SVA Spring/Winter Continuing Education Classes: Realistic Figure & Portrait Painting

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Happy New Year!

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than by taking a life painting class with me. Can you? Every time I take a class or workshop with myself at the helm I get markedly better. It’s like magic. That’s why I keep doing it. It’s exciting and inspiring and I truly believe there’s nothing like it out there.  If you want to raise up the level of your work, this is the time and place to do it. But don’t take my word for it. Follow this link to my site and read the comments posted by many of my former students. See what they have to say on the matter.

Above is a recent portrait commission I completed, Portrait of Evan. When I was in art school, the idea of being able to do anything even remotely resembling the painting displayed here was beyond my wildest dream. Back then I promised myself, if I ever had the fortune to actually figure this out, I would become the teacher I wished I’d had. It took a lifetime of study, dedication, frustration and perseverance to get to where I am today, but I eventually transformed that sad pathetic soul, who knew for a fact that he could never paint to save his life, and transform him into the artist responsible for the painting above! For those with similar goals the struggle doesn’t need be so drawn out. The kind of information and training I have created can make as huge a difference for you as it has for me.

I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes for the upcoming winter/spring semester at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Both of the classes are titled, Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting. Each class is divided into 12 six-hour sessions. There will be two professional models posing for each class session, one portrait and one figure. Every student has a clear view of the model they are painting. The classes are not overcrowded like in many schools, where it feels like your model is in the next zip code. The facilities are top-notch. The duration for each pose is approximately half a semester. During the course I thoroughly demonstrate and explain my approach to realistic painting. I will demonstrate the underpainting phase, the lay-in of the color as well as finishing techniques. In addition, I will show you how I lay out my palate and explain a practical and bulletproof form of color theory. There is a reason for every action so while I demonstrate I clearly explain what I’m doing and why. I am present and teaching the entire duration of each class. There are no monitors or assistants giving second and third hand feedback. Just me, Marvin Mattelson!

This class is for artists of all levels, from rank beginners to the most advanced. My students progress is unfathomable, compared to what you see in other classes and workshops. A well known teacher of academic painting – who for obvious reasons chooses to remain nameless – said he had never seen the kind of progress he witnessed in my class, and that included his own teaching. By the end of the semester mind numbing progress takes place for those who surrender and cast off the shackles of myopic methodologies.

Old habits die hard…what you’ve done up to now is both the reason for your current success but, unfortunately, also the reason you aren’t the artist you aspire to be. I break down and streamline the key aspects of the painting process into digestible and understandable pieces, casting aside archaic rules and regulations and mythologies passed down from one uninformed instructor to the next. One of my recent students, Cynthia Brewster, eloquently stated:

“Each component is so logical, and allows me to review in my mind as I am reading. You always have something new to add, as well, from an historical or technical perspective. What I like best is that you have done the research from which I benefit! You do not create rules, but give a clearer path for making decisions.”

My goal is to develop artists whose full understanding allows them to manifest their own intrinsic artistic sensibilities without the constraints of rules and considerations. My teaching is an outgrowth of my own forty-year journey to discover the core truths that lie at the heart of all great painting. Whether you want to be a portrait artist, a figurative painter, a still life painter, a landscape painter or even an abstract artist, the valuable lessons that you will learn about painting will serve you in reaching whatever artistic aspirations you may have.

The Friday class begins January 31 and the Saturday class starts the following day, February 1. Sign up by clicking on the following links:  register for Friday’s class and/or register for Saturday’s class. Registration is now in progress. The classes are also available for undergraduate credit. For more info please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212-592-2050. If you’d like additional information regarding my teaching you can go to the teaching page on my website and follow the numerous links.

For those interested, there is an open house for fine art continuing education classes that I will be attending, if you would like to meet me and discuss my teaching or any other subject of your choosing. The fine arts information session takes place on Wednesday, January 8 from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM. It’s open to the general public free of charge. It will be held that 133/141 W. 21st St., room 602C in New York City. I hope to see you there.

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:
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Followed by her painting from the Spring semester.
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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…

New York Portrait Artist Workshop Demonstration – Day 2

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Yesterday I demonstrated my procedure for mixing up the colors on my palette. Today I laid in the color in a logical and methodical way and even had time at the end of the day to start the edge handling. Next up: the refinement stage. Below you can trace my steps, starting with the drawing correction and finishing up with the complete coverage of the underpainting.

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Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson Continuing Education Classes at SVA in NYC

Class portrait by former student Billy Norrby.
Billy_Norrby3Classes begin this week.
The School of Visual Arts • NYC
Oil Figure & Portrait Painting Continuing Education Classes
Registration is now open for the 2013 Winter/Spring Semester.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FPC-2010-CE
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • 12 sessions • Feb 01 – Apr 26
Register for the Friday realistic figure and portrait painting class.

Classical Portrait Painting • FPC-2348-CE
Saturdays • 10:00 AM – 4:00PM • 12 sessions • Feb 02 – Apr 27
Register for the Saturday classical portrait painting class.

Put on Your Thinking Beret–Strategically Speaking!

William McGregor Paxton's Pink Rose

For Great Portrait Artists, Design is Key

Had Yogi Berra been a painter he surely would have said, “90% of painting is mental and the other half is technical.” When I look at a masterpiece I very rarely concern myself with the technical aspects. I’m much more interested in the thinking process behind the painting. What was the strategic reasoning behind the choices the artist made.

A couple of years ago I went to a gallery opening for my former student, Lori Earley. She was surrounded by a group of ardent fans, peppering her with questions. “Which medium do you use…what brand of paint…which brushes do you like…what kind of canvas…how do you mix skin-tones…?” I’m not saying these questions are without merit, but knowing these answers was not going to make any of them better artists. I’m not saying that technique is unimportant (far from it), but the bottom line is: great painters make great decisions.

Artists may have many arrows in their quivers, but those who hit bullseye after bullseye do it via superior picture making skills. In my classes I call it strategic thinking. It’s the ability to create a unified image, leading the viewer’s eye through a hierarchical balance of colors, values and edges melded together through a balanced design. In short it’s the ability to masterfully manifest your artistic intent. I never had any formal compositional training while in art school, but little by little, working as an illustrator for 30 years, I was able to develop my pictorial composition skills, before becoming a full-time portrait artist.

For me, Illustration was a terrific training ground to learn picture making. (I guess you can say I got paid to learn to design, as well as paint.) Illustrators can traverse one of two paths. They can develop a strong visual style, providing a particular look–which, like fashion design, will eventually become passé. The other route is to become a problem solver. Compared to self-themed fine artists, illustrators need to face problems existing outside of their own realm. Each assignment can be seen as an opportunity to create a fresh and unique strategy. With each new challenge comes the possibility of expanding one’s pictorial lexicon.

Since it was my goal to be as flexible a problem solver as I could be, I found myself navigating a wide range of subject matters and situations, some straight forward and some with a visual twist. My work ranged from movie posters, to scientific illustrations, to book covers and portraits. I seriously doubt, had I been left to my own devices, that I could have broadened my capabilities to the extent that I did. The pressures and time restraints were always imposing. I knew in the industry’s eyes I was only as good as my last assignment. Failure meant losing a client but I loved the pressure, because I had a warrior’s mentality. When the bullets stop flying, only the quick and the dead remain. As Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” For over thirty years every picture I created made me a better problem solver.

It was my goal to one day–when I retired–switch to portraiture. That retirement came very abruptly, when a client transformed–what would turn out to be my last illustration assignment–into a Photoshop hack job. They rearranged the elements, added a new background and turned a fully rendered figure into a black silhouette–which was embossed in the printing. “Never again,” I swore. It was then, I said to myself, “Marvin you’re now officially a portrait artist.”

It was only logical for me, when I switched over to portrait painting, to bring my problem-solving/picture-making mentality along for the ride. Rather than just painting the same redundant portrait motifs I saw at every turn, I felt that I could make each painting a unique portrayal of my sitter. I saw portraiture being very much like illustration, in that most portrait artists’ works are about their superficial style. My feeling was that my strategic thinking could be a key factor in making my work stand out.

When designing my portrait paintings, I don’t follow any preexisting rules–imagine that? Instead, I put on my thinking beret, to come up with something I’d be thrilled to paint. I decide what the most important aspect of the portrait is and then I build a viable value and color structure around it, using edges to speed up or slow down the way my viewers’ eyes will traverse through the portrait. I call my basic strategy backwards thinking, because I start with the central focus and work backwards, subjugating the pictorial elements to my focus. William Bouguereau and William McGregor Paxton are the picture makers I admire most. I feel neither gets the credit they deserve in this area. Paxton’s advice to, “find a new motif,” and “seek a noble and ample design,” are my guiding lights. These concepts are beautifully illustrated in the above painting, William McGregor Paxton’s, The Pink Rose. You can see how Paxton turns a simple head and shoulder portrait into a strikingly unforgettable artistic tour de force.

Finding the best composition, clothing, props, lighting and pose to portray the character of my sitter, takes effort, but it’s well worth it in the end. I’m constantly looking at great strategic composers, trying to get under the hood, so to speak, of the decision-making mentality of artists like Paxton, Bouguereau, DeCamp, Ingres, Rembrandt, Raeburn and Kramskoy. All this will be discussed in great detail in future blogs.

I’ve often been asked, “Marvin, don’t you get tired just painting portraits?” The answer is a resounding no. I love being a portrait artist. Every face I see is so fascinating. Everyone’s energy is a thing unto it’s own self. I love coming up with a design strategy that incorporates these qualities, while commanding the viewer’s attention, and drawing them in. Even if I won the lottery, I’d still choose to do portraiture. The only difference is, were I to win the lottery, I would pay my subjects to sit for me. Then they would be required to pose for as long as I wished.

Being a great portrait artist requires far more than just rendering skills. If you want to  distinguish yourself, then you need to place a far greater degree of emphasis on problem solving and picture making. Remember, Michelangelo said, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands!”

Until next time…