Those Who Teach

In August I studied in New York at Grand Central Academy. Two consecutive weeklong workshops offered a rare opportunity to draw the figure for one week with Colleen Barry and then use the drawing to paint the same pose the following week in a figure painting workshop with Edward Minoff and Katie Whipple. Here are some samples of their work:

Self Portrait, 2017, by Colleen Barry
Katie G Whipple A Study of Peonies 2016
A Study of Peonies, 2016, by Katie G Whipple
Lyudmer Seascape, 2015, by Edward Minoff

In terms of workshops, typically you can do a full week of figure drawing, where you end up with a great drawing but you don’t paint it. Or you can do a week of figure painting but you rush the drawing, which never appeals to me because you inevitably spend the whole week trying to correct the drawing in paint. This rare workshop combination under the tutelage of wonderful artists (and humans) promised a great two weeks in NYC.

I took a figure drawing workshop with Colleen in the spring of 2016 when she came to Seattle and I admired her teaching abilities and the experience she creates in her workshops. Colleen was also educated through this tradition of classical ateliers and I see in her a great desire to give others this knowledge, one of the very best impulses this training bestows. In the classical tradition the best artists teach. It’s inherent to the practice and part of a long tradition of transmitting classical art knowledge and skills to the outside community and to future generations. But to find a teaching artist who is extremely gifted at both is truly special. I won’t go on at length, because I already have before, but I will say Colleen is one of my contemporary heroes in both regards.

Messer_Drawing of Fatima_2017
Drawing of Fatima, 2017, 18 x 24 in. by Melissa Messer

The drawing above was done on cold press paper which I toned with walnut ink at Colleen’s suggestion. That gave me the option to use a little white chalk to accent highlights and to let the midtones of the drawing to settle into the tone of the paper instead of shading into blinding white.

In the beginning of our education we learn on white paper to become familiar with the medium and to isolate fundamental skills such as learning to see midtones. Toned paper can make drawings appear more finished especially with a light amount of white chalk helping the forms to pop. It can also even give, say a figure drawing, a little warmth and naturalism depending on the tone you choose.

After a wonderful week with Colleen, I made a large format copy of the drawing, rubbed the back of it with charcoal and traced the drawing on to a canvas panel where I inked the charcoal transfer and then toned with raw umber. You can imagine a lot of information is lost when you transfer a drawing. Sometimes I like to draw on the canvas with charcoal and sometimes I draw with a brush. But if you make a drawing on toned paper you can use the finished drawing as a value study that can help guide you as you paint.

Messer_Study of Fatima.jpg
Poster Study
Palette for Fatima
Drawing, Painting, and Palette 

When the painting workshop started, Katie suggested I make a poster study (above) to help me design palette mixtures. I kept my drawing near by. In the above image (right) you can see the copy of the drawing taped to the canvas. As I finished the painting I checked the drawing and values against the copy and asked if everything important in the success of the drawing made it into the final painting. You can also see how labored my palette on the right looks at the end of it all.

The workshop format is brilliant because it provides a unique kind of immersion. It’s an even deeper dive than a regular day in the atelier where I have only three hours with a figure model and have many other projects going on. In the short timeframe of the workshop I chose to forgo putting in any kind of a background in lieu of extra focus on flesh tones. Teachers Katie and Ted demonstrated figure painting throughout the week and gave thoughtful individual critiques. Fatima, our model, was graceful and strong, standing still for 6 hours everyday (with 5 minute breaks every 20 minutes) for two weeks.

This trip came only a couple of weeks before I started Year Four in the atelier. I was grateful for the inspiration and the lessons.

Fatima, 2017, 18 x 12 in. by Melissa Messer