Technical Insights from “Weekend with the Masters”

Portrait Demonstrations… Weekend with the Masters


I have had the privilege of teaching the art of painting for the last twenty years or so and have chosen the portrait as the vehicle to explain the concepts because of the exacting nature of the subject, forcing the student to be precise in their seeing and drawing.

What remains my greatest challenge in the process of teaching is conveying in the simplest of terms the most direct, systematic approach to solving the problems before us.  As we stand with loaded brush before the model, so many decisions need to be made at once, often instilling panic in our hearts while we try to sort out the visual information.  Organization of thought in the beginning is paramount in the process and seems to be the only way to wade through the ordeal with any peace of mind and success in the endeavor.

“Yes, yes”, you may be saying, “but organize what?”

It has been my goal to stress the critical nature of categorizing the aspects of drawing, value, edge, and color from the outset so as to build on a solid foundation.

This needs to be accomplished before I apply paint to the canvas so I can break down the elements in a way I can wrap my head around and not be overwhelmed as the avalanche of information pours in.  So, before I begin to paint, I will make these visual observations and mentally categorize them in terms of hierarchy of value, edge, color, etc…

Value…  Look to see while squinting where the lightest lights and darkest darks are and then make a concerted effort to keep all other values in their proper range compared to the extremes.  i.e.(Not allowing the reflected lights to become too strong so to break out of the simple shadow shape or applying to many highlights to destroy the subtlety of tone.)

Edge…   When squinting, what edges emerge as the sharpest and which visually subdue to create the most variety to add power and drama to the subject.

Color… Where are the strongest colors and how do all of the others relate to them.  Also, what is the color of the light and do I see its influence on all of the top planes of the scene.

If I take a few minutes before the work begins, often it alleviates some stress and possible mistakes along the way… Keep Smiling!

These two works were completed as Demonstrations at a recent conference in San Diego.

Other news from Gerhartz Studio… we just finished filming a full length video on painting the figure en plein air that will be released in the upcoming months.  Watch for the trailer soon!

Not Far from Home is selling well (thank you)… get one while they are still in print.

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6 responses to “Technical Insights from “Weekend with the Masters”

  • Karen Paul

    Bless you Daniel and thanks for your posts,In His Glorious name!Karen Paul

  • Dante Valentino Ennis Fenton

    I am from Mexico, and self taught, but in a academic way (or at least I try to) what I find most challenging is to decide or identify the color on the shadow.
    I try to put in my darkest dark first, but end up going back on nearly the end of every painting, I have tried to make my lights work first, but end up struggling in my shadows anyway. I have to try out a 3 or 4 slight changes in tone before I am happy whith the result
    Now, I know the warm light cools in the shadow, and then it warms and cools again… still I think is the harmony in color what eludes me, how, for example do you decide if a cool blue is more purple or more greenish, according to the tone you are using in the warm light? is there a law to this?

  • Diane Lyon

    So beautiful and always helpful. Thank you, Dan.

  • Mike Neilson

    Excellent post Dan. Great reminders on what to look for. Thanks for sharing.

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