I've been away for several weeks on a painting trip and to attend a workshop in Oregon at Art in the Mountains, taught by Sherrie McGraw. If you've seen Sherrie's work, you know how simply beautiful it is. She is also a wonderful teacher who gives freely of her thoughts and insights.
Months ago, I stumbled on Sherrie's interview at Artists Helping Artists. Her artistic approach to make something beautiful struck a chord and resonated with my own desires. She mentioned she would be teaching at the workshop. I knew I had to learn from this woman.
Converging with this goal was a scholarship award from Oil Painters of America, which was not only a huge honor for me, but helpful with the financial commitment of workshop costs.
Because I am mostly self-taught as an artist, I have missed some important instruction. Books such as Mayer's "The Artist's Handbook" have given me valuable information about art materials and archival practices. Not surprisingly, however, I have not managed to discover everything I need to know. I lacked personal feedback from master artists about what I was creating, and the opportunity to see them at work.
Consequently, I arrived at Sherrie's workshop full of expectations and questions. I was not disappointed.
(left) Sherrie McGraw painting a still life in oils at the workshop.
I especially loved watching her painting demonstrations and the way she handled the brush and paint.
Her comments regarding differences between drawing and painting may take me awhile to fully understand, along with other points she presented. Not because there was a lack in her explanations, but rather because I need time to process, understand, and put into practice.
Another point Sherrie taught during the workshop is that, "Shadows are warm, and lights are cool. Shadows have the quality of depth and transparency whereas the lights have the quality of cool opacity."
Sherrie also stated that, "Flat reads. So within that flat area (all values virtually the same), temperature changes are what give the illusion that there is dimension within a flat shape."
Sherrie's painting approach is to keep the visual idea as the goal of a piece. A visual idea is different from most of my painting ideas of the past. I've thought more in allegorical terms about ideas for paintings: images which tell a story or portray an emotion. And while a story idea can be the vehicle for the visual idea, it is the visual idea that makes a painting interesting.
A question I'd been asking myself months before Sherrie's workshop is how do I keep from putting in too much in a painting or drawing?... how to imply rather than describe. I've become more and more aware that I don't need to portray everything.
Like much that is too graphic in cinema, painting can be too literal. During the past months, I've repeatedly wondered how to leave more to the imagination rather than painting everything I see. I still love detail, but I've been thinking that too much of it is simply not as intriguing as only a bit of it.
Seeing the Fechin exhibit in Seattle last June drove home many of the questions I'd been asking myself about detail. Sherrie's workshop helped fuse these thoughts to some actual painting practice.
After Sherrie's demo the first day of the workshop, participants chose still life objects to arrange and paint. Our helpful teacher gave each of us input on our set-ups.
(left) This is my still life block-in.
As I worked, I asked myself if I was holding to my idea, and if the design was interesting from a distance, even in the rough stage.
I was only able to block in my composition before the end of the day. After all that preparation I wanted to stay for the evening and keep painting!
Unfortunately, the conference room where our workshop was held would be locked after workshop hours so I had to wait until the next day to finish the piece.
(at left) the completed study of my still life, "Gathering of Light"
As I worked the following day, it felt like such a struggle to remember everything! Foremost in my thoughts was what I was trying to do with the visual idea. Next I wanted to try to use the brush and paint as Sherrie had demonstrated.
And, how to do less: to keep it simple rather than try to paint in everything I see.... to not copy everything there in my arrangement.
Sherrie's demos for the costumed and undraped figure were marvelously fascinating and enlightening.
Finding an angle for my own studies of these same model set-ups were a bit challenging in a room full of painters. We all managed to find a spot, however.
(left) Sherrie gives pointers to workshop participant Cathryne Trachok.
On breaks as I walked around the room, it was interesting to see how the various locations presented unique problems and visual joys for each artist.
Also, working with my little outdoor painting box under the florescent lighting in the room, fighting the overhead glare with the angle of my surface, and struggling with eyesight issues made it difficult to enjoy the painting experience. However, as the piece began to come together (and I eventually put on my reading glasses), I did have fun with it.
Struggling and then having some fun with the paint were to be pretty much the theme for me during the workshop: a dance of despair and hope.
Here I am, at left, with one of the studies I did at the workshop.