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.

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