Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Looking at Artists: Mark Demsteader

This morning, one of my contacts on Facebook posted a painting by Mark Demsteader.  It's a really stunning image of a woman in a blue dress.  The woman's figure is painted minimally and fairly realistically, but the dress is really a pile of paint.  It's at least two layers, probably more, of thick impasto, dragged across the canvas from a painting knife.  The juxtaposition of the smooth figure and roughly-painted dress is beautiful.

Erin in Blue
Oil on canvas, 52"x39"
Artist: Mark Demsteader

So I found Mark's web page and had a look.  I was really impressed by the work.  Mark's drawings and paintings are beautiful.  Most of them feature a young woman in a thin dress.  They are in a strong, direct light that throws heavy shadows across their faces.  Often their eyes are completely, or almost completely, in shadow, giving them a very mysterious air.  Mark almost always focuses on the head and a very limited bit of the body - maybe just the neck or shoulders, while the rest of the figure is indicated only in very rough strokes.

You might call his approach formulaic.  Usually, when all the works from an artist are done the same way, I get bored after about the third one.  I don't get bored with Demsteader's.  They're too good.

Back in 2011, Demsteader did a series of artworks with Emma Watson (the actress from the Harry Potter movies) as the subject.  It was a collaboration, and an interesting one.  You can read about it, and see some of the images from the series, in this Vogue (UK) article.  Watson contacted Demsteader about doing an artwork of her, then Demsteader came up with the idea of doing many artworks and auctioning them off to benefit the charity of her choice.  What a wonderful thing for both of them to do.

Demsteader works in a way that I can relate to.  The model doesn't need much in the way of makeup or nice outfits.  He sets up a single large light to create strong lights and darks and then simplifies the features and clothing.  Here's an example of one of his drawings:

Study for Siren
Pastel and collage, 46"x32"
Artist: Mark Demsteader

Fantastic, isn't it?  I see a lot of things that I want to try.  First, simplify, simplify, simplify.  I tend to get caught up in getting everything recorded as accurately as possible.  That's descriptive, not expressive.  Focus on the important bits (usually the head and face), let things further away be just roughly indicated, and exaggerate value changes.  Mark's values here are black, paper white, and a medium gray.  That's three values.  When I draw, I often try to do too many.  Simplify!

Second, keep the drawing accurate.  I do that already, as much as I can, but need to focus on it.  The young lady's face in the drawing above is extremely accurate, which lets the mark-making be more expressive.  Her shoulder and arm are reduced to just the very basic contour lines, but they work because they're in exactly the right place.  The fact that they're stripped-down only emphasize the expressiveness of the marks around the face, and they work because the face is accurately drawn.  It all has to work together.

Third, in a painting, try the concept of a carefully-rendered figure with an outfit indicated by roughly scumbled paint, from a painting knife if possible.  I'm not going to try to create more "Mark Demsteader" paintings, but just want to see what I can learn out of this exercise.  (Come to think of it, I have some abandoned figure paintings in the studio already (what artist doesn't?) and can try this when I get to the studio tomorrow.

I found an interesting series of photos of one of Mark's demos of a portrait drawing.  It's really interesting to see how he develops the figure.  He doesn't just put a mark down and leave it - he builds on it through multiple layers.  Take a look - you can save the photo and enlarge it on your computer screen if you want.  You'll have to figure out for yourself what he's doing at each stage since there was no narrative to accompany it.

So I'm adding Mark Demsteader to my personal list of really cool artists.  If you like what you've seen here, then visit his site, or Google his name and look at all the images.  There's a ton of stuff online and I was really blown away by it.  I really love finding a great artist that I've never heard of before!


  1. Hi,
    where can we see a bigger image of this demo? Looks amazing!


  2. I haven't been able to find this in a larger format, just that one small image. It gives you some idea of how he works, but there's a lot left to your imagination.

  3. Awesome anyway! Thanks