Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category


Vicki McMurry Workshop, Wenmohs Ranch, Texas 2011

October 24, 2011

Several years ago, I purchased the book ‘Mastering Color’ by artist Vicki McMurry. I have been enchanted by her luminous landscapes and movement in her brushstrokes ever since.  While her book is always within easy each in my studio, I wondered if I was to take a workshop in person, would I be able to understand her concepts of colour more fluently?

The charming "Bunkhouse" at Wenmohs Ranch, Cypress Mill, Texas

Last week, I traveled to Wenmohs Ranch, outside Austin, Texas to join a three-day workshop with Vicki.  I’ve participated in a few workshops now, always starting with a bit of nervous energy.  I seem to replay the same conversation to myself before hand:

“Be a good student”, “Forget what you already think you know”, “relax”and “it’s good to make mistakes”

These are just a  few of my mantra’s.  Coming from a career mainly focused on commission work,  almost every painting I complete is for someone else.  While I do enjoy commission work, and have wonderful clients, most whom allow me my creative space,  I wonder if it is beginning to block me from progressing? I think my personal growth as an artist is slow, because I am always thinking, wondering & hoping my client will love whatever I paint for them. This thought is present, even if it isn’t at the forefront of my mind. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see what I would paint for me, when I give myself the chance.

As a goal for myself, I wanted my focus of this workshop to be based on colour. To learn how to push myself beyond my current comfort zone of colour. Allow myself to take risks, and free myself of worrying over details. For the duration,  I choose to stick with simple layouts,  I didn’t complicate myself with a drawing tricky poses – as my focus was on colour, not drawing.

My Painting Day 1

Day 1: I started off tentative (as I would expect myself!) Vicki critiqued the painting, illustrating where I could take the opportunity to warm the colour further. In this case, in the warm, golden hues in the neck.

Blocking in First painting, Day 2

Day 2, I chose to work on a grey horse.  This would challenge me to mix warm/cool tones and light/dark values in my palette.  I rarely ever work on a white surface, but in doing so, I could gauge my values from what was the brightest white (the background). Using Vicki’s palette and method of colour mixing, I was able to achieve some lovely cool bluish greens for the cool tones and a warm white for the highlight. We were both happy 🙂 ..though I do feel I discovered one of my “JennPratt-ism’s” in the process..that I don’t like working on a white surface, no matter what the exercise! lol

Second Painting, Day 2

Vicki’s process involves spending more time working in the mid-values first, then moving up or down from there. My second painting on day 2, I wanted to follow this method more closely. I had to resist the temptation to go for those highlights, until much later in the painting than I normally would. In doing so, I found myself using more colour, and less white – one habit I would like to correct! To me, I am starting to see real progress for myself in this study. That sunlight hitting this mare’s nose is becoming believable.

Day 3 Painting

Day 3, I tackled another difficult to paint horse colour – black. I’ve painted this image before & thought it would be a great comparison to my previous study. I wanted to focus on warming up the tan highlights in his face – in my mind to a point where they were luminous! …I was pleased in this little study until…

how far I went vs. how far I could go..

I placed the painting on the wall beside my others and realized how dull, flat and lifeless it was…I failed to take the risk of pushing that colour in the highlights as far as I could have.

Vicki told us that part of her enjoyment of teaching is witnessing her students have those ‘ah-ha’ moments..and this was certainly one of those moments for me. She mixed up a value of how far she would have taken the highlight – a warm yellowish-green and held it next to the painting.  It certainly was a colour I likely never would have dreamed of. It was a sign and a great lesson of the risks I must begin to take if I ever want my paintings to grow and become more luminous in colour.

Vicki, doing her magic from a b/w reference image.

Now that I’m home, becomes the real homework of processing what I learned.  Needless to say, I’m excited to get back into the studio 🙂



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 ~ 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: