I just completed teaching a three-day painting workshop with my good friend, fabulous painter, and wonderful teacher, William Rushton. The focus of the class was “The Figure in the Landscape,” which included a model in outdoor settings. So the students had all of the delights of plein air painting (wind, on-lookers, wet grass, sun, uncooperative easels, etc.) along with the challenges of painting the figure – A workshop not for the faint at heart.
The concept of the class was to take the figure and her surroundings as starting points for the painting; to use the information around us to create an interesting painting, but not necessarily to be literal. A fence may turn into a vertical pattern of stripes. A tree may become a cool dark shape in the background. For three days in a row, 5 1/2 hours each day, our stalwart students worked incredibly hard, responding to all of our challenges. They created paintings using many of the following concepts (not all at the same time, of course):
Paint two paintings at the same time.
Paint with your left hand.
Paint no local color.
Paint with a paper towel (yup you got that right…oil paint using a paper towel, not a brush, try it!).
Use a really big bad (i.e. uncontrollable) brush.
Exaggerate a feature of the model. Distort proportions on purpose.
On the first day we commandeered a swing-set at our local park. Imagine a dozen painters, with hats, easels, et al., scattered in a playground facing a model posing on a swing. You’ve got the picture. (Yes, we had to persuade a handful of children that the slide was much more fun on that particular day!)
The second class was held in downtown Redwood City, and “urban setting.” The model posed in front of a retro-movie theatre. The third day was a café scene, again a very public setting, with so much to paint we hardly needed a model.
The results of the class were truly outstanding. What we, as teachers, encouraged was for the artists to really experiment and play; to search for accidents on the canvas; to create surprises and most importantly to RESPOND TO THE PAINT ON THE CANVAS not just the original subject matter. By the third day every artist was doing just that.
Immersion in your art can bring big jumps in your creative awareness and skills. I encourage you to take a workshop, or an intensive class, and if you can’t do that, try giving yourself the gift of three days in a row of creating. Whatever your medium, immerse yourself in creating with no distractions for three days. Give yourself permission to play, experiment, make “crappy” paintings. The goal here isn’t a masterpiece (definitely not a masterpiece), it’s to allow yourself time to do what you love.
Be sure to let me know your results!