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The Best Workshop I Ever Took: Part 2

In this article, we continue our informative recap of survey respondents for the “Best Workshops” taken by portrait and figurative artists. Several artists wrote about their appreciation of and the value in a long workshop.

12-day Workshop Demo by Instructor Marvin Mattelson

Sangeeta Patel and Cindy Brewster claimed that a multi-week Marvin Mattelson workshop was just the intensity and focused instruction they needed. Sangeeta, who took a long-format Mattelson workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York, appreciated his “time spent mixing paint and understanding how to shift value or intensity of various colors in a flesh-toned palette.”

Cindy signed up twice for Mattelson’s 12-day workshop, which included nights and weekends and was held at Susan Porges' Studio in Beachwood, Ohio. She appreciated how “extremely detailed Mattelson was…like nothing she’d ever encountered in a workshop!” Cindy also appreciated his generosity with his methods: “With Marvin, there are no secrets!” Cindy went away with a mantra, “Success is 1% talent, 24% hard work, 24% objectivity, and 51% perseverance.”

12-day Workshop demo by Instructor Robin Ely

Elizabeth Barden hadn’t touched oil paints for more than a decade when she took a 12-day workshop at The Art Academy in Adelaide, Australia with Robin Eley. Inspired by Eley’s mastery of form and chroma, she says he was a “calm and generous tutor, careful to give personal attention to each student.”

Of all the figurative artists surveyed, only two responded that their favorite was a non-figurative workshop. Victoria Cole’s Best Workshop was Kate Stone’s six-day Still Life Workshop at the Rochester Art Club. Kate’s step-by-step approach helped Victoria’s figurative work immensely. Kate stressed, “creating a narrative with inanimate objects [makes] it easier to create narratives with figurative work.” She also gave Victoria a mantra to carry forward: “Paint smarter, not harder.”

Victoria (Tori) Cole’s painting from Kate Stone’s workshop

Cynthia Davis credited Plein Air painter Joe Lombardo’s Large Format Painting Workshop at the McConnell Center for the Arts as her favorite. She very much appreciated Lombardo’s “quick, exuberant” brushstrokes and “less is more” approach with helping her “loosen up, relax, play with the paint and enjoy the experience of what she was trying to convey on the canvas.”

Several artists reached deep into their past to credit instructors who came along at pivotal early times. In 1979, Michael Gillespie took an extended workshop with Chuck Hall at his private studio in Pennsylvania. Michael greatly benefited from the progressive format. The first week was drawing to learn about value and proportion, with color introduced only in the second week.

In 1996, Joanna McKethan studied with the now deceased Thomas S. Buechner at the Loveland Museum in Colorado. So useful was Buechner’s approach to oil portrait painting, that Joanna wrote her own “how-to” instructions from the course and still refers to it 25 years later. “It was an amazing absorption of my identity as a portrait painter and an oil painter.”

When Sandy Thibeault retired from teaching high school art, she focused on the rigorous discipline of painting with egg tempera. She designed her education process and took a succession of workshops (nine in total) from two experts in the field.

Koo Schadler – Stages of a Portrait

Sandy says that egg tempera master Koo Schadler “embodies the soul of an artist, the wisdom of an expert, the acumen of a businesswoman, and the listening skills of a friend…a dynamite combination for a teacher!” And from the equally masterful Fred Wessel, whose comprehensive workshops were set in the inspiring landscapes of Italy, she learned color theory concepts to develop egg tempera luminosity.

Perhaps the highest praise for a workshop might be what a college-level art instructor finds invaluable information to pass along to her students. Nancy Bea Miller, who teaches at four colleges including The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is eager to take workshops from artists she respects as part of her lifelong continuing education. Asked to choose, her two favorites were a Large-Scale Figure Drawing workshop at the Art Student’s League in NYC with Jerry Weiss and a Pastel Painting workshop at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia with Ellen Eagle.

Nancy Bea Miller’s Drawing from Jeremy Weiss’ Workshop

Qualities that Nancy appreciated in both these instructors are that they are experts in their field “without the huge ego.” Nancy found Weiss’s instruction to be very clear. “Listening to him talk is an education, and he can intuitively meet people at whatever level they are.”

Tied for first place in Nancy’s estimation is pastel master, Ellen Eagle. Nancy says Eagle is “one of the most insightful instructors she’s ever had. She goes right to the heart of any art issue, often with a perspective not before thought of!” To sum up the traits of the ideal workshop instructor, Nancy gave me a perfect description. She was referring to Ellen Eagle when she said this, but I think many of us who consider a life in art as a life of continued learning, hope that our art mentors aspire to this: “Her eye is sharp, but her words are always soft, kind and helpful.”

Again, thanks to the numerous people who responded- your time and your thoughts are greatly appreciated. Hopefully, sharing your insights about your experiences may assist others as they prepare to take their first or next workshop.

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