To Be An Artist You First Need to Think Like One

Noor Chadha - Sarah

Noor Chadha – Portrait of Sarah

Painting is an extremely complex endeavor. Personally, I think that realistic painting is the most difficult task a human being can hope to undertake. My reasoning is: there are so many variables to contend with. Any difficult task is more easily overcome if you have a clear understanding of what’s involved. However, if you are trying to master anything inherently complex, and have no insight, or even worse, an overcomplicated theory, a difficult task becomes that much more formidable. To me, that’s the problem with most art training.

I have a theory about how teaching painting evolved. Whenever a lesser artist tries to replicate something they see in a masterpiece, the typical reaction is to compartmentalize it by making it into a rule and rigidly applying it. And then there’s the worst rule of all, “First you must learn all the rules before you can break them!” Rules are crippling because they eliminate any opportunity you have to think for yourself.

A prime example of this is the rule about halftones: “Halftones should always be cool”. The truth is, to save time, artists would often scumble their lights over the shadows to create a transition between the two, rather than mix an intermediate value. When a warm translucent light color is laid over a warm shadow tone, the result is more neutral. When a neutral is surrounded by warm tones it appears cool. I don’t know the physics behind this, but it’s the same phenomena that makes the blood vessels below your skin appear blue (yes grasshopper, blood is red!). But many artists, such as Sir Henry Raeburn, Rembrandt and Velasquez, used warm colors to bring halftone planes forward.

The problem with following rules is that a rule is by nature formulaic. Always do this: never do that. For example, the rule stating that chroma should stay consistent within the value range of color depicting a singular object. But, William Bouguereau, Jean Leon Gerome and William McGregor Paxton, shifted chroma extensively.

Even worse, rote learning is self-cannibalizing. A small number of precociously talented students may intuitively supersede the rules they were taught, and produce outstanding results, in spite of and not because of the rules they learned. But as they move up the food chain and eventually become teachers themselves, they will, in all likelihood, reiterate the same rules they were “taught” because there is no way to explain intuitive choices.

Though a school may be run by an accomplished artist, the rule following majority is screwed. When rote learning, which is essentially the memorization of rules, forms the basis of any methodology, the potential for true artistic development is severely curtailed and progress is slowed down considerably. When student work bears a strong stylistic footprint, rule following is at the root.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “practice must always be founded on sound theory… Those who are in love with practice without knowledge or like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going.” Sound theory is based on understanding, not following rules.

Noor Chadha - Before & After

Noor Chadha – Before & After

Above, are two paintings done by my student Noor Chadha, who has studied with me for exactly one year. The first painting done last fall was her first attempt at a color portrait. She painted the second one this summer. Her progress is astonishing. The number of class sessions she has taken with me is approximately 30. If she were studying full-time at an atelier, for example, she would be about 1 1/2 months in and still rendering her first barge plate. It’s not about the time spent studying, it’s about time well spent.

My goal is to transform the way my students think. l believe my approach can dramatically cut down on the amount of time it takes anyone to progress and reach higher and higher levels. Not because “that’s the way you’re supposed to do it” or “that’s the way so-and-so does it”. As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Classes begin this Friday and Saturday, September 15 and 16th.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting from Life

Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • Sep 15 – Dec 15 • 12 Sessions • Click here to register or find out more information about the Friday class.

Classical Portrait Painting from Life

Saturdays • 10:00AM – 4:00PM • Sep 16 – Dec 16 • 11 Sessions • Click here to register or find out more information about the Saturday class.

#PortritPaintingClasses

Marvin Mattelson’s Fall 2017 Continuing Education Classes @ SVA

Class Demonstration Painting by Marvin Mattelson

Summer’s winding down and I’m excited to announce that my Continuing Education classes at the School of Visual Arts for the fall semester are now registering.

I’ve been asked many times why is it that today’s painters seem to fall short when compared to artists of the past? Why is it that although there are many classes and schools focused on replicating the technical aspects of the artists of yesteryear, as well as manufacturers offering so-called historically accurate pigments and mediums, the result tends towards gray, stiff and lifeless? To me it’s pretty obvious what’s missing: a strategic picture making mentality that goes way beyond copying, which I rarely see in contemporary realism.

