Online Portrait Teaching Methodology

This truth, which I have yearned all my life to express and which still drives me on, is the secret of art. It applies to composition as well as to drawing proper. It is the principle that must guide both the young beginner and the fully developed artist.

- William Bouguereau
Painting done in Marvin Mattelson's class.
Class painting by Julia Gavlarova

Take your work to the next level

Marvin Mattelson has spent decades deconstructing and analyzing the thought processes that he believes were employed by the greatest realist painters throughout history. Although their paintings are all unique, style-wise, Marvin believes they shared a specific strategic approach that governed their decision making and this forms the core of his teaching.

A man paints with his brain, not with his hand.

- Michelangelo

Marvin's methodology is based on applying logic – a comprehensive approach to the mechanics of painting – which offers you the greatest opportunity to develop your own personal artistic voice. Once you develop true understanding every aspect of making art will be transformed. The key to mastery can be achieved only through a solid and complete understanding of the reasoning which precipitates each action.

Shying away from tricky techniques and gratuitous effects, Marvin focuses on the most effective approach for creating realistic imagery, which he feels will enhance every artist's ability to express their true creative vision. Marvin's contention is that reasoning, not alchemy, lies at the core of all great painting. Those who understand the truth are freed from the limitations of frivolous rules and rote learning.

A man paints with his brain, not with his hand.

- Michelangelo

Marvin's painting workshops and classes are designed for artists of every level, regardless of their painting styles. He believes that the success of any painting has little to do with how tight or loose it is. He teaches his students how to think and see, as well as how to orchestrate their color, shapes, edges and values into a cohesive unity with the goal of portraying a three dimensional form, bathed in light and surrounded by air. Making it more real than reality.

What should be the first object and principal aim of a painter? The first aim of the painter is to make it appear that a round body in relief is presented upon the flat surface of his picture; and he who surpasses others in this respect deserves to be esteemed more skillful than they in his calling.

- Leonardo da Vinci

Marvin has spent numerous hours trying to unravel what made the greatest paintings so great. going to museums, galleries and auction houses. It became very clear to him that these artists were not merely copying what they saw. An exhibition of Anthony Van Dyck's paintings, at The National Gallery in Washington, was his watershed moment. He realized that the figures in the paintings were far more alive than the spectators in the galleries. Over time he came to understand that the painters he admired most: Rembrandt, Velasquez, Lawrence, Raeburn, Bouguereau, Kramskoy, Monsted and Paxton, all approached their work just as Van Dyck had. It had nothing to do with style, technique, mediums or subject matter. This approach has informed both his painting and his teaching. Here you can read some of the incredible feedback he has received from past students.

I've studied with and painted with some of the artists considered today's greatest living masters. My main teacher was, and still is, one of the top producing artists for the top portrait brokers in the country. I've spent decades painting 4-6 hours a day and not really getting any better. However, Marvin is the first person I've encountered who could break the painting process down into logical steps. He describes systems that have been the underpinnings of realist art for centuries. These systems are founded in logic and observable facts, which, when applied, produce predictable results. Once mastered, these systems allow the artist immense freedom to develop style and a "voice" to describe whatever the artist chooses. Unlike many of today's ateliers, Marvin doesn't teach a method of painting that mimics his own, or anyone's. He simply offers the keys to understanding what many of the great masters were taught as the basis for their painting strategies. 

- David Terry

Never satisfied and always looking for a better way, Marvin, due to the circumstances wrought by pandemic has developed an entirely new way to teach online that both he and his students feel takes his teaching to an entirely new level. You can read about his innovative digital learning classroom here.

Marvin Mattelson doing a demo painting from a live model.
Marvin Mattelson in class demo drawing
Marvin Mattelson in class demo - wash-in underpainting.
Marvin Mattelson in class demo - Color lay-in
Marvin Mattelson in class demo - Refinement stage
Marvin Mattelson in class demo - Finishing stage
Marvin Demoing in class.

Demonstration, Explanation and Conversation.

Visually oriented people, those who are right-brain dominant, learn most effectively by watching an action being performed.

Marvin believes that demonstrating, while simultaneously explaining the reasoning behind his every stroke, is the most effective way to empower you. In class, you can follow his brush, hear his rationale, and most importantly, unlike watching a video, you can question him whenever you need additional clarification or feedback.

Marvin has a unique way of expressing the most complex areas of knowledge, blending hard-earned truths and wisdoms with plenty of humor and outrageous analogies. Who knew that learning a discipline so utterly focused could also be such tremendous fun?

- Billy Norrby

He has that rare ability to not only demonstrate while annotating his every action, he is able to inject humor and personality to keep things lively.

Here, you can view examples of Marvin's students' in class paintings and read feedback based on their experiences. If you are looking to enhance your understanding of how the greatest artists throughout history approached making their art, you can find more information on his course description and schedule page.

Marvin has a unique way of expressing the most complex areas of knowledge, blending hard-earned truths and wisdoms with plenty of humor and outrageous analogies. Who knew that learning a discipline so utterly focused could also be such tremendous fun?

- Billy Norrby

Looking for art in all the wrong places?

I have taken Marvin Mattelson‘s class numerous times. Why do I continue to take the class? Because every portrait I do is exponentially better than the last one. In my opinion if you were interested in being a better realistic portrait painter, then you definitely want to consider this class. I previously studied with Marvin in a traditional studio setting and this past year, online. Unlike other online classes or demos, he uses a high DEF three camera system that switched between his pallet, his reference photo and most importantly his painting. You don’t have to jockey for the best position. You get to see every brushstroke up close as well as listen to his always pertinent and informative advice.

- Larry Houser

If you want to get better at anything – understand that whatever got you to where you are now, is the exact same thing that's keeping you from improving. If you do things poorly, and you practice really hard, you'll get really good at doing things poorly. Malcom Gladwell's theory is that 10,000 hours of practice is the key to mastery. The truth is, it's 10,000 hours of perfect and mindful practice.

When you do what you've done, you get what you've gotten!.

- Mark Twain

Many artists share the romantic notion that art is manifested intuitively, but those who approach it this way ultimately discover that, at best, it's a hit or miss proposition. Great artists rarely have bad days.

A self-taught painter is one taught by a very ignorant person.

- John Constable

Those who seek instruction will most likely get saddled with rules. Don't cross the street when the light is red: cross the street when the light is green, is a typical rule. Don't cross the street when cars are coming, is a truth. Rules preclude your ability to make decisions and think for yourself. Why stand on a street corner waiting for the light to turn green when no cars are coming? Learning rules is the hallmark of rote learning which involves memorization without any understanding. Sadly,  It's the way things are taught. Unless a student happens to be so precociously talented, rote learners never become more than second rate copies of the teachers they study with. Following rules is constraining.

The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected. 

- Henry David Thoreau

If you understand the underlying principles or truths, there is no need for rules. Learning to be an artist is best accomplished through mindful learning – learning with understanding attached. It's the ability to relate new information to prior knowledge which precipitates understanding.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of the ancient masters; seek what they sought. 

- Matsuo Basho – 16th Century Japanese poet

A partial list of Marvin's former students include such notable artists as: Martin Wittfooth, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), Dorian Vallejo, Billy Norrby, Kathleen Speranza, T.M. Davey, Daisuke (Dice) Tsutsumi, Lori Early, Chris McGrath, Joseph Q. Daily, Brenton Cottman, David Terry, Julia Griffin, Lianna Soman, Tristan Elwell, Nicole Mone, Phillip Singer and Jocelyn Henry. This list clearly demonstrates the lack of an identifiable footprint. Each of these artists manifests the underlying principles in their own unique way.