April 21, 2014

Workshop with Bryce Cameron Liston

So finally a recap of my recent workshop at the Scottsdale Artists' School.

The school itself is really quite an amazing place. It's not a place you go to get a degree in art, but it's really more of a continuing education kind of place, where beginners to advanced to professional working artists can learn from top-notch instructors in various  disciplines of art, from watercolor, to oil paint, to sculpting, and drawing, etc.
The hallways are lined with extremely good examples of both student art as well as the artwork of famous teachers like David Leffel, Kevin Beilfus, Greg Kreutz, and others.
Everyone from the staff to the teachers and other students were quite friendly and helpful. There were many opportunities to sit and talk art which I loved. I got to meet and chat at length with a watercolor artist from New Jersey by the name of Mario Robinson during our lunch break who happened to be teaching there in one of the other classrooms at the same time. It was a great conversation and Mario is a very talented watercolorist in the tradition of N.C. Wyeth. He and I had similar views on art in general and it made for an "entertaining" conversation during lunch when were were sitting across from a couple of ladies that didn't necessarily share our views. But it really was all very light-hearted and we all laughed a lot so I know that no one was really offended or took it too seriously.  

Here are just a few examples of some of the great instructors' artwork that lines the halls of the school.

Kevin Beilfus

Sherrie McGraw

David Leffel

Mike Malm

 I really can't say enough about how much I enjoyed this workshop, which was entitled "The Figure In The Intimate Setting" which pretty much tells you what the focus was. The instructor for the workshop was Bryce Cameron Liston, a figure painter from Utah whose work I only discovered less than a year ago. I'll state right off that Bryce is a very open, knowledgeable, and generous teacher, as well as an accomplished painter of the figure, which I happen to love. 

The first day (and most every day after that) was spent watching Bryce demo his approach toward painting the figure in the morning and then the students painting in the afternoons.

Here are some pics from Bryce's demo on day one.

Bryce has a lot of knowledge as I'd mentioned, and I was ready to learn. He managed to impart a lot of interesting exercises and information in just five days. In the beginning of the week when it was our turn to paint he emphasized making a strong visual statement, which meant limiting the number of clear discernable values to around 3. This involved squinting down and unfocusing the vision so as to eliminate extraneous detail and seeing the value distinctions more clearly. Our assignment was to paint the model in just 3 values and no more. Sounds easy, but it was a challenge. A good one that helped me to see what gives a painting a stronger visual impression. One problem many inexperienced painters make (and I count myself as one) is that their dark values have too many things going on. Shapes will jump out within them that are unnecessary and distracting. The same goes for the light areas. The more, it seems, that you can keep your value distinctions tight and solid the better and more coherent your painting will be.

After that first exercise we then moved on to painting with a limited palette, while still keeping in mind the 3 value limit.
Note: Limiting the number of values to just 3 might seem arbitrary. Why not 4, or 5? Bryce quoted a famous artist, can’t recall—might have been Degas that said, once you get to the 4 or greater number of values, your painting loses impact and that you should just “throw it out.” I’m not sure I completely hold to this rule of thumb, but considering it was a quote from someone with considerable experience then I feel it’s an observation worth noting and taking seriously.
The limited palette that we used was essentially the “Zorn” palette, which consists of Ivory Black, White, Yellow Ochre, and Cadmium Red Middle. This was to demonstrate how it is possible to achieve a pretty large spectrum of colors and values just mixing these four colors. Once again a common mistake by many beginners is to put out too many colors when it’s totally unnecessary. Also, another thing that a limited palette helps to achieve is to help your painting cohere and look unified, rather than throwing in a lot of superfluous color which can look distracting and unsure. These were all things that were helpful to me as I can fall into most of these bad habits. And although I do like great color a lot, I also feel drawn to and am intrigued by paintings that have a more muted, even somber tonal quality. The painter Ron Hicks comes to mind. Another artist whose palette, I think, is a great mix of expressive and sophisticated color is Johanna Harmon.
Later on during the week we got to introduce a couple more colors (can’t recall what they were) and were mixing fairly large pools of paint to draw and mix from for skin tones and to keep our paintings unified. By the end of the week we pretty much were using whatever colors we wanted. The whole week was a nice progression that made total sense to me and I plan on keeping it all in the forefront of my mind as I paint going forward.
A couple of other comments that Bryce made were worth noting and remembering. One was to “paint like you’re a millionaire.” Meaning squeeze plenty of paint out of those tubes and onto your palette. Beginners, again like myself, will typically put out miserly little dobs of paint from which they try to s-t-r-e-t-c-h as much paint across their canvas as is possible. They/we mostly do this out of concern over the cost of paint, and it is understandable. Paint can be expensive. But if you want to begin to think about doing better paintings you have to get over the cost and go for it. Put out some big ol’ piles. Better for the leftover paint to go stale over the next day or so and throw it out than to have an anemic looking painting.

One thing that was really nice to see also was that Bryce brought many personal samples with him of studies, finished paintings, and even failures that he had done. These were all for our benefit and edification and it was very helpful. All the studies were for sale and most all were quite beautiful in their own way. Here are a few example of some of the studies and finished paintings.

These next two paintings are ones that are available for sale at Legacy Gallery in Old Town Scottsdale. Legacy is one of the big galleries there so it is a testimony to the perceived quality and value of Bryce's work.

Another interesting thing that Bryce showed us was how he mounts his canvas to his support.  He doesn't appear to paint on stretched canvas at all. He will either heat mount or mount his canvas with Acrylic matte gel medium, using it as a glue. The interesting thing was that he would mount these to a material called Dibond, which is what sign makers use for painting signs. It can be purchased in large sheets at signmakers supply shops and then cut on a table saw. The Dibond doesn't warp or shrink and is quite rigid which makes it very archival.

There really is lots more to tell about the workshop and trip that was very interesting, but I think what I've relayed here gives you a good taste of the experience.

One last thing that occurred while we were in Scottsdale was that Tina and I got to attend Legacy Gallery's big art auction. It was quite an event and a bit of a surreal experience. Paintings, mostly of the Western and wildlife genre covered the walls. I think the gallery has something like 10,000 square feet of space in which to display their artwork. And amazing artwork it was. Great art by famous artists both living and deceased. Artists like Morgan Weistling, Mian Situ, Bob Kuhn, Jeremy Lipking, and many, many others. Even a Remington was up for auction. And I even got to see my first Fechin in person. Fechin is one of my all time favorite artists so that was a real treat.
I want to tell you there is some serious cowboy cash in that neck of the woods. We saw paintings auctioned off for a quarter million dollars, $500,000, and even $800,000 which was what the Remington sold for. The bidding was at times wild and wooly, but it was all very exciting to witness, and it was nice to see that people still care that much about art. Yes, I know some people might have looked at it as just another investment, but the overall sense I got was that these were real art lovers who actually cared about great art. They know what they like and are willing to pay for it. Here are a few examples from the auction.

Oh and the very last thing (I promise) that I wanted to include was this short video clip that I took while Bryce was demoing and explaining what I thought was a very salient point for making a better painting. I made sure to check with him first just to make sure it was okay to post this. I hope you enjoy. 

Thanks again Bryce for the great workshop.


1 comment:

  1. A MOST satisfying account of your trip, how I envy your workshop with Bryce Liston!! Love the "three value" rule and the Zorn palette descriptions. LOL, "cowboy cash." Really enjoyed this post, Chris!!