Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Demonstration: Studies vs. Paintings Workshop

In a recent workshop for the Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association I demonstrated the value of preliminary studies by working out problems prior to painting a larger work from plein air and photographic references. To make this concept as realistic as possible for the students I chose to go for broke by conducting this demonstration without the usual planning prior to the demonstration. This left me open to explore any and all possibilities (good, bad, or indifferent) in front of the audience providing them a more honest view of the give and take mental and visual processes that an artist goes through. Frankly, it also left me, as an instructor, feeling more than a little vulnerable.

Six of my plein air studies showing considerable variation of subject matter were presented to the students. After discussing the merits of each, I asked the group to pick any two as the vehicles for the development of a larger studio painting. What ensued was the process of how I elected to choose, discard and rearrange the various elements of the two plein air paintings. This was of extreme interest to the students resulting in a good interchange of ideas, as well as, questions and answers. Over the years, my students have often expressed that the manipulation of subject matter for studio paintings is the single most difficult and confusing step for them.

Finally, with an idea of what should be included in the painting I began the process (see photo above) of doing composition, value and, color studies. In reality, the painting itself was almost anticlimactic. In fact, I have yet to finish it. The real value of the entire demonstration was the thought processes involved in the selection of subjects and the resulting development of various studies to support the proposed painting.

I must say, I love it when students leave a demonstration or the classroom visibly high on excitement and eager to get home and begin doing their own work. This level of enthusiasm tells me the class experience was a winner and the students gained considerable knowledge and understanding from the experience. That is, for me, what teaching is all about and why I do what I do.

My workshops are always designed around the idea of what my students are struggling with and realistic solutions to solve these problems. In other words, the focus is on the student, not on teaching my style of painting. For this reason, every workshop, demonstration and/or classroom experience for students is topically current and packed with useful information and tips.

My teaching method is never canned. This approach certainly keeps me, as an instructor, on the edge, but effectively provides students with plenty of valuable practical information they can use now, not six months, a year, five years down the road. I've never been interested in developing clones of my style. I am truly put off by the number of clones I see in every art magazine I pick up today. As an instructor, my goal has always been to encourage students in developing a working process that supports their individuality and the development of their own uniqueness of expression with the very best tools available.

Note: EASyL easels by Outdoor Essentials at

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