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Back from Stowe : Studio vs. Demo painting

December 4, 2017

We’re just back from teaching a workshop in Stowe Vermont. (Thanks to the great people at the Helen Day Art Center).

Unfortunately, the last one for a while.

I say unfortunately because it went really well. I had a good time anyway. We had a great group of students who worked hard tackling the devilishly difficult still life projects I set up.

I’ve read somewhere, about imaging studies of the brain. The ones where they can see the neurons firing.

When a person is painting, the activity is focused in the speech centers, not the visual cortex. It appears the physical act of formulating a thought and speaking, isn’t that different than the act of visualizing and painting.

Painting really is story-telling.

And – if you’re doing both at the same time, (as you do in a classroom demo), you’re probably doing each at half-capacity :)

I’m not surprised to read that, because I’ve experienced first hand how strange it feels to be talking and painting at the same time.

It’s hard to remember what you’ve just said a second ago. And you find yourself searching for simple words. I also find, I can’t filter my stories that well. So you can ask me all kinds of things and I’ll give you an honest answer. Too honest!

But anyway, I thought it was interesting to see my practice painting at home next to the demo I did on the day.



Partially of course, I was much too close to the demo subject. You need to back off a bit to see the entire subject. But we had to fit everyone around the painting, so, that’s just a practical thing.

But – I’ve always said – the distractions and time pressures of painting on location are one of the best ways to get lively paintings. If you prevent yourself from laser-focusing on your work, you can keep that casual approach.

It also appears that part of the magic is painting with friends. I do a lot of my best painting out with a buddy. Apparently the conversation helps me get into that mindset of only half-caring about your work.

Because, when you care too much, it gets labored. Overly self-conscious.

You never want a painting to be hard work. It should be a joy, not a second job :)



8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason Mullins permalink
    December 4, 2017 10:40 AM

    “You never want a painting to be hard work. It should be a joy, not a second job :)” Great Advice Marc. Thanks for posting.

  2. Annie permalink
    December 4, 2017 10:49 AM

    May I say : your demo is the joyful one to me. No matter how difficult it was to talk, find the right words while demonstrating it. Keep it up, everything you do!

    • December 4, 2017 10:50 AM

      Yes yes, that’s what I mean! If I wasn’t clear. Painting at home, getting ready for the class, that’s just work :) My job. But when you’re there with people, painting together, that’s just fun and games :) I had a great time :)

  3. Judy Sopher permalink
    December 5, 2017 11:01 AM

    They’re all lovely. Would pick the third if I had to choose. Like the angle and overall composition–and the pink jar or vase at the bottom. Just little things. But I do like your philosophy. I taught for a year when I was in a BFA program-Drawing one which no one else wanted. I do understand how it is hard to demonstrate and talk at the same time. My demos were the worst.

  4. Colleen Babington permalink
    December 5, 2017 4:21 PM

    Thank you, Marc, for that post. You mentioned something about the brain trying to draw and talk at the same time when I watched you sketch at the NY Botanical Garden, but seeing the difference in those 2 drawings gave me a real “aha” moment.

  5. December 5, 2017 9:24 PM

    What I learned: I enjoy pencil sketching, but dabbled a bit using watercolors in the past. What I learned in this class: 1- paint with water, not paint (lay down water in the area where you are about to paint a color) 2 – pick up a rich brush of color (if you are using dry pan paints, make sure that those paints are thoroughly soaked) 3 – “dot” or “plop” the color into the previously wet area and let it do its thing) 4 – start with very light values (make successive passes darker where needed) 5 – use this same technique when creating a pattern or line inside of an existing image which is now dry (if you want a line, water-paint, then dab a color at the beginning of that water-paint, and help it spread, so the line consists of vivid-to-light) and 6 – know where to use black (either a small or large amount of it).

    I tried 3 paintings after returning to my hotel room using this new technique. The first was awful, the second, kinda OK, and the third, good. As Marc stressed, you need to do a lot of work (drawing/painting) before you start producing what you want, and, of course, composition rules.

    Of the three paintings he made for the class, that last one knocked it out of the park!

    I’m still recovering from a lotta stuff, so it probably won’t be until next spring when I join the Urban Sketchers. Until that time, I’m so pleased to have been in Marc’s class and seeing first hand work-in-progress (while talking) as I’ve pictured it on the Urban Sketchers pages in Facebook and in Marc’s Urban Sketchers book.

    PS: and thanks to Marc’s wife, Laurel, for contributing tips that she thought Marc left out…

  6. bawa jeff permalink
    January 11, 2018 12:31 PM

    hello i see wow good too i can art small

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