In The Studio of Sargent Workshop

June 8, 2009
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-93, John Singer Sargent

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-93, John Singer Sargent

Back to my studio in the lucisous green hills of Caledon, after a week-long painting workshop at The Academy of Realist Art in Toronto. The workshop was based on direct painting techniques used by John Singer Sargent. The journey was not just an exercise in learning new painting techniques, but one that evoked many personal revelations about my temperament and patience as an artist.

The instructor for the course was Matthew Mancini ~ http://matthewmancini.blogspot.com/ Matthew is clearly a gifted artist, who also possesses ability as a great teacher. I believe it is often rare to find both qualities in artists. He was clear and methodical, patient and positive ~ even when things would appear to be heading on the road to certain disaster.  Matthew started the week off with a painting demo using direct painting methods. He made things look incredibly easy, focusing on building simple shapes, keeping clear statements of value and colour. We proceeded to work up a quick study using the same technique. It was then I realized it wasn’t as easy as it looked. However; at the end of day one I was happy that my initial sketch remained looking human. I’ve never painted the human form before…!

Day two, we started what would be a more finished portrait. A Sargent copy, which we would work on for the next three days.  I began the painting very much like any other; with enthusiasm and positivity.  By the end of day two, my positivity deflated…while I was learning new techniques, old work habits came to haunt me. Without realizing, I got sucked into detailing a particular area of the painting.  I kept going back, trying to fix the area using my tiny brushes working about an inch away from the canvas.  In the process I lost perspective on correcting the overall shape and things were going grey and muddy quickly.

It occurred to me that the frustration and exasperation I was feeling at this stage in the painting were not unfamiliar emotions. The same situation has happened before on horse paintings.  Matthew was instrumental getting me out this situation. Instructing me to grab a bigger brush and re-establish the basic shapes of the area I was working on. Once I did this, the painting made quite a miraculous recovery…without resorting to breaking my brushes in frustration 😉 

Study of Sargent Portrait, created during workshop, 14x18, oil on Canvas

Study of Sargent Portrait, created during workshop, 14x18, oil on Canvas

Previously in my studio, when experiencing similar situations I likely would have walked away. Adding it to my shelf collection known as ‘The Canvas Graveyard’. I hope in the future I will be more attuned to when a painting begins to go astray. I can make corrections early on in the painting by returning to the simple shapes that make the image.

The final day I started a third study, putting everything I had learned together. The transformation was drastic. While the painting is by no mean complete, I was pleased that I was able to simplify the shapes, keep the colour clean, and begin to build something that could work from.

Head study of Sargent copy, final day of workshop

Head study of Sargent copy, final day of workshop

So where do I go from here? I’m quite sure I can easily apply the process taught in the workshop to painting horses. I will begin this week, using Gran Gesto’s painting. However I will still search for my own individual style to infuse with my new found knowledge. During the more controlled portions of the painting I felt my patience waining. After years of creating meticulous drawings of the equine form, taking hours, sometimes months to create, perhaps I no longer have the want to be so ‘perfect’ anymore?  

I will always have a deep respect for old masters techniques, but when I turned to oil media, painting became such a release and an outlet.  In the studio with the music loud, a bold palette mixed up and blank canvas in front of me with no other distractions I feel alive and well. Perhaps I need to become accustomed to what the new ‘perfect’ is..? 🙂

Links of interest:

Artist & Workshop instructor, Matthew Mancini:


The Academy of Realist Art: http://www.academyofrealistart.com/


  1. I am soooooooooooo envious!!!! I would love the opportunity to attend something like this. Your work is gorgeous.

  2. What a wonderful workshop! I have always loved Sargent.

  3. Oh this workshop sounds fabulous and your work is beautiful!!!

  4. I love your evolution with paint. The workshop sounds like it was fabulous..I love Sargent. Also love your more recent very expressive work.

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