I recently had the great joy of attending a 5-day portrait painting workshop in Encinitas, with the amazing artist, Meadow Gist. I love portraiture, and I have had several classes with Meadow in the past, so I knew it was gonna be good. Some teachers really resonate with me when they explain things (and others sound like they’re speaking a foreign language). Meadow is one of those teachers who speaks a language I understand, and I feel like my growth during this workshop was largely due to her skill as a teacher. Here are two of my more successful pieces from the workshop.
Well, I did it. I survived a workshop with one of the best contemporary realist painters alive.
I walked into the workshop about 30 minutes early and the seats were already mostly filled and Morgan was already speaking about his process. There was a momentary panic and tightening in my chest as I thought “Oh no. I worked so hard to be early, but I must have gotten the time wrong!” I even fumbled my phone out of my pocket to make sure I hadn’t misread the time on the website… no, I was definitely early. I relaxed for a second before the second wave of panic hit “I should have known to be an hour early! These artists are obviously more dedicated than me…”
After my long drive I walked to the bathroom (though I was tempted to hold it to make sure I didn’t miss another precious second of this early lecture). As I was getting ready to head back in, I stopped and thought, “This is crazy.” I was already making this workshop a bad experience by regretting that I should have been twice as early. I could make this day about how I’m “not good enough” to be at the workshop or I could decide to just enjoy the heck out of the experience and do my best moment by moment. Fortunately I chose the latter.
With my new determination to have fun, I reentered the room and looked for a seat. I took a seat next to Morgan Wesitling’s daughter, an awesome young artists herself, and had a great time chatting with her about art while Morgan did a several hour demo. Then we all broke for lunch. I had forgotten to pack a lunch, so I ate cookies and drank coffee that were available in the studio. I was powered by pure enthusiasm, sugar and caffeine for the rest of the workshop!
The most important lesson I got from Morgan’s morning demo was this: simplify your values. There should never be more than two values in the shadows, and no more than three values in the light. That’s a total of only FIVE VALUES for your whole painting. He also constantly said “ALWAYS make your half-tones lighter than you think.”
So when it was our turn to work from the model, I surely knew exactly what to do. Just kidding.
I drew my basic lay-in fine, no problems there. But when I was ready to start putting in my values I was moving a little too fast and things were getting a muddy and unclear. Morgan passed behind me and I froze. I knew he was watching… “Be careful” he said, “keep your values separated.” Shoot, I knew this, the nervousness was just creeping back in.
I paused and looked around at what stage everyone else was at. I had a feeling Morgan’s daughter would be one of the best in the workshop so I had intentionally set up my easel so I could see how she worked. She was moving quite slowly and deliberately on one small area and hadn’t yet moved out of the shadow. “Ok, slow down and be more thoughtful” I reminded myself as I wiped my muddily painted area and began again.
By the time Morgan came around to work on each of our paintings I had something fairly coherent (though unfinished) for him to work on. “Good” he said, “I wasn’t sure how yours was going to turn out when I saw your painting earlier, but you really came back from that.” His two big corrections to my painting was edge use (he took his finger and swiped right through about 70% of my hard and firm edges) and the division and thickness of lights. He pointed out that the nose was the closest thing to the light and needed a thicker and lighter color to bring it forward. Just like that, he took my painting to a higher level and then moved on to the next student.
I had been nervous about that moment, of having Morgan Weistling work on my painting, for several weeks and that was it?– He didn’t yell at me or proclaim that I was a hopeless case and that I better leave straightaway. Of course, he’s a very nice person and would never do that, but it is amazing the stories I can tell myself when I feel unworthy.
I’m truly grateful that Morgan took the time to teach this workshop. I learned a couple of really important new tools, and had a ridiculously good time.
Here’s my painting at the end of the day:
Having good brushes is important… an yet only now do I own some Rosemary & Co! I have some other decent brands, but I had such a hard time deciding I was worthy of purchasing Rosemarys. Rosemary brushes are the ones those good artists use… ya know, not people like me. People like me are meant to chug along with low quality things… OH MAN. *BRAIN LYING ALERT!*
Luckily this workshop coming up challenged me with a grown-up-artist supply list. Stuff I should have ordered months ago, but have now finally said, “Yeah, I’m committed to this path. It’s time to invest a little in it.”
