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Atelier Dojo’s Figure Painting in Oils: From Monochrome to Limited Palette (Session 2)

David Robinson 3 years ago

Painting with Jennifer: Atelier Dojo’s Figure Painting in Oils – From Monochrome to Limited Palette (A Blog Series)



The second session continued the class’s work with value paintings in monochrome. Since last week, Balkan sent all the class members an e-mail assigning homework. Homework! What could homework really amount to for an arts class? Oh, right, more painting.

I discharged the obligation by attending the Friday night Atelier Dojo open studio session. Artists are free to work from a live model for three hours. I produced two value paintings working from a clothed model, and I found it arduous work dealing with the play of light on bulky folded, multicolored clothing. Squinting at the model and simplifying the complicating details lightened the task considerably, and I appreciated this as the benefit of the homework assignment.

In the three-hour class period we painted four value paintings as we had last week, using three basic tonal values of dark, light, and intermediate. Balkan taught us by observation when and where to apply half tones in addition to these three tones. Unlike last week, Balkan painted her demo of the first pose simultaneously with the class painting the same pose. It wasn’t so much intimidating as it was humbling, and of great learning value.

At every point in life it is of huge benefit to receive a surprise visit from humility. To a great extent humility is a form of liberation. It allows one to see, stripped of pretense, where we are and are not now, and where we might go with grace, talent, and time. Jennifer Balkan is a young master. She shows us the pathway to her level of mastery and offers the graceful invitation to follow that path to whatever levels of it we might attain for ourselves.

figure painting

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Balkan

The time flew by. Standing exhausted at the easel for three hours, stealing time only for one small mandarin orange, I never arrived at painting the highlights on my figures. And Balkan shared her craft on such a small but significant feature: the highlight is always the unmixed out-of-the-tube white that you have available. Apply it to no more than the three brightest points on the painting. More than three points with highlights will cause the painting to “fall apart” compositionally. Painters have observed this as a rule for hundreds of years. So here’s a game: on your next visit to the art museum, visit the portrait gallery and count the highlights on the portraits by old masters and Renaissance painters. See who paints by the rules.

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