One of my pet peeves are teachers who teach painting in a rote manner. You know that's the case when all the student's works coming from a specific school or teacher have a strong stylistic imprint. I see it as a symptom of superficial training when the students' works look just like their teachers'. There are logical underlying principles that are easily distinguishable when examining the works of truly great artists (assuming you know what to look for) and I pride myself on the fact that these principles are at the core of everything I teach.
Case in point: my recently graduated student: Jocelyn Henry. She is now in training at Scenic Art Studios, who create sets for the likes of the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. In addition to her outrageous talent, she is one of my all-time favorite people, totally down-to-earth, very clear about her own convictions and smart as a whip! She says what she means and means what she says.
Here are some examples of her work from this past year in my portfolio class, and her brief description of the all-too-short time we spent together.
My time with Marvin :
I've been Marvin's student for two years if you don't count my first year at SVA when he'd sidle into my Illustration Principles class and slip me advice on the calamities I was working on at the time. At that point, I was strictly a pencil person. I could draw but was terrified of painting after many attempts with other teachers trying to explain how to create their personal style in abstract jargon when I didn't even know that you're supposed to at least wipe your brush if you're going to paint a lemon after using black.
Painting made me feel like an idiot and drawing didn't, so I only drew even if I felt limited by my medium. But Marvin was able to recruit me into his classes after a year of nagging when he explained to me that drawing and painting are very much the same, and approached foreign concepts to me like chroma, value relationships, and not being an idiot, with clarity and logic instead of abstract jargon.
I was shocked when I painted my first figure with him, because not only was it pretty darn good and loads of fun, but my outside projects drastically improved with the principles that I'd learned, so much so that I painted my entire junior thesis, with complicated spaces and multiple figures and light sources.
The greatest thing is that after another year of his wisdom I look back at those pieces that, at the time, were the best and hardest images I'd ever done, and now I think they suck, which means I'm still growing.
What's kept me sold on Marvin (I'm now at the end of taking a full year of his Senior Portfolio class) is a couple of things. First, he makes sense. He explains thoroughly and patiently, and is willing to hold your hand as he kicks your ass and challenges you to bring your work further than you thought you'd ever go. He teaches with an objective and fact-based approach untainted by ego bias so you can learn how to stand before you dance and when you do dance, you can dance your own way.
Stylization, to me, is something personal that the student needs to bring themselves when they're ready. It's an opinion. Marvin teaches you the facts so you can make your own fully informed opinion, which is why my work looks like my work and not a second-rate attempt at someone else's, and I know how to make anything I want instead of relying on happy little accidents to do it for me.
Second, Marvin is basically the Wizard of Oz of art and you may think that a classical portrait artist won't be able to help you with sci-fi illustrations or inked comics or whatever weird crap you're into. Well you're wrong, because he's earned his salt as an artist working just about every kind of gig there is, from ink cartoons to acrylic advertisements to scientifically accurate illustrations depicting creatures that went extinct a jillion year ago. Combined with his good sense of design, he's got something in his pocket for everybody. Even you, scarecrow.
And the greatest part is, if he DOESN'T know something, he'll tell you. He's not the type to act like he knows everything, and is willing to learn and grow along with you instead of being hung up in a stale routine. In puzzling times, he helps you look to previous masters and identify what it was they did that made them successful, and why.
He's shown me so many artists that I'd never heard of that have influenced the work I do now, as well as broken down and demystified their techniques so I can pick and choose from a huge buffet of genius to inform the way I approach making an image.
Finally, he's just a genuine and fun guy, and truly cares about his students' understanding and growth. Work never feels like work and he's more of a valuable and enriching friend to me than some professor I'm never going to think about after graduation. I'd be pretty scared for my future if it weren't for him, but instead I'm looking at it with a relaxed and honest confidence in my abilities. So that's pretty cool.
If you want to see more of Jocelyn's amazing work or to commission her to do some spectacular illustrations for some project that needs spicing up, here is her website: www.jhenry.work. Jocelyn was a full-time undergraduate at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Visit this link if you're interested in applying to SVA. Fortunately, you can also study with me if being a full-time student isn't practical. Click here if you're interested learning about or registering in my continuing education classes at SVA.
Until next time...
I think every artist or would-be artist can and will appreciate the enormous talent of J. Henry. This artist’s art form is clear evidence of the power of the brush and of the mind. However, I was a bit disappointed by the following remarks: ”I know how to make anything I want instead of relying on happy little accidents to do it for me”. Whether this was intentional or not, this ”line” (…making little happy accidents) was made popular at one time by a popular American artist called Bob Ross, who taught his art, among other venues, via PBS television for many years. Unfortunately I found it to be somewhat demeaning especially coming from such a great artist as J. Henry. It is well known by many that Ross was trying, and had tried for may years, to lay on as much confidence on those people who were afraid to pick up a brush and try their hand on painting, painting anything, painting something! Ross wanted to make painting a landscape, a seascape or an old cabin in the woods as simple for the would-be artist as drawing a straight or crooked line. I think Ross succeded in eradicating ‘fear’ among many future artists during his career. I just hope that all those artists who followed Ross’ teaching have been successful in stashing away those ‘happy little accidents’ for good.
Long life to J. Henry and continued success.
Michael, I think you are reading far to much into Jocelyn’s comments. She’s referring to the hit or miss random approach that rarely proves fruitful, and usually ends poorly. That teaching approach approach didn’t work for her in her previous attempts to learn painting. Knowledge, not accidents, be they happy or not, is what consistently leads to great art. That’s what Jocelyn was referring to when acknowledging what worked for her in her studies with me.
My regrets for reading ‘far too much’ into Jocelyn’s comments. Point well received. I would also like to add that in addition to knowledge leading to great art, as you say…practice & technique should not be ignored either! (LOL). Always nice and comforting to hear from you.
Yes, knowledge, technique and perfect practice are the holy trinity of painting.
You have every right to be proud of your former student. Jocelyn is an amazing talent and I am thrilled to have her studying at the Studio and Forum with me. You should also be proud of yourself for the difference you have made in her art and her life. I have been teaching for many years, and there is no greater joy than when you see a student grasp an idea and become transformed by it. Bravo!
Thanks Joseph. You’re absolutely correct on both accounts. Jocelyn is truly amazing and watching a student take off is an incredible source of satisfaction. I’m glad that Jocelyn landed in a place where she can continue studying with someone who appreciates those things.