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: