Portrait Painting Methodology
Old Master IIntelligence 

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 a whole new level

Old Master Intelligence will take your work to a whole new level

Old Masters Intelligence (OMI) is at the core of all of Marvin Mattelson's teachings and will assist any artist – regardless of their current level of accumen, style or subject matter – to elevating their effectiveness. It is indeed the secret of art that Bougureau alluded to!

Marvin has created his Virtual Atelier because it is not only the most effective way to present his methodology, it also makes it widely accessible to the greatest number of artists.

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

- Michelangelo

Marvin has spent decades unraveling and analyzing the thought processes which formed the blueprint for the greatest paintings throughout history.

Although their paintings are all unique, style-wise, and easily identifiable, Marvin realized each artist's decision making.was guided by the same exact strategic mindset.

Old Master Intelligence is common denominator. It’s not about the application of paint, but the application of knowledge. And this form of intelligence is definitely not artificial. It supersedes style, technique and individualism while incorporating them all. It doesn’t defy logic, because it is logic – in its purist form.

Old Master Intelligence is not a set of rules, nor does it insinuate a predetermined footprint which results in a repetitious and predictable style. It is the understanding of how to fully manifest your artistic intent by unifying every aspect of your painting in order to create a unique and compelling work of art, a true personal masterpiece.

What differentiates Marvin Mattelson's approach is that he is capable explaining the reasoning and purpose behind each decision he makes and every action he takes, while the vast majority of those teaching traditional art focus primarily on technique and merely copying what they see. Technical acumen is certainly an important factor in creating art, however it is merely a means to an end, and not an end unto itself. The techniques you'll learn from Marvin will provide the wherewithal to enrich your work by incorporating Old Master Intelligence. You will learn how to control every aspect of your painting from color mixing to paint application, to composition and .

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

Marvin's OMI methodology is a comprehensive approach to the mechanics of painting. It's an opportunity to cultivate 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.

Marvin, the ultimate pragmatic contrarian, eschews conventional wisdom in all aspects of his life. He needs unequivocal proof that the widely accepted paradims are indeed valid. Based on his experience of having his students working exclusively from life for decades, he now shys away from using live models, which, in his vast experience, will impede the learning process, because the advantages of working from life are far outweighed by the disadvantages. During Covid, when he was forced to abandon the studio in favor of live streaming, he discovered that his students made far more accelerated progress working from the high definition, color-corrected photos he provided, as well as a host of additional advantages. The truth is, once you have mastered Marvin's basic teaching you will be able to paint from life with greatly improved accuracy and control.

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

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, rote learning and preconceived stylistic contrivances.  

A New Teaching Paradigm for Traditional Art

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

Marvin has devoted hs life to unraveling the mystery of what makes the greatest paintings, so great. An exhibition of Anthony Van Dyck's paintings, at The National Gallery in Washington, was his watershed moment. He saw that the figures in the paintings exhibited far greater aliveness than the people in the galleries. Over time he came to understand that the paintings he admired the most by Rembrandt, Velasquez, Lawrence, Raeburn, Bouguereau, Kramskoy, Monsted and Paxton, all manifested a similar energy as Van Dyck's. It had nothing to do with style, technique, mediums or subject matter. This approach has informed both his painting and his teaching.

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

- Matsuo Basho – 16th Century Japanese poet

Marvin's online painting classes broadcast from his Virtual Atelier 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.

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.

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

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

Demonstrating, while simultaneously explaining the reasoning behind every stroke, is the most effective way to empower students because it informs both sides of the brain. Baseless babble and tomb-like demos, the two hallmarks of modern teaching are more confusing than clarify because they are a function of vapid conventional wisdom, rather than sound and insightful exploration.  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

Marvin has the 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' 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.

Looking for art in all the wrong places?

If you want to get better at anything – you need to understand that whatever it was that got you to where you are now, is the exact same thing that's keeping you from moving forward. If you do things poorly, and you practice really hard, you'll get really good at doing things poorly. Malcom Gladwell's theorizes that 10,000 hours of practice is the key to mastery, but in fact, its really 10,000 hours of perfect and mindful practice. Imperfect practice gives you the opportunity to get really good at being bad!

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

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 – the ability to relate new information to prior knowledge is how understanding is formed.

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, Yanjun Li and Jocelyn Henry. This list clearly demonstrates the lack of an identifiable footprint. Each of these artists manifests the underlying principles of Old Master's Intelligence in their own unique way, from refined realism to full abstraction.