Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Clayton J. Beck, III Workshop at the Woodlands Art League

My head is still spinning from the overload of information I received at last week's three-day portrait and figure workshop with Clayton J. Beck, III at the Woodlands Art League. I felt extremely privileged to be there and grateful for the instruction, as it was a totally new way of thinking and painting for me.

Clayton Beck is, as my friend Michael would say, a "Schmidling," meaning that he studied under Richard Schmid once upon a time during the "golden age" of Schmid's teaching at the Palette and Chisel in Chicago. Beck now teaches there, and through his classes and workshops, he carries on the methods used by the 19th-century American artist John Singer Sargent as well as several of Sargent's contemporaries such as Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla. Richard Schmid is arguably the greatest living painter, and so, to study with him or any of his former students is a HUGE privilege.


One of the many demos of Clayton's that were on display during the workshop. So inspiring!

The workshop consisted of two evening sessions with a figure model, and three full days of portrait work. Clayton's emphasis for the duration of the workshop was on values, so much so that he didn't bother to correct drawing mistakes or deal much with color (even though he's known for his ability to paint gorgeous colors!). I took a LOT of notes, but instead of writing them all down here, I'll simply share a few of the more important highlights:
  • Instead of getting wrapped up in line work to start, look at your subject in a deep squint. If you can capture the stuff you initially see in your deep squint, then you'll be all right.
  • Don't think about what things are, but rather, what they look like.
  • Never start a canvas without knowing what direction you're going in.
  • Have a realistic understanding of your own abilities and how you will react to the scene in front of you, within the time frame you are given.
  • Sometimes it's better not to have a concept. Let the model relax into the pose - yelling from eight different people to "move your arm," etc., creates tension for the model. Instead of making the model stay stiffly in the position you dictate, paint parts of the figure by opportunity. If a hand is out of place, work on something else.
  • Consistently compare areas of your painting to each other. Everything MUST relate. The harmony is in the light source, in the same way that a piece of music is written all in the same key.
  • Envision your painting from start to finish. You have control over how your painting will turn out - it is not an accident!
  • Think of everything you see as a value, an edge, or an angle, rather than a hand, hair, a mouth, etc.
  • There's no such thing as half-tone or middle value. There's only light and shadow. Look for the darkest part of the light and the lightest part of the shadow. This is where you begin your painting. Your whole world as an artist should be a division of light and shadow.
  • Work only as quickly as you can with accuracy.
  • Plan ahead; as you lay down color, know how the next brush stroke will relate to it.
  • Don't get distracted. Stick to your original idea, and finish it out.
I really enjoyed Clayton's teaching style (um... he's rather like a drill sargeant!), and I hope I get to study with him again. Here are some pictures from the last part of the workshop.

Day 3 (I was working too hard on days 1 and 2 to take many pictures, ha!): Clayton painted along side us. Here is his amazing portrait of the model so far... you can see that he established his lightest light (on our left) and darkest dark (on our right).

The model's 2-year-old son kept sitting on her lap, but he held pretty still while entertaining himself with her phone.

Clayton added an impromptu sketch of the little boy in about 20 minutes!

Here is the finished painting.

Here are my efforts from day 2 of the workshop, with our model, Pete. I was focused primarily on finding "the darkest part of the light and the lightest part of the shadow." Later I started adding in color temperature.

Day 3: My attempt at painting the model with more time spent on developing my values more gradually. The result is really a solid-looking head. I can't wait to take this method even further!

While I have a pretty solid background in classical drawing and technique (solid enough to sell my work and make a living at it, thank you very much!), I'm always excited about learning something new and adding to my painting repertoire. I've been thinking about this workshop ever since I got back from it last Friday night, and I have a feeling I'll be digesting the information for months - perhaps years! The thing that really struck me is that I had never understood how Sargent (...or Richard Schimd) painted. I always felt that their methods were completely out of reach and beyond me - that I'd never learn how to do it. I never even bothered copying a Sargent painting because I didn't know the method. Now that I've caught a glimpse of it, I'm more excited than ever to try my hand at "painting like Sargent" here at home! So now that I'm back, I've been downloading high-res images of works by Sargent, Zorn, and Sorolla from the Art Renewal Center. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ARC, it's a fabulous resource for artists!

Well, onward... I have a lot of work to do! :-)
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the long write up Anna, very interesting read.

    ReplyDelete

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