Painting is a function of problem-solving; the key is understanding how to control pictorial space on a flat surface. Every paining is different, every lighting condition has its own specific issues, and every situation requires it’s own unique solution.
Common observation and a plain understanding is the source of all art. - Sir Joshua Reynolds
After having devoted myself to a life-long in-depth study of the old masters, I have come to the conclusion that there's no one-size-fits-all formula which will solve the myriad of problems an artist encounters in the course of creating a realistic painting.
Recently I went to see the Van Dyck portrait exhibition at the Frick Collection here in New York City. I went a total of four times. Each time I went back I was able to pick up on more subtle touches, which served to further validate the ideas that have been percolating in my head for over thirty years.
Van Dyck is one of my great heroes and he has played a significant role in my artistic evolution. In 1988, The National Gallery in D.C. had a show of over 100 Van Dyck portraits and figurative paintings. It was there my ideas about painting took a 180 degree turn when I realized it was possible to not merely replicate reality but to greatly enhance it. Compared to the people looking at the paintings in the gallery, Van Dyck’s figures appeared far more alive and dimensional. To be able to achieve that same enhanced sense of reality became my Holy Grail.
I wasn't interested in having my paintings look like they were painted by Van Dyck. To merely copy his stylistic devices, would be the artistic equivalent of feeding myself a fish rather than learning how to catch them. I didn’t want to merely copy what he did, rather, my sole focus was to get inside his head and fully understand his thought process.
I thank Marvin most of all for the recent growth I have seen in my own art. His ability to communicate his knowledge of painting to students is, in my mind, unsurpassed. - Matthew Innis
Understanding why and when he varied his approach seemed to be the key, since he solved seemingly similar problems in a plethora of ways. Little by little, I was able to assimilate his thought process and, I realized, when I began analyzing the paintings of the other great artists I admired, they too employed a similar strategic way of thinking and were also able, without compromising their own unique look, to achieve the same sense of enhanced dimensionality and aliveness as Van Dyck.With each subsequent Frick visit, this past spring, I felt more and more validated in the approach I utilize when I’m painting and teaching.
I believe that once understood, this knowledge can help any artist take their work to a higher level.
What I teach is not a dogmatic cookie-cutter solution but a context within which you can make intelligent and appropriate choices. Conventional thinking never worked for me. I don't believe that keeping halftones cool or shadows warm or any specific action or series of actions is the the secret to exceptional painting. No magic medium, fancy palette or specific color is going to transform you into a great painter.
It seems you've developed into the kind of instructor we all wish we'd had early on. I like your kid-in-the-candy-store enthusiasm for what you are teaching. Even the things I was already familiar with you presented so concisely that it made me know it better. The whole experience was well worth the time, effort and money. Not everyone can be fun and serious. It's a synergistic mix. - Jeff Ott
During my eleven day portrait painting workshop I will be demonstrating all aspects of my teaching. (You can see the demo above, from a previous workshop.) We’ll be working from excellent reference photos and also be spending one day experiencing my virtual museum tour, where I’ll be analyzing some of the greatest portraits of all time, and showing you exactly what it is that makes them so effective. This is the only painting workshop I do all year.
Marvin Mattelson is now conducting his classes and workshops online in Full HD 1080p through his Fine Art Portrait Academy. For further information, or to register for an upcoming offering, please follow this link to his teaching page.
Until next time...