New York City Portrait Artist Workshop-Demo Day #2

Today, August 9, I laid in the color over my wash-in underpainting during the second demo for my New York City Portrait Artist Workshop.

I love brushing in the color. Compared to removing the lights with a rag wrapped around my finger–during the wash-in phase–using the brush makes me feel like an eagle soaring in the clouds. Since the underpainting is very thin, the canvas texture remains intact and the paint grabs on beautifully.

During the course of my workshop demos I’m continuously explaining to my students what I am doing and why I’m doing it. Today there were many ah-has. It’s amazing how fearful people are when it comes to color mixing. Can’t really blame them–can we?–based on the confusing color mixing rhetoric that’s so liberally bandied about these days. Knowing that I’m giving my students an opportunity to rise above the frustration and obfuscation is so satisfying.

Here’s the demo:

First I made drawing adjustments using a pastel pencil over the wash-in underpainting. Once the drawing is set, I began to lay in the shapes, from large to small, least important to most and from shadow to light:

Lastly I connect the lights and shadows with my halftones. Now, all the shapes are laid in. If I wanted to be another Sargent wanna-be I would just stop here:

Here, I go back over everything. I begin to readjust the colors and modify the edges:

Here’s the painting at the end of the day. Starting to look pretty solid.

I’ll begin building up the translucency when I resume next Tuesday. Good stuff.

Until next time…


  1. Marvin, it has been twenty-plus years since I have been your student. However, I must respectfully take umbridge with your blatant disrespect of J.S.Saregent. His brushwork is incomparable and not only masterful, but also both lyrical and musical. I was once moved to tears by his dexterity when viewing the actual works.
    His work is different than yours, but there is no need to bully.

    • Not quite sure who you are, but obviously you didn’t study reading comprehension with me. LOL

      First of all, if you read what I said, I was criticizing those who attempt to copy Sargent, without any evidence of his so called great dexterity.

      Secondly, to say that my alleged criticism is based on a bias, since I paint in a more refined style, is ridiculous. If you were indeed in my class, you would know I like a very wide range of artists, including Cecilia Beaux, Sir Henry Raeburn and Sir Thomas Lawrence who were all far more painterly than myself. If anything, I’m much more critical of those whose work is less painterly, since that’s in my realm.

      If I were to criticize JSS, however, it would be for that very reason, the fact that his flamboyance quite often interferes with the depiction his subject’s character. To me, in far too many instances, his paintings remind me of an actor—like Jack Nicholson—whose personality usually overwhelms the character he plays.

      That said, in a painting such as Lady Agnew Sargent’s brushiness thankfully takes a back seat to his subject. It’s one of the best paintings I’ve ever seen. Sargent, by his own admission, grew to despise painting portraits, and to me it shows in a great many of them. Turns out I’m not a big fan of vapid depictions. A painter such as Joseph Roderfer DeCamp, IMHO, is so much greater than JSS, because DeCamp’s great virtuosity was always in service of his subjects. Seeing many Sargents also brings tears to my eyes, because I imagine what he could have achieved had he the kind of reverence so clearly evident in the work of DeCamp.

      In this blog it’s my expressed purpose to point out whatever inequities exist in the world of art, as I see them. Blind acceptance is not the stuff that encourages creative thinking. No one is forced to agree with me here. Read at your own risk. There are many blogs out there that kiss up to the powers that be and celebrate conventional thinking. This isn’t one of those.

      • this

      • you sound incredibly insecure.

        • Maybe I should buy one of your videos and boost my self esteem?

          • Wow.

          • Wow.

            That’s the very same reaction I had when I read your original comment. What exact response were you trying to elicit from me, calling me insecure? I don’t know what your intention was, in making your remark, but it was a very an incendiary statement, which I found offensive. So, as is my way, I responded with sarcasm.

            I’m writing this blog because, the way I see it, a lot of ignorance permeates the way art is perceived and how it’s taught. For the most part it’s taken as gospel and the result, as I see it, is a plethora of sappy and mediocre paintings that superficially regurgitate past and passé styles.