And it feels good.
Another drawing for the Watts Atelier “skill building challenge.” My skills are getting a work out!
Wow. I am facing some serious “not good enough” stuff this week! It seemed to crop up after getting a spot in the (much coveted) Morgan Weistling painting workshop in Pasadena. At first I was just on the waiting list… which felt safe. But suddenly I get the email: “We’ve got a spot for you!”. And then… panic set in. And this is what it sounds like in my brain:
“Oh no. The website said this workshop isn’t appropriate for beginners… am I a beginner? My drawing skills still need serious work. But… I’ve been working on art for the last 5 years– I must not be a ‘beginner’ anymore!… Puh-leeze, you’re so lazy, you basically did nothing to improve your art in that time.”
And the voice goes on……. and on….. and on………….
The thing is, I want to be an artist because I love to make art. And (call me crazy) my self imposed emotional beatings makes the whole process a hole heck of a lot less fun.
I recently watched this video about that uncomfortable place just outside of comfortable where all the learning happens. But the scared part of my brain says “beginner” like it’s a bad thing. Because I want to be there, in that uncertain place where I am eagerly trying and failing with such gusto that I’m always moving forward.
So essentially, I am still a “beginner.” But always want to be a beginner, even if I become the cat’s pajamas, I want to think like a beginner. Always risking, stepping into the unknown, moving forward. I always want to be the worst artist in a classroom so that I have huge leaps to grow before moving to the next level.
Here’s some Morgan Weistling work to blow your socks off:
These (below) are some quicksketches I did as practice from the Watts Atelier online program. (If you haven’t heard me say it before: it is an awesome program). And I have FINALLY discovered a way to get my butt in the chair to do some drawing work. My typical modus operandi is to avoid practicing my drawing until I encounter something so difficult in a painting project that I am forced to practice my drawing again. Really, I should be practicing drawing every darn day.
Sooo when I saw an interview with artisit Teresa Oaxaca, I was totally blown away when she said that she listens to audiobooks while working. I just assumed it was too difficult to listen to an audiobook and work at the same time- perhaps my head would explode with the effort of trying to do both at the same time. But, low and behold, it has done quite the opposite. Listening to an audiobook while I draw seems to distract me from the voice that says things like: “This is haaaard. I can’t do this! I’m never going to be a real artist! I hate this. It’s boring. Don’t make me do it!” Instead, that part of my brain is like: “Oh no! Poor Robinson Crusoe! What’s gonna happen next?” (you might guess the current audiobook of choice) while the rest of my brain gets down to work. And here’s the hillarious and amazing part of this discovery: I now can’t wait to draw. The part of my brain that loves stories is now tied to the part that practices drawings and it can’t wait to see what happens next.
I won’t claim that it’s not still challenging to draw- it is. But I will say that it’s a heck of a lot more fun to sit down and begin the task.
This talk (below) is one I watch again and again and again. The times I don’t “feel” like painting or drawing are usually the days I feel most afraid of failure and ashamed. They are the days I fantasize about choosing a different career path… maybe one with a boss who tell me what to do every day, and I just get to check off a list.
But really, if I can just “put on some galoshes” and walk through the shame, I can get back to the place where I love what I do and I’m eager to fail again. Because failure is just useful information about what to try next time.
Here’s the beginning of a series of six small (oil) portrait master’s studies. (Left: John Singer Sargent, Right: Malcom Liepke). Masters’ studies are an amazing way to analyze how an artist works. By attempting to recreate great works you add to your toolbox of problem solving in paint.
(I’m going to go back and finish the Sargeant on the left… there’s going to be a second head in there. So really, this is 7 portraits!)
So the Watts Atelier online program is amazing. It is so content rich that I kind of want to jump up and down and shout it out to the internet! Granted, I miss being in the classroom at Watts Atelier (there’s nothing quite like the camaraderie and joy of working hard, side by side with real folks) but it is really a program to be reckoned with.
And to make it EVEN BETTER (impossible- right? Wrong.) they added a cycle of friendly competitions to keep students motivated. Each student submits a weekly assignment leading up to the final piece on week four. Winners get an original Jeff Watts drawing!
Talk about a fun way to motivate growth!