There and Back: It’s Uphill Both Ways!

Last night I gave a lecture on color theory. The public was invited to join (for a modest fee of $25.00) with my workshop students and partake of the knowledge offered.

When I teach, I try to break down deeply embedded erroneously preconceived notions and replace them with truths. The subject of color can be a particularly prickly one, but by the end of the evening lots of lightbulbs were going off. During tonights’s lecture, I demonstrated how I mix up and arrange my palette, a practical manifestation of the theoretical tenets from the previous night. Once I mixed up the palette I showed how straightforward it was to match any complexion. My point being that, if one can perfectly reproduce life-like flesh–the holy grail of color mixing–then one can easily mix any color.

While I mixed out the colors, we chatted. One subject that came up, and comes up repeatedly, during my workshops and classes, is how frustrating color mixing seems when presented in the typical overly complicated manor (mixing via compliments and navigating with warms and cools).

Today I experienced an epiphany. Simplicity is a function of clarity. Many teachers out there may be very good at what they do, but numerous factors come into play. Competence can also be a result of innate talent and/or good intuition, and therefore, deep understanding may often elude those with admirable abilities.

Just because someone is good at something, it doesn’t mean they grasp it. That’s the reason so many great athletes make terrible coaches. Many teachers have big followings, students returning year after year even after making minimal progress. They return–like spawning Salmon–hoping to eventually reach the elusive understanding; from someone who doesn’t have a clue. The perfect way to camouflage not knowing, is to obfuscate your explanation.

Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you…

The other week, I led a drawing workshop in New York City, at the School of Visual Arts. One of my students, the highly entertaining and engaging, Arlene Ellis, blogged about her experience. Here’s an excerpt:

What I loved about Marvin’s approach to teaching portrait drawing is his intellectual generosity. He demystifies the drawing process through step-by-step demos, using everyday language. You quickly realize that you don’t need to have read an art history book to know what a square, circle, or triangle looks like. Plus, chances are you know how to draw these shapes. And this is where the magic began for me, how Marvin could make me (who was so intimated by drawing faces) finally begin to see a face objectively—just a bunch of shapes. The difference between my portrait on the first day, and those of all the other students, compared to the last day was impressive. If four days (I missed day 1) of learning from him  made that much of a difference in my drawing skills, I can’t imagine what type of results I’ll see after a semester of taking his class. I’m so grateful that I invested in his workshop and can’t wait to take his painting class in the fall!

You can read her complete offering here on, Organic Lyricism | Illustration and textiles inspired by nature.

Until next time…


  1. Thanks Marvin! It’s very rare you come across a teacher who’s exceptionally talented in his field and is an excellent teacher! I really appreciate your teaching style 🙂

  2. Jojo Young says

    I like your posts. I always look forward to the next. What you are saying is correct. Teachers differ. Some knows what they are teaching and some confuses the student more. As I live in England, it will be difficult to attend your seminars and teachings. But I hope someday could visit. Cheers.

    • Thanks for your comments. I have students come from all over the world to take my two week workshops each summer. Each workshop is the equivilant of a full semester course.

  3. Hi Marvin, I was one of the ‘public’ at your lecture last night! I have been to a lot of classes, workshops, etc in Atlanta and have experience with a lot of those ‘bad’ teachers you referenced in your lecture and on the post! I am now so leery about art teachers that I usually hesitate to take a class til I learn their style and content of their teaching! I admit I attended mainly because I personally wanted to see if making an investment in your class was worth it! I also asked myself last night why this very successful art teacher from NY would want to teach some beginner like me the ‘secrets’ from a lifetime of struggle and work! I saw your enthusiasm and excitement in showing us how those flesh tone colors came alive when mixed and in talking about Paxton and Reilly! Your intent shows, and….what gems you teach! I definitely will be attending as many workshops as I can in the future! Who knows I might even come to NY for a workshop and to visit y’all!

    • Thank you Betsy, I appreciate your kind and enthusiastic response to the lecture. I look forward to sharing many gems with you. I hope you can make it to Sunday’s lecture too.

  4. Mary Beth Lumley says

    Hi Marvin – In hopes it will benefit others, I wanted to post what I shared with you yesterday, after attending your “Everything I know About Painting I Learned from the Met” lecture. It never ceases to amaze me how enlightened and inspired I feel after leaving one of your lectures or workshops. All of yesterday’s epiphanies (and there were MANY), were suprising, given I’ve heard your lecture three other times! I realize most readers are probably thinking – Wow, she must be a really crappy listener and note-taker. 🙂 On the contrary, I hear every word, but understand now that it’s only possible for us to absorb the information we’re ready to hear. Because I had been painting more than ever in the last year, I was further along in my development as an artist, and had the ability to absorb a new layer of information. While ‘doing’ is absolutely critical to becoming a skilled artist, it seems the consistent interweaving of doing, and giving yourself the opportunity to learn from a truly gifted teacher, is what can propel you rapidly to new levels. I thought of about 60 things to address in my current painting by applying the concepts in your lecture yesterday, and couldn’t wait to get to the easel today to practice what I learned while it was fresh. The beauty of your teaching is that you have a way of communicating things so that everyone – from the timid beginner to the proficient artist – benefits equally. Your passion and enthusiasm for painting is deeply infectious. Thank you so much, Marvin, for your incredible generosity and for continuing to point me towards a new horizon line.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.