that makes them so effective. This is the only painting workshop I do all year, so if you’re interested in what I have to offer you can register online or call 212.592.2200.

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM • No class August 7.
Find out more information about the workshop
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson’s Winter/Spring Classes at SVA in NYC

New York City Portrait and Figure Painting Classes


I’ll be teaching two classes at SVA in NYC for the Winter/Spring semester on Fridays and Saturdays. Each course is comprised of 12 six hour-long sessions.

Most of the class descriptions I read all sound pretty much the same but the question remains, do they deliver on the promise? Are all instructors created equal? My students tell me that isn’t the case and they’re so glad they found me.

…one of the greatest teachers ever. Marvin Mattelson changes the lives of anyone paying attention. I know I wouldn’t be half the painter I am without his guidance.

Dorian Vallejo

With numerous classes being given in a wide variety of venues I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why choosing to study with me will not only teach you the technical aspects of painting but transform the way you approach painting altogether.

For me as an artist, being told what to do in any given situation was not nearly enough. Painting at the highest levels goes way beyond following dogmatic rules; it’s about making intelligent choices.

Michelangelo said, ”A man paints with his brain and not with his hands.” This can’t happen unless you understand the full ramifications of the options you have available to you at any given moment. Basho, a Japanese poet from the 17th century said, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the masters, seek what they sought.” My teaching is about empowering students.

You will learn how to easily mix the colors you see, how to create the illusion of solid form in three-dimensional space on a flat canvas, how to capture a likeness and create lifelike figures and portraits, but most importantly, gain great insight to the mindset that informs the choices available to you.

During the course of the semester, I will be demonstrating every step of the painting process. (The above image is a detail from a class demo painting.) I will progress from the underpainting, to the color lay-in and and to the finishing stage. As I paint, I explain not only what action I’m taking, but also my reason for doing it. During the semester we will take a Sunday field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I will dissect many master works to reveal that the same logical approach that I am teaching you in class is in the DNA of all great paintings.

We will have two set-ups at all times, a figure model and a portrait model. Every student will have an unobstructed view of their model. The lighting is classically inspired. The duration of each pose will last for approximately half of the semester.

The rapid growth I experienced at SVA was only made possible due to the quality of your instruction. It was your roadmap for me to follow. Like a sage boxing couch you showed me what to train and how to go about it. Above all else you fostered an incredible appetite for oil painting and a strong desire to know more, be that through rummaging through yellowing Vermeer notes or staring down Raeburn at the Frick.
What was so enthralling and captivating about oil painting anyway?
I’d like to think that a huge part of the allure and magic, was just how fun and endlessly rewarding you made the medium out to be. You turned what ought to have been a basic freshmen introduction painting class, into the veritable quest for the holy grail.
It takes a very special artist and teacher to set up such an environment. To design such a system of approach and reward, and do it with such seeming ease, that even maddeningly counterintuitive principles comes off as the most natural and beautiful thing in the world.
Your training and the mission you gave me was so jam packed and undeniable that SVA was nearly bursting at the seams to contain it. I am forever indebted to your brilliance as an artist, as a teacher and the deep generosity that powers both.

Billy Norrby

You can read more about my portrait painting and figure painting classes here.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FIC-2221-CE
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • 12 sessions • First class: Jan. 29, 2015
Click here to register online for the Friday class.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FIC-2221-CE1
Saturdays • 10:00 AM – 4:00PM • 11 Sessions • First class: Jan. 30, 2015
Click here to register online for the Saturday class.

These courses may also be taken for undergraduate credit. For more information please call the Registrar’s Office (212) 592.2200.

I will be attending a fine art information session on Wednesday Jan. 6 at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Please stop by and say hello.

Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson’s Portrait Workshops – Summer 2015

Take Your Portraits to the Next Level


Due to my heavy work schedule, this summer I only have time to teach two workshops. Both will be taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. These two workshops address, in my estimation, the most troublesome aspects for artists interested in figurative and portrait painting: drawing and mixing color accurately. I will teach you to gain control with far less expended effort. The conventional way artists typically approach these aspects is unnecessarily overcomplicated and convoluted. I know many people feel that they must soldier on by themselves and eventually by putting in enough time they’ll overcome their shortcomings. Based on my experience the way to change your results is by changing your approach. The definition of insanity, according to Rita Mae Brown, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Regardless of whether you want to paint with broad strokes or great refinement you will learn how to take your work to the next level.

First up is my workshop Realistic Portrait Drawing, an intense 5 day workshop designed to improve drawing accuracy; Monday June 1 thru Friday June 5, 9am to 5pm. Click here to register for Realistic Portrait Drawing.

Drawing lies at the heart of all representational art and unity is the key component. The purpose of this workshop is to develop your ability to approach drawing in a contextual way, where each small part serves the greater whole. We will start with exercises designed to sharpen your ability to see objectively. Working with live models, you will learn how to identify the specific proportions and structure unique to each individual. By weeks end, you will understand what it takes to achieve a full-fledged tonal portrayal of your subject, bathed in light and surrounded by air. Draftsmanship is an easily learned skill. The techniques and approaches you will learn can be readily adapted to any type of subject matter and style. All aspects of this method will be presented logically and coherently. Every step will be fully demonstrated and explained. NOTE: A complete supply list will be sent to you prior to the start of the workshop.

The second workshop is Realistic Portrait Painting. It runs from Monday August 3 thru Friday August 14. There is no class Sunday August 9. The hours are from 9am to 5pm. Click here to register for Realistic Portrait Painting. If you’re interested the course can be taken for undergraduate credits at an additional fee. Click here to register for realistic Portrait painting for college credit.

There’s more to painting a great portrait than capturing a likeness; it’s about creating the illusion of life. Portraiture should reveal the character of the sitter and exude a lifelike essence. During this course, taught by an award-winning portrait artist, you will learn how to analyze, interpret and convincingly portray the human visage. The methodology presented is both broad in scope, yet simple to comprehend. It’s based on the idea that logic, not frivolous rules nor superficial techniques, lies at the core of the greatest portraits ever created. Working from live models, you will discover a simple and straightforward way to achieve accurate drawing and to easily replicate any color you see, particularly the subtle translucent tones of the human complexion. You will also learn how to model form and to simulate the effects of luminosity, illusionistic depth and atmospheric space. All of the information covered in this course will be fully demonstrated and explained. NOTE: A complete supply list will be sent to you prior to the start of the workshop. The Saturday session will be held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Saturday, August 8, Hours: 10:00 am-5:00 pm).

A Palette-able Delight!

Do You Really Need Another Great Reason to Take My New York City Portrait Artist Workshop?

During my New York oil portrait artist workshop I will spend one day, with my students, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ll be analyzing a number of great master portraits and talk about how they relate to my teaching.

Today I visited the Met’s 19th Century European painting wing. I went to check out William Bouguereau’s Breton Brother and Sister, one of my two favorite paintings in the museum’s permanent collection. (OK since you asked, my other favorite is Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton.) Boy was I pissed off when it wasn’t there. Just typical, I thought. All the crappy paintings by “historically significant artists” clogging the walls and they have to take down a genuine work of genius. Where do these curators buy their eyeglasses? It’s bad enough they took down Lord Leighton’s Lachrymae (Mary Lloyd) a couple of years ago.

As I wheedled my way through the galleries bemoaning the loss of a major landmark of my tour I entered Gallery 827, and low and behold, there was Breton Brother and Sister after all…but wait a minute–I must be hallucinating–there, smack dab in the middle of the gallery’s main wall, now hangs Bouguereau’s major masterpiece, Nymphs and Satyr. It’s beautifully presented and looks beyond spectacular. I’d seen it twice before at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown MA. I was told it will be at the Met for a two-year loan while the Institute undergoes renovations. I am so excited to share this with my portrait workshop students. No reproduction can even begin to replicate its splendor. I will be pitching a tent. I hope they still serve crow sandwich in the cafeteria.

Until next time…