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

New York City Portrait and Figure Painting Classes

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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…

Paxtonesque

The Boston School –  A Portrait Painting Pilgrim’s Progress

 

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William McGregor Paxton – Two Models

 

There are a relatively small number of artists whose work I would classify as extraordinary. These artists all make paintings that showcase finely modeled form, enveloped by atmosphere and bathed in light. When artfully applied, those effects make compelling images that much more so, and are, most importantly, never an end unto themselves. Though each great artist has an easily recognizable and seemingly unique style, it occurred to me that there must be common denominators, some kind of underlying framework they all share. After all, don’t all great minds think alike?

Looking at reproductions offered very few answers. I needed to see originals, to analyze the actual colors and the way the paint was applied. So I made it a point, whenever the opportunity would arise, to check out original art by the painters I admire the most: Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, Van Dyke, Ingres, Raeburn, Lawrence, Kramskoy, Bouguereau, Gerome, Monsted, Paxton and DeCamp.

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Joseph Rodefer DeCamp – The Kreutzer Sonata (The Violinist II)

 

Living just a hop, skip, and jump from New York City, I’m privy to great museums, galleries and auction houses. So in essence, a plethora of great works have practically deposited themselves at my front door, so I rarely feel the desire to travel afar. However, I recently paid a visit to Vose Galleries on Newbury Street in Boston to see their current offering, The Boston School Tradition: Truth, Beauty and Timeless Craft, a collection of close to seventy paintings by Boston School artists, including six each by two of my very favorites: William McGregor Paxton and Joseph Rodefer DeCamp. The show runs until July 18. If you have a chance to check it out, I think it would be well worth your while, if not, here’s a little summary of the highlights of my pilgrimage.

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Joseph Rodefer DeCamp – The Kreutzer Sonata (The Violinist II) – detail

 

According to my calculations, at one time or another, I’ve seen 23 original Paxton paintings and a mere three by DeCamp. Paxton’s Tea Leaves at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in New York, and DeCamp’s The Blue Mandarin Coat at the High Museum in Atlanta, have had as profound an effect on my ideas about picture making as any other paintings I’ve seen. This would be the first opportunity for me to see and compare so many by both artists. Carey Vose, one of the galleries’ owners, told me that having that many DeCamps available — something that had never previously happened — was the impetus behind putting this show together. And just to sweeten the pot, for me, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston – according to their website — had two paintings on view, one by each artist, that I had never seen in person. That’s seven paintings each!

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William McGregor Paxton – The Blue Jar

 

Vose Galleries is located in a brownstone built in 1899. It’s composed of a series of rooms located on 5 levels. According to my fitness app I walked up (and down) 17 flights of stairs going back and forth comparing aspects of one painting to the next. The most impressive DeCamp at Vose was The Kreutzer Sonata (The Violinist II). It’s a painterly tour de force. Virtuosic! The violinist’s left hand is pure alchemy, simultaneously understated, and at the same time, profoundly informative. Unlike most of the artists who attempt to work this way, DeCamp never swirls the brush for its own sake. By his own volition, he was first and foremost a tonalist, like his idol Velasquez. The credo of another Velasquez disciple, Carlos Duran, perfectly sums up the genius of DeCamp: to achieve the maximum by means of the minimum. DeCamp’s brushwork is unparalleled but his ability to break the form down into totally abstract yet supremely coherent shapes is also second to none. Unfortunately, DeCamp’s portrait Mr. Joseph Baker which I was very interested in viewing — since I have never seen an original by him of a male subject — had already been shipped to a buyer. That was disappointing.

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William McGregor Paxton – The Blue Jar – detail

 

I was taken aback as I stepped up to examine Paxton’s The Blue Jar. Based on the reproductions I had seen — including the one I’ve posted above — the light areas look very smooth and bleached out. I couldn’t believe how much broken color and impasto paint texture was there. It was interesting to compare the painterly head to his Portrait Of A Young Woman In Blue with its enamel-like surface, which is more indicative of the way he normally rendered flesh.

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William McGregor Paxton – Portrait Of A Young Woman In Blue – detail

 

However, the Paxton which impressed me the most was his figurative masterwork Two Models. I had seen it reproduced numerous times previously – I even possess a 4×5 transparency — but I wasn’t expecting what I saw. The original just blew me away. The contrast was far more subtle. The cast shadow on the back wall wasn’t nearly as dark as I assumed and there were more subtle value shifts within its shape. The modeling of the flesh was absolutely exquisite, with very life-like coloration. I could almost discern the subtle rise and fall of the ribcage on the closest model.

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William McGregor Paxton – Two Models – detail

 

Paxton’s chroma and hue gradations created so much spacial illusion. His deft turning of the form, using neutrals, was perfect. He created such a convincing sense of space and atmosphere, a quality I’ve rarely seen matched. When he’s at his best, Paxton’s paintings feel like dioramas set within the picture frame.

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William McGregor Paxton – Two Models – detail

 

My two favorite details were: a neural plane next to a chromatic halftone, of the same value, on the near cheek of the closest figure, and the way he alternated soft and sharp edges to model the back of the far figure. I also love the neutral edge plane under her breast, as well as the hue and chroma shifts starting from her right arm and progressing over to her left arm. These are the kind of touches which clearly demonstrate to me just how intelligent a painter he was. Every aspect worked perfectly. The boldly stated smaller touches never called attention to themselves or superseded the overall effect. As I closely examined the painting, I felt like I was inside Paxton’s head and could fully appreciate the decision making behind each stroke. It was a very validating moment for me.

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William McGregor Paxton – Two Models – detail

 

Eventually I departed and I made my way over to the Museum of Fine Arts, which I had last visited ten years ago. Since then the Museum had expanded significantly, perhaps almost doubling in size. Last time there I had seen the The Guitar Player by DeCamp and Nude Seated by Paxton. Now, thanks to the additional gallery space, a greater number of Boston School artists were on display. This time, both artists were represented by two works apiece, the aforementioned ones plus The Blue Cup by DeCamp and The New Necklace by Paxton. Both paintings at the MFA were gorgeous. A reproduction of The New Necklace was actually the first Paxton I had ever seen. It was on the cover of the catalogue for a Paxton show that took place at Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1974. While browsing at the Met’s gift shop in 1988, I serendipitously picked up a copy. So finally seeing the original brought me full circle. It’s a great work but my all-time favorites are Tea Leaves and The Breakfast, and now of course Two Models.

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Joseph Rodefer DeCamp – The Blue Cup

 

Decamps’s The Blue Cup was a breathtaking symphony of brushwork and subtle tones, even better than the The Violinist II that I had just seen at the Vose. I love the way he reduced the chroma on her left arm to push it back into the atmosphere. I still love the The Blue Mandarin Coat, but this one comes within a whisker.

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Joseph Rodefer DeCamp – The Blue Cup – detail

 

My takeaway from all of this was an even greater admiration for both artists, but particularly Paxton. Both he and DeCamp were constantly searching out new ideas and approaches, technically as well as compositionally. To me, Decamp’s brushwork beats out Paxton’s by a nose, but I prefer the way Paxton handled edges. I am definitely nit-picking here, but I feel that Decamp’s edges are sometimes a bit too sharp and more apt to flatten the space. But it’s Paxton’s use of color that truly distinguishes him, in my book. The way he creates compositional color harmonies to convey a sense of illusion within a strong abstract design are incredibly innovative. I feel no artist, before or since, has so succinctly married academic form and the Impressionist notion of true color notes. Was either artist always successful? Of course not, but they both obviously learned from their miscues and were able to grow. In fact, The Blue Manderin Coat was the DeCamps’ last painting. I can definitely relate to their penchant for seeking more. Hunger is what drives an artist to excel.

Although I love many aspects of both artists’ works I have no interest in making paintings that resemble theirs. That, in my mind, is a fools errand. I see things differently and I am a product of another time. However there are very valuable lessons to be learned and I like to think I’ve been able to tap into this shared mindset with regard to the choices I make. These same ideas serve as the cornerstone for all my teaching.

When it comes to painting, the pictorial strategy used by great artists in their representation of spacial illusion, within the context of brilliant composition, is what intrigues me the most. I refer to any such a painting — in which every aspect comes together flawlessly, regardless of whomever painted it — as: Paxtonesque!

Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson’s Continuing Education Painting Classes – Winter/Spring 2015

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting Classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City

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Mia by Carol Katz

“If I had your technique I would be a great artist!” I get this all the time, but nothing could be further from the truth. “If only I could paint tighter!” “If only I could be more painterly!” I hate to be the bearer of bad news; it’s not about technique. I tell my students that Rembrandt would have been able to create masterpieces with a bucket of mud and a mop! A lot of artists seem to feel that they will somehow magically figure it out all on their own. I know I did. Problem is, you can’t get there from here!

Sijia_Xie_Katya

Katya by Sijia Xie

The way painting is generally presented in books and classes made no sense to me. Allegedly it’s visceral, but in reality you get a plethora of random rules. So how exactly can one learn the core truths that form the basis of representational art. When I looked at the work of the great masters, there was obviously a strong underlying logic. That’s what I tried to discover on my own, the hidden mindset! And as it turned out, I got pretty far, but not far enough. Eventually, I realized I would never get it on my own, so I found someone to study with and to help me fill in the blanks. His name was John F. Murray and I will be forever grateful for the time we spent together. John had been a student of the legendary Frank Reilly’s. Reilly was a man with a questioning nature, not unlike me, who believed the common bond shared by the best artists was deep understanding. To be a great painter you need to think like one.

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Mia by Debby Waldron

From the beginning of my studies with John, I was amazed at how succinctly my own conclusions dovetailed with Reilly’s. I truly believe had I continued on my own, I would have eventually figured it all out. The only problem was, it would have taken me several lifetimes to get there. What I learned turbocharged my understanding, which I’m happy to say, is continuously evolving. It has allowed me, and so many of my students, to become the artists of our dreams. If you’d like to shave a couple of centuries – or at least a few decades – off of your struggle, you should come study with me.

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Dayna by Jessica Pester

I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City that run for 12 sessions each:

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting (FPC-2010-CE) is on Fridays from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM and begins January 30. You can register for the Friday class here.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting (FPC-2010-CE1) is on Saturdays from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM and begins January 31. You can register for the Saturday class here.

On Wednesday January 6th there is an open house for those interested in learning more about what the school has to offer. This information session will be held at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor. Session begins promptly at 6:30 PM. I’ll be there so please stop by and say hello.

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Katya by Guilherme Ghignone E Silva

Sprinkled throughout this post are some painting from my continuing ed classes this past fall semester. Some are beginners and other’s more seasoned. They all took great strides forward.  Each was able to capture a true sense of liveliness and a feeling of solid form. Those qualities form the basis of all noteworthy figurative painting. I also feel it’s important to not lose your hand. I don’t try to turn my students into Mini Me’s. I love that each student’s work has a unique quality. The idea is to become the best version of yourself by making insightful choices.

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Mia by Pablo Almonte

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:
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Compare it to the one she did in the Spring.
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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:
ZuzannaKozlowska2

Followed by her painting from the Spring semester.
ZuzannaKozlowska1

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…

Why The Negative Reaction To Painting From Photos?

Exposing Judgmental Narrow-mindedness.

Using photos for reference purposes remains a hot button issue and I’m not exactly sure why this is. Many artists blamed the negative response to Kate Middleton’s official portrait on the fact it was created from photos.

To me, someone who has worked from photo reference for 40 years, the issue is a non-issue. I see it for what it is: one of many tools available to artists today. In fact artists have worked from photos for a century and a half so you think the nay-sayers would get tired and just shut up.

Unfortunately, there are many who do not share my point of view and they tend to demonize those who choose to use photos in their creative process. Yes, there are legions of bad paintings done by artists who work from photo reference, but there are multitudes, every bit as ill-conceived, painted strictly from life. Cluelessness is an equal opportunity malaise.

The truth is, in the hands of a skilled artist, cameras can potentially offer great help and I find it hard to understand why anyone would choose to summarily dismiss such a helpful tool. The camera can be a huge time saver. Yes, there is potential for misuse and abuse, however, if used intelligently, the pluses far, far outweigh the minuses.

One great thing about the camera is that you can record bucket loads of visual information in the blink of an eye. As a portrait artist, using photos gives me access to movers and shakers who have neither the time or patience to sit the number of hours it takes for me to paint one of my paintings.

Photography makes it possible to incorporate elements in a painting that would be impossible to do otherwise. Certain fleeting lighting conditions for example would long be gone before most artists had the opportunity to set one’s palette, let alone collect the visual data necessary to replicate a scene in the style of high realism.

To this end, the amazing 19th Century Academician, Jean Leon Gerome, (see image above) used photographs extensively in his process. In fact, he traveled with a photographer on his numerous excursions to the Middle East, specifically for the purpose of gathering the degree of information necessary to execute his brilliant Orientalist paintings.

Would it have been possible for Gerome to create these paintings without using photography, by simply working from life? Personally, I don’t think so, because before Gerome, no artist had ever achieved anything near the same level of illusionistic atmospheric realism so effectively and prolifically.

Before photography was invented, artists used a vast array of devices and strategies to augment their ability to record the world around them. Once photography appeared on the scene, however, realism “coincidently” took a big leap forward.

So why is it that so many people get all sanctimonious and holier than thou when the subject of using photo reference comes up? Why all the negativity?

There is no dismissing the importance of working from life? As a teacher, I firmly believe it’s the ideal way to train artists, because instilling a spatial three-dimensional sensibility is a crucial to creating life-like paintings. I think the fastest route to being an exceptional realist is to first learn to perceive the dimensional aspect of reality before you can hope to replicate it, let alone interpret it, on a two-dimensional surface.

I took a much slower route. My initial training as a realist was self-inflicted and based solely on working from photos. I was working as an illustrator and needed to meet deadlines to pay the rent. I didn’t have the luxury of going to an Atelier, nor did I even know they existed. I had drawn and painted from life in my first two years of art school, but the model was merely considered a creative departure point, not as a way to understand structure, light and atmosphere.

Initially, I used reference from books and magazines — the internet wasn’t even a gleam in its mothers eye, at that point. Working from photos, two things became abundantly clear. First, if I would merely copy a picture, the result would be flat and lifeless. With no understanding of my subject’s structure, my rendition lacked a certain authenticity and snap. Secondly, if I relied on photos taken by others, my control over compositional elements was moot. I needed to insert myself deeper into the process by taking control of my source material. .

So while attempting to learn the ins and outs of painting realistically, I was also teaching myself how to use the camera to my best advantage. I started with a Polaroid camera and eventually, wound up building my own darkroom. When I painted I was using the Munsell System to control my values and colors. At the same time, I used Ansel Adams’ Zone System of Photography to pre-visualize the values in my reference. These two modalities formed an awesome symbiotic relationship and I learned so much. Additionally, taking my own reference pictures enabled me to shoot my subject from multiple positions, enabling me get a more complete view of my subject and have a better sense of its intrinsic structure.

After ten years of working things out on my own I was fortunate enough to find a former student of the late great Frank Reilly, John Frederick Murray and John eventually introduced me to painting from life. I studied with John one day a week for ten years. The awesome thing was, the method I had developed on my own synced perfectly with Reilly’s teaching.

Now I use painting from life as the basis of my teaching philosophy, but I don’t regret for one moment my circuitous path. If the intent is there the path will reveal itself.

What you do and how you go about it is up to you, but if you want to be a realist painter, I think it would be most beneficial to learn photography. The rational that “I’m an artist and technology give me a headache” is lame. Get real. The technique of painting is a zillion more times complex that photography.

There is no reason to work from bad photos. Learn to take pictures that appear as close to the way the world appears to the naked eye. Today’s top flight cameras are so far beyond what film was ever able to yield, with respect to that. Plus, you now have the ability to review your pictures instantaneously and make sure you have exactly what you need. When I shoot reference, my camera is tethered to a laptop which allows me to scrutinize my images at a far greater magnification than looking at the LCD screen on the back of my camera.

There is an acronym used in computer programing: GIGO. It stands for Garbage In, Garbage out. Understanding how to take good reference photos will go a long way towards eradicating the misconception that “using photo reference results in flat boring images.”

Until next time…