A mere copier of nature can never produce anything great.
Sir Joshua Reynolds

When I attended art school, at eighteen, it was with the expectation that I was going to learn how to paint. I wanted to be able to recreate the world around me. Unfortunately, the school that I attended emphasized creativity over technical facility (as did the majority of schools at the time) so my expectations were summarily dashed. In fact painting proved so frustrating to me that I didn’t pick up a brush again for almost ten years.

Could we teach taste or genius by rules, they would be no longer taste and genius.
Sir Joshua Reynolds

At that point, it became pretty obvious to me that the books and instruction I was privy to lacked any kind of logical foundation. Although there were multitudes of rules, recipes and regulations, there was never a practical explanation of how it all connected. Then one day I happened upon a reproduction of a small portrait by Sir Anthony Van Dyke and although I couldn’t put my finger on how he did it, I saw that he went beyond mere copying. He was coming from a space of knowing and the painting had such life to it. And thus my quest began in earnest: to discover the contextual way Anthony Van Dyke approached painting.

Based on the way I process information, I realized that only by understanding why something works and knowing the full ramifications of using it, could I truly claim full ownership. Interestingly, I began to realize, that when I studied the works of all the artists I admired most, their choices all seemed to mirror Van Dyke’s mindset.

Practice must always be founded on sound theory… Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going.
Leonardo da Vinci

After years of study, practice, experimentation and discovery I have been successfully implementing these concepts in both my painting and my teaching. As it turns out, understanding the whys and wherefores makes learning so much easier. My students make astounding progress.

Yes, I teach my students to draw accurately and paint with great facility. But if you want to recreate the life-like essence that distinguishes truly great realistic art, you need to shift your mindset. I believe my focus on the salient underlying principles employed by the greatest painters in history is what differentiates my teaching.

When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.
Wayne Dyer

I don’t teach a cookie cutter approach or try to turn my students into a mini-me. My goal is for each of my students to become the very best version of themselves with the freedom to paint any subject they choose with great flexibility. All aspects of my teaching are fully demonstrated (see above) and clearly explained. I also take my classes on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I reinforce the ideas I’ve taught in class with prime examples from the museum’s robust collection.

This fall I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes; my Friday class covers both portrait and figure painting in oil while the Saturday class focuses on oil portrait painting. All my teaching is easily adaptable to any genre and medium. We work from live models and all aspects of my teaching are fully demonstrated and precisely explained. I look forward to seeing you in class.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting from Life

Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • Sep 15 – Dec 15 • 12 Sessions • Click here to register or find out more information about the Friday class.

Classical Portrait Painting from Life

Saturdays • 10:00AM – 4:00PM • Sep 16 – Dec 16 • 11 Sessions • Click here to register or find out more information about the Saturday class.

On Monday August 28 from 6:30-8:30 there is an open-house information session for fine art continuing education classes. I’ll be there. Please stop by to say hello, have some snacks and learn more. 133/141 West 21st Street , Room 602C, 6th floor.

Roots and Wings: The Tao of Teaching


Yesterday I received an email from my former student Roger Derrick, which jump-started this post in my mind. Roger wanted to show me some new works in progress. I was astonished to see how far he had come since being in my class. The goal of my teaching is to cultivate each student’s understanding of the underlying principles that inform the decision-making process, giving them the ability to come up with the appropriate course of action in any situation. This approach allows an artist to continue to develop just the way Roger has, through determination, hard work and applied logic.

Teaching is no different than parenting. When people learn that I am a father, the first thing they ask is, “Are your kids artists?” My reply is always, “No, they’re not me! They get to choose their own paths.”

Now, many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. They want their kids to come back and ask for advice when there are important decisions to make, regardless of their age. Obviously, these parent’s intentions are good. They want what’s best for their children, but they base their counseling on their own priorities. It’s only natural to want what’s best for your offspring! Right? But natural for whom? I raised my children to think for themselves based on understanding and good judgment. I chose to support their interests rather than imposing my own. As a result, they grew up to be independent thinkers, more than capable of making their own life choices. I couldn’t be any prouder or happier of them, regardless of the paths they follow.

My goal as a teacher is the same as my goals as a parent, to allow my students to develop into the best artists they can be, and not a replication of myself. There’s a very famous poem by Dennis Waitley about parenting, entitled “Roots and Wings”. Here’s the poem:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree;
and Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes, and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad;
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things.
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simply Roots and Wings.

When it comes to teaching art there are two basic approaches:

1)You can teach what you do.

2)You can teach the underlying fundamental principles of understanding.

Those who teach what they do have very specific rules regarding not only technique but what to do in every given situation. In other words a strict edict to follow. Unfortunately this results in students whose work strongly mimics that of their teacher. The better the student, the closer the adherence. Everyone turns into a some version of the master!

I choose the fundamental understanding route. If you know why things work then you have choices in every given situation; you do what you do based on your artistic intent and not anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I eschew technique. On the contrary, my teaching is very technical because it’s vitally important to have the ability to manifest the choices you’re making.

I love it when no apparent stylistic imprint of myself is evident in the work of a former student. It’s my understanding that Jean Leon Gerome – the great academic painter of the 19th Century and one of the most revered educators of his time – shared the same philosophy. This enabled him to develop students as diverse as Thomas Eakins and William McGregor Paxton. Each of those artists took what they learned and were able to form their own unique personality and point of view.

I thought about the past week, where I had the great privilege of seeing a new show of paintings by my former student, TM Davy, a series of beautiful unique and innovative paintings of horses at the 11R gallery in New York City. I also saw, on Facebook, two great paintings by former students Billy Norrby and Martin Wittfooth. I received an email from Steve Birmbaum, the Assistant Director of Media at SVA. Steve had interviewed another long ago student, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), a highly successful Chelsea gallery artist. Steve wrote, “The interview went great and Brian had a lot of wonderful things to say about you and your class during his time at SVA.” A few weeks ago, I learned another of my past students, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, was developing, for 20th Century Fox Animation, a feature film based on “The Dam Keeper”, his 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short. The incredible thing about all these artists is that you would never know they all studied with the same teacher. They took their roots and flew to the heavens.

This week my new continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts will be starting. It’s a perfect opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself, “Do I follow in someone else’s footsteps or do I want to grow roots and wings?”

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Portrait Painting • Spring 2017 Continuing Ed Classes at SVA in NYC


Artist: Indu Ramkumar

Marvin Mattelson teaches Portrait Painting: The Real Deal

It’s a new year, and if portrait painting is your passion, now is a great time to do something about it. I’d highly recommend taking a class with me at the School of Visual Arts. My classes go beyond the mere technical (which BTW is covered in great depth and fully demonstrated) to focus on the real crux of the matter: garnering a deeper insight into the mindset of the great classical painters of the western tradition. The purpose of my teaching is to transform and empower my students to be the best possible version of themselves.

Here are some examples from this past fall 2016 semester. These are students who come to one class a week and and have made incredible progress in their own artistic evolutions. Some have been in my class for a number of years while others are new to the program, but all have experienced tremendous growth in the short span of 12 classes. Here are some examples of their work as well as some of their thoughts.


Indu’s first and most recent paintings in my class.

Before joining Marvin Mattelson’s class, my experience taking painting classes was of being left alone, expected to find my own way and teach myself to paint. I wasn’t taught techniques or correct practices and was just told to express myself. Marvin’s class was a complete eye opener. You learn how to observe correctly and draw accurately. We learn to mix realistic skin tones and learn the best practices of painting in oil. You learn everything you need to paint a portrait capturing realistic color, three dimensional form and life-like appearance. On the way you also learn a lot about art history: about the works and styles of famous artists and how their work relates to your own.

Watching Marvin demonstrate painting a portrait is an amazing experience. He is a highly skilled painter and is confident enough in his abilities to paint in front of the class, all the while describing and explaining his methods. He is incredibly generous with his knowledge and has no problems sharing his methods and techniques with his students. He is patient and methodical and will answer any question you have.

Learning under Marvin has completely revolutionized my painting practice. Recently I looked at the first painting I had done in Marvin’s class and compared it to my latest one (see above). The difference between them was night and day. I couldn’t believe the progress I had made. My skill level has improved, I’ve learned to better observe, to mix the exact colors I need. These newly acquired skills can be seen in my painting practice in all its aspects, even outside of portrait painting.

