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

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…

Marvin Mattelson Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop

June 5-9 @ The School of Visual Arts in New York City

I’ll be leading a drawing workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from June 5-9 (9 AM- 5 PM daily).

I believe that my workshops are fundamentally different than those led by other people. My main focus it is on changing the way you think about making art. Mark Twain said it best, “When you do what you’ve done, you get what you’ve gotten.” If you want to be a better artist, you need to learn to think like a better artist. It’s not about learning a little trick or two and it certainly isn’t about learning more rules. But don’t worry, the course is packed with more technical information than you could ever imagine.

But why listen to me. Although I’ve been at every workshop I’ve ever led, I’ve never had the opportunity to actually experience one first-hand.  Then it hit me, wouldn’t the best explanation come from a former student who actually participated in one of my drawing workshops. So what follows is the text from an email that my former student, Mary Beth Lumley, sent to me following the workshop she took. I’ve also enclosed some pictures of her exquisite drawing for your viewing pleasure.

Marvin, how can I ever thank you for this week?? What a wonderful, eye-opening adventure it was. I so enjoyed meeting you and having the honor of spending time with you. I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned from you into action and have been working all morning to rearrange my condo (read also: life) to create space for the development of my artwork. I know I’m only one of hundreds of students you’ve encouraged and artists’ lives you’ve helped to transform, but you made me feel so special and have left an indelible impression on my art and my life.

Going into your drawing workshop, I had hoped to gain a fresh perspective and learn some fundamentals I could apply to what I already knew about drawing. I had no idea what I was about to experience. Like so many of your students, I thought I had some knowledge on the subject, but right away I realized the smartest thing I could do would be to leave behind what I knew and fully embrace your incredibly unique methodology. You didn’t just teach me to draw, you taught me to see — a universal skill I can apply to everything I create, regardless of the medium.

So few people have the ability to operate at the level you do artistically, but even fewer have the skills and desire to teach others how it’s done. You took what you learned about us as individuals and you developed custom, innovative teaching methods using them to push each of us to new levels. You understand how people learn and seem to genuinely thrive off of your students’ progress. Selfless with your wealth of knowledge, you jumped at any opportunity to share what you know with your students. After only six days, every one of us walked away with more knowledge than we could have ever hoped to achieve in that time-frame and for that amount of money. This workshop was, without a doubt, the best investment I’ve ever made in the development of my skills as an artist.

I cannot thank you enough for everything you taught me this week, Marvin. You are a spectacular teacher and person, and I will be counting down the days until I can study with you again.

Mary Beth Lumley

 

 

If you’d like to hear what others have said regarding their experience of studying with Marvin, you can read additional student feedback here.

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.

There will also be an open house at The School of Visual Arts on Thursday, May 11, at 6:30. I’ll be giving a short presentation about my summer workshops. I’d love to see you there and I’d definitely love to see you at the workshop.

Until next time…

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!