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…

“When you do what you’ve done, you get what you’ve gotten.” Mark Twain

Marvin Mattelson Summer Workshops at SVA@NYC


Recent Posthumous Portrait of Edward Cripps by Marvin Mattelson

Contrary to popular belief, doing the same thing over and over doesn’t necessarily make you better. Many great achievers, such as Mark Twain, have echoed this same sentiment. For example, the writer/philosopher Rita Mae Brown has stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you want to become a better painter, you need to transform the way you think about making paintings. Simply put, the idea of going to a workshop and picking up a trick or two is not going to make a significant difference in the quality of the work you do. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” cautioned Lao Tzu.

So if doing what you’ve always done isn’t the answer, what is? Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” If you want to achieve greatness you need to approach what you do with the same mindset as the greatest painters in history. I have dedicated my life to uncovering the common threads that bind the greatest classical artists, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Raeburn, Lawrence, DeCamp and Paxton.

This summer I’ll be sharing my observations at the School of Visual Arts in New York City during my one-week portrait drawing workshop and my two-week oil portrait painting workshop. In the past, people have made remarkable progress in a very condensed time period. Your mileage may vary. Hope to see you there.

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 – No class August 7.
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.


Portrait Painting: Not Just a Passion, but a Great Escape!



Is Anything More Dangerous Than a Frustrated Artist?

According to Friday’s New York Times, one of two escaped inmates bartered his portrait painting skills in order to get an unsuspecting guard to smuggle in tools which the convicts used to break out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. The escapee, Richard W. Matt, was pretty talented, as you can see from his above paintings of President Obama and Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton, Julia Roberts and Marilyn Monroe. All in all, the guard wound up with 12 original paintings. That’s a lot of work for set of needle nose pliers, a screwdriver and a couple of tubes of white paint. Perhaps he broke out in order to attend my 2 week, August 3-14, Portrait Painting Workshop at the School of Visual Arts. Maybe he realized that if he had taken either a class or a workshop with me he may have been able to fully manifest his talents, like so many of my former students. If he had polished his skills, he might have been able to afford a better lawyer, rent a helicopter to aid in his getaway, or perhaps even have avoided a life of crime altogether. Unfortunately for Mr. Matt,  he was killed by police earlier today. A cautionary tale, no doubt!

Until next time…

Alla Prima Portrait Painting Demonstration

Marvin Mattelson’s One & Done Technique

This past Saturday I did a portrait painting demonstration for my class, alla prima style. The point was to show the students how I approach painting oil studies during my initial meetings with clients. I primarily work from reference photos for my finished portraits, due to the time limitations of my busy clients. This quick approach gives me the opportunity to study their facial structure, get a better sense of who they are and, most importantly, to record their complexion. Judge for yourself, by looking at in the above photo, how I’ve done with regards to matching Simone’s skin tones.

This painted study took me three hours and forty minutes – not counting breaks, although in the past I’ve done them in as little as one hour.

Here’s a little movie I put together showing how the painting evolved:

Don’t Try This at Home!

When going the Alla Prima route – trying to nail everything at once – if you are not in complete command, your results will suffer. If you’re having problems, you need to reload; first learn to do things correctly by mastering each of the major aspects of painting: drawing, value and color. That’s the way I break things down for my students. If you wanted to learn to ride a unicycle on a high wire while juggling burning axes would you try to do it all at once? When you break it down in digestible bites you get to dessert way faster?

Sound appetizing? Come study with me, this summer. I’ll be leading a portrait drawing workshop in June and a portrait painting workshop in August at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Also, there’s a Fine Arts Information Session on Monday, May 11, from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm. It will be held at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor. If you want to stop in and say hello I’ll be there and I’ll be bringing Simone (the painting) with me.

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).