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

I gotta crow: Jocelyn Joyah Henry

 

A Student of Marvin Mattelson’s @ The School of Visual Arts

Jocelyn Henry - Geisha

Jocelyn Henry – Geisha

One of my pet peeves are teachers who teach painting in a rote manner. You know that’s the case when all the student’s works coming from a specific school or teacher have a strong stylistic imprint. I see it as a symptom of superficial training when the students’ works look just like their teachers’. There are logical underlying principles that are easily distinguishable when examining the works of truly great artists (assuming you know what to look for) and I pride myself on the fact that these principles are at the core of everything I teach. Case in point: my recently graduated student: Jocelyn Henry. She is now in training at Scenic Art Studios, who create sets for the likes of the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. In addition to her outrageous talent, she is one of my all-time favorite people, totally down-to-earth, very clear about her own convictions and smart as a whip! She says what she means and means what she says. Here are some examples of her work from this past year in my portfolio class, and a brief description of the all-too-short time we spent together.

My time with Marvin :

I’ve been Marvin’s student for two years if you don’t count my first year at SVA when he’d sidle into my Illustration Principles class and slip me advice on the calamities I was working on at the time. At that point, I was strictly a pencil person. I could draw but was terrified of painting after many attempts with other teachers trying to explain how to create their personal style in abstract jargon when I didn’t even know that you’re supposed to at least wipe your brush if you’re going to paint a lemon after using black. Painting made me feel like an idiot and drawing didn’t, so I only drew even if I felt limited by my medium. But Marvin was able to recruit me into his classes after a year of nagging when he explained to me that drawing and painting are very much the same, and approached foreign concepts to me like chroma, value relationships, and not being an idiot, with clarity and logic instead of abstract jargon. I was shocked when I painted my first figure with him, because not only was it pretty darn good and loads of fun, but my outside projects drastically improved with the principles that I’d learned, so much so that I painted my entire junior thesis, with complicated spaces and multiple figures and light sources. The greatest thing is that after another year of his wisdom I look back at those pieces that, at the time, were the best and hardest images I’d ever done, and now I think they suck, which means I’m still growing. What’s kept me sold on Marvin (I’m now at the end of taking a full year of his Senior Portfolio class) is a couple of things. First, he makes sense. He explains thoroughly and patiently, and is willing to hold your hand as he kicks your ass and challenges you to bring your work further than you thought you’d ever go. He teaches with an objective and fact-based approach untainted by ego bias so you can learn how to stand before you dance and when you do dance, you can dance your own way. Stylization, to me, is something personal that the student needs to bring themselves when they’re ready. It’s an opinion. Marvin teaches you the facts so you can make your own fully informed opinion, which is why my work looks like my work and not a second-rate attempt at someone else’s, and I know how to make anything I want instead of relying on happy little accidents to do it for me. Second, Marvin is basically the Wizard of Oz of art and you may think that a classical portrait artist won’t be able to help you with sci-fi illustrations or inked comics or whatever weird crap you’re into. Well you’re wrong, because he’s earned his salt as an artist working just about every kind of gig there is, from ink cartoons to acrylic advertisements to scientifically accurate illustrations depicting creatures that went extinct a jillion year ago. Combined with his good sense of design, he’s got something in his pocket for everybody. Even you, scarecrow. And the greatest part is, if he DOESN’T know something, he’ll tell you. He’s not the type to act like he knows everything, and is willing to learn and grow along with you instead of being hung up in a stale routine. In puzzling times, he helps you look to previous masters and identify what it was they did that made them successful, and why. He’s shown me so many artists that I’d never heard of that have influenced the work I do now, as well as broken down and demystified their techniques so I can pick and choose from a huge buffet of genius to inform the way I approach making an image. Finally, he’s just a genuine and fun guy, and truly cares about his students’ understanding and growth. Work never feels like work and he’s more of a valuable and enriching friend to me than some professor I’m never going to think about after graduation. I’d be pretty scared for my future if it weren’t for him, but instead I’m looking at it with a relaxed and honest confidence in my abilities. So that’s pretty cool.

– Jocelyn Henry

Jocelyn Henry - Statue

Jocelyn Henry – Statue

 

Jocelyn Henry - Wet

Jocelyn Henry – Wet

 

Jocelyn Henry - Wet

Jocelyn Henry – Wet

 

Jocelyn Henry - Roo

Jocelyn Henry – Roo

 

Jocelyn Henry - Monkeys

Jocelyn Henry – Monkeys

 

Jocelyn Henry - Boots

Jocelyn Henry – Boots

 

Jocelyn Henry - Lizard

Jocelyn Henry – Lizard

If you want to see more of Jocelyn’s amazing work or to commission her to do some spectacular illustrations for some project that needs spicing up, here is her website: www.jhenry.work. Jocelyn was a full-time undergraduate at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Visit this link if you’re interested in applying to SVA. Fortunately, you can also study with me if being a full-time student isn’t practical. Click here if you’re interested learning about or registering in my continuing education classes at SVA.

Until next time…

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.

Making Rhyme Out of Reason: An Oil Portrait Painting Workshop with Marvin Mattelson

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal
New York City • August 14 – 25, 2017
@ the School of Visual Arts

Just to give you an indication,
Here’s Marvin’s last workshop demonstration.

I often post upon this blog my teaching offerings,
Like classes during the school year as well as other things.
It’s always a challenge to vary my message and avoid redundancy.
So this time around I’m communicating to you in the form of poetry.

At the School of Visual Arts each August, I lead an oil portrait workshop.
From the fourteenth through the twenty fifth, the learning is non-stop.
If you truly desire to become the very best artist you can be.
Sign up and take full advantage of this great opportunity.

For two weeks—Mondays through Fridays, nine to five—there’s much to ingest.
The middle Saturday is a field trip to the Met, while Sunday’s a day of rest.
I teach a contextual approach designed to enhance your individuality.
No, this isn’t a cookie cutter system and you won’t turn into a mini-me.

I think most artists searching for answers, are barking up the wrong tree.
It’s not about using some historical pigment or finding a long-lost recipe.
On the other side of the coin, if you’ve been told from your youth,
That making art is intuitive. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s a middle ground, a balance, that I find works the very best.
My students tell me my approach is more effective than the rest.
Michelangelo said, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.”
I believe this fundamental truth is something that every great artist understands.

What I teach is not rote learning. Why paint someone else’s way?
It’s the difference between learning to fish or being fed for a day.
Style’s a poor substitute for knowledge and shouldn’t be focused on.
Individuality should never be sacrificed, when all is said and done!

When you approach it step by step,
You will become much more adept.

Technique is important and I cover all aspects, but that’s not really the key.
The important fact is that at the core of all great painting is a logical philosophy.
Learn in a short span what might take you decades on your own to master.
Why struggle and suffer needlessly; when you can get there so much faster?

Painting from models is the best way to learn, ‘cause everything’s right there,
You can clearly analyze 3-D structure and the effects of light and air.
You’ll learn how to identify any color you see and to mix it efficiently.
As opposed to your typical hit or miss method, which is pure insanity.

I will clearly explain everything that I’m doing while I’m demonstrating.
At all other times I go from student to student; I’m continuously circulating.
You’ll learn ways to capture a likeness and to see more accurately.
And what it takes to convey on your canvas a real life-like quality.

A contextual methodology lies at the heart of everything I teach.
When you apply this framework all possibilities are within reach.
Please understand, painting isn’t a simple task, it’s very complicated.
But if you can approach it more logically, you won’t be so frustrated.

I hope these verses I’ve penned for you have given you some indication
Of the wonderful experience awaiting you that will enhance your art education.
My workshop, very much like this poem, is designed to keep you entertained,
Making information more easily processed and so it can be fully ingrained.

In three more lines my poem will reach it’s eventual conclusion.
If you want to turn your work around, I’m offering the perfect solution.
You may click on this line in the event you desire some additional information.
To sign up call 212-592-2200, or click this link to access online registration.

 

Why Settle for Conventionality When Greatness May Be Around the Bend?

Last chance to register for Marvin Mattelson’s portrait drawing workshop in New York City!

A number of years ago Apple had a great advertising campaign entitled “Think Different!” It was quite brilliant, placing the emphasis on innovation by those who went against the norm. One would think that artists in particular would be able to relate to that, because by nature we are different than the majority of people who are non-artists. In lieu of that, I find it really amazing how fearful artists seem when it comes to thinking differently.  I guess there is comfort in the road most commonly traveled. It appears that far too many of us cling to convention as far as creating art goes. Thinking similarly? I tell my students, all the time, that conventional thinking makes for conventional artists.

Several weeks ago I went to a couple of auction previews at Christies and Sotheby’s as well as to an exhibit of contemporary realists. To me the Bouguereau painting entitled “Petite Berg” (see above) was by far the most impressive painting that I saw that day. It wasn’t great solely based on his technique, there were other paintings I viewed where the paint handling was top notch, but Bouguereau’s superior decision-making made it, for me, a far more compelling work of art. The way Bouguereau handled his color, edges, values, light and atmosphere put him in the league of his own. The great thing is, once you understand his thought process – which can be discerned in the works of all great artists – you can adapt these things to your own work in your own style and make yourself the best version of yourself, not a secondary clone of someone else.  It’s not about the application of paint, it’s about the application of knowledge.

Far too many who seek to be better artists think that the end-all is in achieving better technique. As a result the majority of students coming out the schools and teaching academies create work that looks eerily similar to their classmates. Based on the way paint is applied, the choice of colors, the composition and other telltale stylistic artifacts, the work tends to lack the handprint of the individual. When teaching is technique-centric what else can you expect?

There seems to be such a proliferation of artists out there consumed with understanding the exact techniques of any particular artist they admire. “If only I knew how so-and-so painted, then I could paint just like him/her.” Playing on this mind-set, manufacturers are now offering the traditional pigments and mediums used by artists of the past. Do you seriously think that’s going to make a difference? Not that it’s bad to use these materials, but it’s certainly not the end-all.

The truth of the matter is, it’s never the particular technique of any artist in question that makes them great.  In fact many great artists have changed their painting methodologies many times over the course of their careers. Don’t kid yourself, it’s the underlying thought process that makes great artists great. Yes, in my teaching I too cover a myriad of technical aspects – you still need a way to manifest your ideas on a canvas – but it’s this strategic thinking that lies at the heart of it all. It’s exactly what Michelangelo meant when he proclaimed, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.

So in my workshops and classes I offer a different point of view. This decision-making is at the heart of all my teaching. Once you understand it you will be able to forge your own path and no longer need to rely on technical convention.  So anyone looking to think differently should think about taking my drawing workshop which starts this coming Monday or my painting workshop which is scheduled for the second week of August, both at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

And it all starts with the drawing. To attend the drawing workshop please call 212-592-2200 or you may register online now. If you are interested in further information, you can read about the course here.

I’m also leading a 2 week workshop: Portrait Painting: The Real Deal from August 14-25. You can register online as well, or call 212-592-2200.

Until next time…