            My goal is to dispel this kind of stigma so that people have a chance to develop in their own unique ways. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and have turned out numerous successful contemporary artists who use their craft in the pursuit of unique personal expression.

            I’m assuming that you’re somehow reading into my comment with regards to Sargent wannabes, and my less than adulatory view of JSS himself. Is Sargent your hero? Then just agree to disagree. The baffling part is how you can possibly take my stance for insecurity. I’ve been called many things by many people, but insecure is a new one. Perhaps I can play pop psychologist, too. Is it possible that the insecurity you see in me is actually the insecurity you’re feeling because you know deep down inside that what I say is true?

            I have participated on many forums prior to starting this blog. Somehow, those who didn’t see eye to eye with my pronouncements saw fit to take up arms, and the resultant confrontations always ended up with some narrow minded, self-serving, power-to-be putting a big foot down. So I decided that I would create my own platform, where I am High Lord and Executioner, where I can say it the way I see it. This is my blog. Those who find my point of view offensive, clueless or even bespeaking of insecurity are advised to look the other way.

          • Interesting. I like your intentions. It’s not your stance that belies insecurity; I don’t have a problem with your critique of Sargent. It’s the manner in which you so sarcastically and scathingly deride anyone who crosses you and how you so openly belittle those who think differently than you. If you’re really concerned with de-dogmatizing the art world, it might help to start with yourself.

            To answer your questions:
            1) I called you insecure because you write as someone with a huge chip on his shoulder, someone who is screaming at the top of his lungs to be heard. If you were secure in your beliefs and status as an artist, you wouldn’t be so quick to criticize others; instead, you use far more vehement diction on their problems than on your solution. I called you insecure because I hope your response would be to see your insecurities and just be who you are as an artist, not an anti-Sargent, or anti-establishment, or anti-those-guys-with-the-oppressive-gospel artist. You have a distinct skill and a broad following. Just be yourself and encourage others to be who they are.

            2) Sargent is not my hero. With regard to your assumption, I thought (as did the first commenter) that you were claiming your style to be superior because you didn’t just “stop here”, as would the other “wannabes”. Such wannabes are far from the refinement of a Sargent painting if they’re anywhere near the clumsiness of your demo at that stage; I would hope they can see the difference, even if they cannot execute it.

            As I said earlier, I like your desire to help artists and the representational art world appreciate more than just the same three artists. I just don’t think your approach is very credible.

          • First of all, I do have a big chip on my shoulder. Listening to decades of blatant biased slander directed at those of us who choose to paint in in a refined manor pisses me off, but it goes so far beyond that. I do see a need to scream in order to be heard above the plethora of pejorative rhetoric. I don’t think that just encouraging others is enough to get the job done. How you can read that as insecurity escapes me.

            Who I am as an artist, is separate from what I have to say. I see a need for massive changes. I’m offended by the status quo. When I started this blog I chose to have comments enabled so I could engage with others, both those who see merit in what I had to say, as well as those who disagree. I want to encourage intelligent discourse. I thought your original comment was pretty lame but I published it anyway. The fact this has evolved into a civil discussion, proves my instinct to allow it was correct.

            As far as my alleged bullying goes, I don’t take kindly to personal attacks; I don’t appreciate being called a bully or insecure.

            With regards to the “clumsiness” of my demo, I want my students to understand that correction is a far better course of action than going straight for perfection. Unfortunately, clumsiness is exactly what the Sargent wannabes never seem to get past. If they indeed see the difference–and I have serious doubts–they certainly aren’t coming close to overcoming it. As far as Sargent himself goes, nowhere did I state I was superior.

            Style, to me, never ever trumps substance. Superficiality is a major problem with the vast majority of today’s stylistic approaches, from academic to impressionistic. I’ll certainly be addressing these issues for many blog posts into the future. As of now I am putting most of my energy into underlining the problems, because that’s the first step in coming up with solutions.

  2. Connie Clutter says

    I love the buildup of layers and the edges. I have always painted in watercolor and have just recently started painting in oil. My husband says my oils look just like my watercolors! It is really hard for me to block in and layer. This demo is great. Thanks.

    • You’re welcome. Changing mediums may not necessarily mean a change in the appearance of one’s work. The most important factor is changing your mindset. When I switched to oils from acrylics I still painted as though I was using acrylics. It took a while until I could take full advantage of the wonder that is oil paint.

  3. Thank you for being so generous with your information. You demonstrate the Reilly lay in, but more than that, you demonstrate painting to completion. I know you are not using the Reilly palette, the paint is allowed to dry and I believe you have improved upon the method, which had some defects, oil of cloves being one of them, the choice of colors the other. And you do allow for more chromatic mixtures by use of naples yellow and vermilion, which you should stress when dealing with your detractors. John Murray, your teacher, was a fan of Sargent, LOL. There are many great painters and you have the right to chose your own mentors, as does everyone. I am going to try your palette. One could almost learn to paint by looking through your site. You want to share what you have learned with others…. a natural teacher.

    • Thank you Julia. I agree that everyone should be able to choose their own heroes and villains. I have the utmost respect for John. I have no problem with anyone who likes Sargent. I think Sargent was an extraordinarily talented painter and there is much to learn from him. However, I don’t think he was the end all and should be worshipped by one and all. I think it’s sad whenever dogma takes the place of reason.

      I’m glad you like my modifications to Reilly’s methodology. Reilly was constantly tinkering and evolving his was. I have notes from various Reilly students and there were plenty of tweaks, by him, over a 30 year period. I like to think, had he lived, Reilly may have come to some of the same conclusions as me. The two you cited are just the tip of the iceberg.

      Reilly’s palette was based on Cadmiums, so it was actually more chromatic than mine. I felt his was too hard to control flesh mixtures. I add whatever I need when appropriate. My regular colors are at the core and all I use 98% of the time. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

      I do love teaching. I’m very juiced by the progress so many of my students have made this year. I’m very much looking forward to my workshops this summer. My goal is not to teach painting so much as it is to transform.

      • And regarding the lay-in that is not comparable to Sargent’s alla prima technique…. Thanks again for clearly showing the greying of the edge planes, and the chromatic shifts in the planes. I have had Reilly teachers and they never demonstrated, just mentioned verbally. The lay-in, as your former student should know, is not an alla prima rendering of a subject. It is painting in of the general hue and chroma changes of the planes, which are then to be brushed together and built up to the final painting. Using Reilly palette and Reilly’s ala prima method I would get the most grey incredible mud. I believe you have taken Reilly’s method to the fine art level (Reilly was an illustrator). Your work speaks for itself. I would love to see a book or video of both your quick technique and your very finished work. Again, your demonstrations are as clear and concise as can be. By googling Mattelson, reading your posts on the internet, looking at the various demonstrations you have put on the internet for all to see free of charge, a beginner or rusty painter such as myself could figure out the basics. I’ve never seen so much information shared free of charge.

        • Again, thanks for your kind words. One major misconception about Sargent was that he worked alla prima. His unfinished portrait of Edward Wertheimer demonstrates he clearly worked in layers, with the intent of making his paintings look alla prima. Many stories by his sitters talk about multiple sittings; one, upwards of fifty. That’s a lot of sittings for alla prima.

          I felt that Reilly’s palette was too hard to control, usually resulting in very gray or overly chromatic flesh – not for me, but for far too many. The ease of implementation by my students is always my acid test. Theoretical is voided out by impractical. Also, Reilly was vehemently opposed to demonstrating. He felt that if you demonstrated you would be improving on your students’ dime. I think that’s a small price to pay when considering the benefits to the students. Why not have everyone get better?

          I’m desperately trying to do a book/DVD project, but whenever it looks like I’ll have a bit of time, another commission falls from the sky. Be that as it may, anyone who takes a workshop or class with me can attest to the fact that what you see online is but a small sampling.

          Happy painting.

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