Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Putting On a Workshop

This past weekend, I held the first artist workshop in my studio.  It was about drawing portraits.  It went really well.  Five people participated, ranging from complete newbie to fairly advanced, and they all seemed to come away with new skills and capabilities.  And we all had a heckuva lot of fun.

Planning for this event took some thought.  I started advertising it in December, long before I had an idea of how it should be taught!  Nothing like committing yourself to a course of action to spur yourself into figuring out how to do it.  My basic course of action was to start with the basic structure of the head, then to discuss the various features, and finally to do several exercises to tie it all together.  I'd scheduled the workshop to run for two days (Saturday and Sunday), for 3 hours each day.  Was this too much?  Not enough?  I didn't know.

But I need not have worried.  Learning how to do portraits is a life-long endeavor.  No matter how long a workshop is scheduled for, it won't be enough.  There's always something to work on.

I put together a handout for the students that discussed my major points and gave them some illustrations that were cribbed from the interwebs and other places.  My approach was to show the "standard" structure of the head: normal proportions, features, and shapes, as well as typical things to look for.  The upper lip, for example, has three parts: the tubercle, which is the dip or V-shaped form in the center, flanked by two wings, while the lower lip has two wings with a central furrow.  Once the students knew what the standard structure was, they could look for the individual differences in their particular subject.  Their model might have a very thin upper lip with almost no tubercle that protrudes slightly over a slightly more full lower lip with short wings.  We discussed this same process for the shape of the skull, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, forehead, ears, neck, and hair.

Some of the illustrations I used came from fine art: drawings by old masters, or from "how to" portrait courses and books.  But some came from a genre that many might find surprising: caricature.  Why?  Caricature is just an exaggerated form of portraiture.  A good caricature is instantly recognizable, even though it is completely unrealistic.  The artist has to be able to look at the subject and determine what features are different from the "standard" head and face, and then exaggerate the difference in a way that is convincing.  If a nose is just slightly bigger than normal, the caricaturist makes it BIG.  But something has to give: if the nose is big, something else has to be small to compensate.  The eyes, maybe, or the jawline - something.  And the differences have to be those that anybody can see.  The typical fine art courses don't say that - they typically take a "draw what you see" approach without talking about the tradeoffs like caricaturists do.

The artists in the class understood all that.  As a result, we had a good time talking through the issues and drawing each other.  Every one of them was doing a better job at the end than at the beginning.  So I'd say it was a success.  I came away with a laundry list of things to change for the next class, but the structure of the class turned out to be sound, so the changes are in the details.

I'm running a different workshop next week.  It will be on mixing colors.  I stayed away from painting for years because I didn't understand anything about color mixing.  Eventually, while taking a painting course at Maryland Institute College of Art, I learned a very logical and easy-to-understand method for mixing up the colors I needed.  We'll discuss this in the workshop and do a lot of experimentation.  Interested?  You can read more on my web site and sign up there as well.

So I'm having fun teaching, and I'm going to do more of it this year!

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