Indu Ramkumar

 


Artist: Alma Ortiz

Artist: Barry Grayson

Artist: Claudia Mullaney

Artist: Debbie Waldron

I love my classes with Marvin Mattelson, Master of painting AND teaching! He has researched, tested, and refined each step of his method, leaving nothing to chance, and he shares everything with his students. His portraits look three-dimensional and alive and he does not wave a wand! There is no mystery or nonsense, simply instruction and practice. I always knew that painting involved skills and if ever I found someone who could teach those skills, that I could learn too. Marvin is just such a genius. His work is methodical and rational and he explains it all. You can learn how to produce realistic skin tones; how to give shape and form to a flat surface; how to  change how you look at a model so that your painting also changes – for the better.

He has apt quotations and beautiful resource material (including his own expert photographs of master works) to help answer any question. He encourages and critiques and demonstrates until – with practice – his students make these skills their own!  At the end of a studio day (with professional models in perfect light and great music playing) each painter who followed Marvin’s instruction is better since their last attempt. If you practice what this incredible painter teaches, your results  will improve. Guaranteed. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Marvin Mattelson!

Debbie Waldron

Artist: Debbie Waldron

Artist: Donna Rollins

Artist: Larry Houser

Noor Chadha

This spring I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

Artist: Riley Yeun

Artist: Wenkai Mao

FINE ART INFO SESSION: Free and open to the public Jan. 04 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
133/141 West 21st Street , Room 602C, 6th floor
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
I’ll be there. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello!

Fall Portrait Painting & Figure Painting Classes with Marvin Mattelson at SVA in NYC

Featured Artist: Carole Katz

Carole_Katz3
The Department of Continuing Education at the School of Visual Arts has a display case outside their offices where they exhibit outstanding work created by current students. For the month of September, my student Carole Katz is being featured. The work will be on view at 209 E. 23rd Street in New York City. Enter through the rear of the lobby.

I’m so proud of Carole and what she has accomplished. Despite running her family’s business and attending to her many familial responsibilities, Carole somehow manages to squeeze in my CE painting class each week. This is the only time she gets to devote to her passion of painting from life. The primarily focus of my teaching is on having each student develop the mindset of an artist. As Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” I don’t teach a specific style, contrary to the way most academic painting is taught, today. It’s vitally important to me that my students do not to lose their sense of self. I feel teaching style, is the proverbial “throwing out the baby with the bath water”. The Japanese poet Basho said it best, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old masters; seek what they sought.” Carole’s sense of soulfulness comes through loud and clear. I’ve tried to nurture her ability to put on the canvas what she sees in her heart and I think she’s doing splendidly well.

Carole_Katz4
Here’s what Carole has to say about her experience of studying with me:

“I’ve taken art classes for many years in both New Jersey and NYC. I’ve always felt that, being a realist artist, something was missing in every painting and/ or drawing class that I took. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I couldn’t explain what I was missing, but I knew there were missing pieces to the art instruction that I was getting.

And then I attended Marvin’s portrait painting class, and I realized I had found the teacher with the knowledge and technique that I knew I had been missing. He was the teacher I had been looking for. His talent, ability, depth of knowledge and generosity in his teaching sets him far apart from other art teachers and puts him in a class by himself.

I feel very fortunate to have found him and to have been able to study drawing and painting with a true modern-day master artist.  His portrait painting class and his drawing workshop have both transformed my skills and brought them to a higher level. I will continue to study with him because every new class brings new insights and knowledge that help me continue to evolve in my art.”

Carole_Katz2
I believe there’s a general misconception that in order to be a highly accomplished realistic artist one must put one’s life on hold and devote oneself to five years of intense study. Obviously the more you practice the better your chances of succeeding. According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. But practice alone guarantees nothing. The most important aspect of becoming masterful is learning to think like a master – it’s a contextual shift in the way one sees the world and I believe that’s what distinguishes my approach to teaching from others, and I know Carole, as well as many others, would wholeheartedly agree, as you can see by reading the feedback of many current and former students.

Carole_Katz5
This fall I will again be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Realistic Portrait & Figure Painting
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Sep 23 – Dec 16 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Saturdays • 10:00AM -4:00PM  • Sep 24 – Dec 17 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

Carole_Katz1