Painting Workshop – Sean Cheetham Portrait Painting Alla Prima

Earlier this month I took a short painting workshop at the Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier in San Carlos, CA. It was taught by Sean Cheetham who is one of the most incredible painters out here right now. BACAA_outside

The goal of the class was to complete at least one painting with the alla prima approach. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, alla prima is a painting technique usually associated with oil painting in which you are working wet paint onto wet paint. The idea of it is to paint fairly quickly, while the paint is wet and fresh, usually finishing a painting in one sitting. I love this technique because I think you can come away with a piece that looks painterly and spontaneous.

The workshop was for three days, the first day being a demo by the instructor. The palette was reviewed and the class was given step-by-step insight into how to use the colors and how to break down your approach to an alla prima portrait. Maybe to a lot of people that sounds boring, but to an artist it’s such a valuable step in instruction. It helps to be able to get the visual of color mixing and application from beginning to end. I always come away from watching a demo really hyped up and thinking that I will be able to produce something just as good as the instructor. Never happens.

From left to right: Permanent Green Light, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow, Titanium White, Maganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxazine Purple, Alizarin Crimson, Olive Green (M. Graham)

The color palette. From left to right: Permanent Green Light, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow, Titanium White, Maganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxazine Purple, Alizarin Crimson, Olive Green (M. Graham)

The final two days were for the rest of the class to paint. We all tried our best to follow the approach that was showed to us in the demonstration. It was definitely challenging! At least for me it was. I just want to do great work, have confidence in my abilities and push through the hard parts of the process. But even with that in the back of my mind, I still get stuck! Luckily our instructor was very involved and helpful. He painted with us each day and walked around to each artist and guided us through different stages of our paintings.

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One of the demo paintings by our instructor, Sean Cheetham

Overall I liked the workshop and the way it was set up. I liked BACAA, the staff and its mission. Even though it was only a 3-day workshop, I could tell that the school fosters an environment conducive to learning and mastering the human figure.

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Some anatomy pointers from a different class

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More anatomy instruction from a different class

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A message on the main door as you exit the studio

My finished piece definitely didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but I still think that I did alright. Especially considering that I haven’t been in a classroom environment in a long time and have changed my style considerably since then. It was a fun learning experience and shined a light on the areas where I need improvement. I was also able to see things that I’m getting right, that’s progress in itself! Here is my work:

My initial sketch of the model

My initial sketch of the model

The final piece

The final piece

It’s certainly not what I would consider my best work, but better than what I expected! I did a full 2 part entry about it on my personal blog so definitely check that out too:

Sean Cheetham workshop at BACAA part 1
Sean Cheetham workshop at BACAA part 2

I will be keeping an eye out for another class that I can take at BACAA, it’s not that bad of a drive from Reno and it felt good to be in a classroom for a little bit. If you were ever curious about taking a course at an artist atelier, I definitely recommend trying it out. I think you will be challenged! You really can’t beat the experience of working with a live model and being surrounded by others who are serious about their craft. Any chance you can take to learn, improve and share is worth taking.

Painting @ The Torpedo Factory – Week 2 recap

Started from here going into the 2nd day of class.

Well, now we’re getting to the nitty gritty: color. I know I should be champing at the bit about this as an aspiring painter, but I was just about ready to pull my hair out at the thought of it! I always experience a certain level of anxiety when starting a painting. It’s just like when I start anything new in life, I can have the best of plans going into it but I really don’t know what’s going to happen…and 9 times out of 10 it never turns out the way I thought it would (and that can be in a positive or negative way)! Week 2 of my portrait/figure painting class had me experiencing both outcomes.

First we’ll start with my homework. I was so excited to do it actually. I planned to do a still life and I was so confident it was going to turn out to be an interesting piece. The assignment was to spend no more than 2 hours on a color study starting with a hot orange for the light, and a cool blue for the shadow, and try to achieve the actual colors of the object (local color) from there. Well, somehow I forgot that I had to use the hot/cold colors to start off with and I ended up with this:

WTF? How the hell did I make this?! Terrible! Needless to say that I was NOT looking forward to sharing this with the class. I couldn’t decide which was better: bringing that sorry painting in as my homework or pretending that I just didn’t do it!

I decided to face the music like a man.

The good thing was, I knew that I can do better and I knew exactly what was wrong with the painting (besides completely forgetting about the color study setup – how did I do that?!). I needed to paint faster and thicker because for a 2-hour painting, it looks so undone. I also need to punch up those colors! So next time, I know I will be able to step it up correctly and possibly avoid some pitfalls. When it came time for the critiques, Danni, our teacher, basically said, “You tell ME what’s wrong with this.” Damn. Well, at least I expected that. I guess it could’ve been worse! 🙂

The upside to this though, is that Danni seemed to be impressed by my work in the actual class. I’m starting to better understand the concept of a color study, and after a bit of stalling by painting the background a little longer than I probably needed to (hehe) I finally dove right into it. Honestly I’ve been approaching this painting with a lot of hesitation. It seems like with every new piece I’m afraid that I’ll discover I’m not as good as I think I am. But I have to be brave and keep trying anyway, right? Funny how the things we learn in making art can apply to everyday life…

At first my painting was looking like The Thing from The Fantastic 4! Starting off with such extreme colors is so new to me, but I went with it and tried to recall the demo from the 1st week. Surprisingly, to me at least, Danni was pleased with my piece. She continued to give me encouragement throughout the day and reassured me that I was doing well. I was very skeptical at first, but I did begin to see what she meant as I kept going. I’m starting to get a bit of a luminous skintone just from the color I’m adding on top of the orange and green. Who knew!? Now I’m getting excited about how it’ll turn out. Here’s the progression throughout the day:

Added color for the background, and Cadmium Orange for the skin in light

Used Permanent Green Light (I think that's what it was) for the shadow, then started using mixtures of Permanent Rose/White on top to achieve skintones. LOTS of blending and pushing color into color.

Started dragging color to other areas of the painting. This is where I left off.

Homework for this week: A 2-hour color study starting with a Lemon Yellow/White mixture for the areas of light, and a Permanent Green/White mixture for the shadows. Pray for me ya’ll.

Black Artists in History: Kehinde Wiley

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977 –  ) is a contemporary artist based in New York that is currently cementing himself in the world of portrait painting. He is known for his often large-scale, realistic paintings of urban males around the globe. … Continue reading

Black Artists in History: Joshua Johnson

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Joshua Johnson (c. 1765 – 1830) is documented as being the first working black portrait artist during the early 19th century. Very little is known about his personal life outside of his paintings. What is known, is that he was a … Continue reading