Friday, March 25, 2011

Yes! I'm painting!

Readers might be forgiven if they thought the recent Kim English workshop had traumatized me into not painting. Not so! There are quite a few paintings rotating on and off my easel, it's just that none of them are quite yet in a state I'd like to show. Soon...soon, I'll be posting them soon.

In the meantime please enjoy this painting of me painting by Kim English. He painted it plein aire in ten minutes at our recent workshop. I had no idea he was painting me painting - then I neglected to get a photo of his result. Without my asking, he was kind enough to send a copy. I'm afraid to ask the price....

By Kim English (completed in ten minutes)

For the record, my kids say I look too old in the painting. Gee thanks Kim.
Also recently this past week I had a chance to view a significant portion of my unsold landscape paintings all together. My wife has moved into a new office with bare walls and she requested (no - demanded) all my unsold landscapes. So I duly recalled them from the gallery and attic. Pretty cool seeing work from two, three, even five years ago. I have no idea why some of them went unsold, but I'm glad because now they're going into her permanent collection.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kim English Workshop: A Review

Mid-February in upstate New York is a good time to leave for a week in Arizona. So I did. Around Valentine's Day my friend Bruce and I flew to Scottsdale for a workshop with nationally known painter Kim English. It was my first workshop ever.

L to R: artist Rose Nadeau, Kim English, artist Karen McLain, artist Rick Graham
How and why this workshop was chosen is a long story I'll condense to a paragraph. Bruce's wife gifted him a workshop anywhere/anytime for his birthday. That was two years ago. He wouldn't (or couldn't choose) so she started working on me, asking me to find one he'd like to attend. The catch was she wanted me to go with him because she thought he'd enjoy it more. This made sense. I was game. After mucho discussion we decided on Kim English in Scottsdale. I had a place for us to stay - so that saved me some money, and English's style of painting appealed to Bruce.

Going in I knew the workshop would play to Bruce's strengths, and my weakness's. Bruce has done a lot of plein-aire, he paints fast, and he favors a looser style. I on the other hand, hate to leave the studio, paint relatively slow, and incline away from the "painterly" styles of oil. But my thoughts were I'd get a lot of brush time and get out of my comfort zone. Besides, the high here was 8 degrees F and 70 degrees in Arizona. No brainer.

First impressions of Scottsdale Artist's School were positive. Nice, light-filled building. Hallways hung with paintings by renowned artists. Friendly, helpful staff. Large, well-equipped studios. We didn't see much of the studio as almost all of our painting was outside, but we met in one every morning. I considered it an auspicious omen that a painting by Tom Buechner was hung just outside ours.

Kim started the first day with his painting box set up. Two models carried on a casual conversation in front of him while he demonstrated some tips for capturing a scene quickly. He pre-mixed piles of color while commenting on his palette choices. He showed how he wanted us to quickly mass in the figures and background, explaining there wasn't time to do a line drawing of the scene or match each and every value. A broad, gestural glance was more what he was looking for. 

Someone said they'd heard a Kim English workshop was like a boot camp for artists. It is, but not in the sense that you have someone standing over you screaming while you attempt to paint. More in the sense he seems to believe in the discipline of painting, and painting a lot, under the self-imposed stress of time. Kim gets down to the basics of capturing a scene quickly while outside in changing conditions. He wants the artists to think on their feet and adapt.

To do this we started the day with five minute poses. That's right - five minutes to get the figures and the background down. Five minutes and the models changed the pose - and the pose wasn't static. The models pretended they were two ordinary people chatting and interacting as we painted. These five minute poses lasted all morning - three hours with very minimal breaks. I sucked at it.

A word here about surfaces. The course calls for 10 - 15 small panels (8x10, 9x12) that will be painted on and wiped off. Thinking to economize Bruce and I bought cheap, and I mean cheap, acrylic primed duck surfaces. This was a mistake. Expensive as it is I'd strongly suggest bringing primed linen panels. Wiping off the cheapos was a chore. The surfaces took paint poorly and when working fast you want the paint to glide smoothly off the brush. I ended up buying some linen panels at the school toward the end of the week. They wiped clean and the paint lay bright and smooth. 

In case you're wondering, yes the five minute poses were gradually stretched to ten, and even twenty minutes, through the week. We never went over twenty though. Kim explained that if you get used to five minutes, then ten seems a luxury and twenty downright hedonist. I guess that makes sense if your ideal is to capture quick plein-aire studies. Useful tip he passed to me when I asked about capturing figures in motion ... He says the human walk is broken down into five stages. Memorize them. Then when you see a figure's action close your eyes quickly freezing the movement on the back of your eyelids. Then open your eyes and get the movement down immediately. With practice you can get pretty accurate.

Throughtout the workshop Kim painted alongside his students, making rounds to comment on our work. Sometimes a student would stop by his painting and ask a question, then a few more would crowd around and it became an impromptu demo. On the second day during one of these 'demos' the question was asked if all his gallery paintings were plein-aire. Kim said none of his gallery paintings were plein-aire. I'm sure I heard a collective gasp.

His methods of working are to paint plein-air sketches on site and take photographs. Then back in the studio he reviews the sketches and photos to begin a gallery piece. He paints it alla prima (in one go) from the computer monitor, and he never goes back to 'tart it up' afterwards. The painting has to stand on its feet from just one days painting. 

Some bubbles were burst when he told the group this, but I smiled to myself as I'd guessed it from looking at his paintings. Kim's idea is to capture the scene with the urgency and freshness of on-site painting, while painting in the studio. If he's not painting he has a camera in hand, a large digital SLR. Once when I was driving to lunch with him chatting, he suddenly leaned across to snap a picture out my window. It was of a young man sitting on a bench rim-lit by the Scottsdale sun. Anyone who has spent any time with a photographer is familiar with the quick shot mid-conversation, then the casual return. I noticed Kim took a lot of photos, all with some sort of dramatic light and color as subject.

Each day the models were different and there were always two. Each day the location changed, but it was always on the grounds of the school. Most students saved their best paintings of the day. As the week went on and Kim became more familiar with each student's abilities and personality, he would make the rounds offering pertinent advice. When getting to me however, he would mostly stand behind and sigh.

Thursday in Scottsdale is the Gallery Walk when all the galleries stay open late. A large part of the class went out to dinner together that night, then hit the galleries afterward. Wow is all I have to say. It was a real thrill seeing the work of artists I'd only read about. Legacy had a $40,000 Lipking. Then there were Robert Coombs, Daniel Gerhartz, Steve Hanks, David Leffel, Amy Lind, Aaron Westerberg...and that was just Legacy. Also saw Michael Workman, Marci Oleszkiewicz, Calvin Liang, Joseph LaRusso...ok, lots of artist's work. Were there any cowboys and indians? You betcha, far too many, but this was the Southwest. In my opinion our galleries here have far too many lakes and vineyards. 

Friday was a group critique. Kim is gentle. While he has a hint of sarcasm in his humor, he's kind and pertinent in his critiques. I saw no one in tears. As a matter of fact his sense of humor kept the class fun. The entire week was hard work with lots of laughs. What could be better? And I mean hard work. Bruce and I were up at 6:30 every morning for the drive in to Scottsdale, and home at about 8:30. Then we went to bed - exhausted. Friday night we went out to dinner with our new friends. More laughs and some - just some - wine. Saturday we flew home to be greeted by a snowstorm. 

Everyone loves Bruce 
Conclusion: This class is not for the faint of heart or those without some skill - especially in plein-air.  Kim is a good instructor, but he doesn't hold your hand. You won't come home with any finished pieces, but you will hopefully have a practice method to get a scene down fresh and fast. Highly recommended if you want to refine/speed up your plein-air sketching with figures. This is also a good course if you are looking for some intensive time on the brush. 

Note: If you have questions about this workshop I may be able to answer, please leave a comment or email me.

And last but not least - A Very, Special Thanks! to my sister-in-law for hosting us in her home. Thanks Annette!    

About Me

My photo
Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.