When the latest issue of Pastel Journal arrived the other day, I was immediately reminded of a familiar response to a student’s inquiry about how to paint something unfamiliar: It’s all the same. I first witnessed this lesson when attending a workshop given by a nationally renowned artist, famous for his still life and portrait work. He began the first day with a still life demonstration. A friend of mine, who greatly admired the instructor, watched intently as he laid every stroke to the surface. When the workshop instructor finished, we were instructed to return to our easels and paint. As the instructor made his final rounds for the day, he stopped at my friend’s easel and congratulated him on how well he had done. It was indeed a beautiful rendition that emulated the technique of the instructor very well. As you can imagine, my friend was beside himself with joy. Having earned the praise of his hero, he could hardly wait to return for the next day’s session.
The following day, as we entered the classroom, we were confronted with new subject matter. Two models had been posed at opposite ends of the room. Anticipating that the instructor would again begin with a demonstration, we patiently waited. As the hands of the classroom clock marked the appointed hour, he entered the room. Instead of approaching an easel and beginning, however, he turned to the group and announced, “Today you paint the portrait. Begin!” Everyone hurried back to their stations, intently sized up the nearest model, adjusted their positions, and set to work. Everyone, that is, except my friend, who stood quietly at his easel and did nothing. As the instructor made his first pass, he stopped at my friend’s easel and asked why he was not working. “You have not shown me how to paint a portrait,” he replied. A hush fell over the classroom and we eavesdropped to hear the response. Calmly, looking up at my friend (my friend is a tall man and the instructor considerably shorter), he stated, “It’s all the same,” and continued on his rounds.
As I worked, I would occasionally glace towards my friend to see how he was doing. To my astonishment, he had not made a single mark. Slowly the instructor made his way back to my friend’s easel. Again, he paused, looked up at my friend and said, “Why haven’t you been working?” My friend replied, “I’m sorry. I could paint the still life because you showed me, but I’ve never attempted a portrait.” At this point, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Standing directly in front of my friend and looking up into his eyes, the instructor slowly reached up and grabbed his ears in his hands. Gently pulling his head up and down, he firmly repeated, “It’s all the same, it’s all the same, it’s all the same. Do you agree?” In a somewhat shaky voice, my friend replied, “Yes.” The instructor released his ears and walked away to help another student.
After a few minutes, when I again glanced over at my friend, I noticed he was indeed painting. I wasn’t sure what he was painting, but he was hard at work. Eventually, the instructor returned and stepped up beside my friend. “Well done, my boy. This is a fine portrait”, he exclaimed. “You have the makings of a fine artist.”
As the session ended for the day, I approached my friend to inquire about the exchange and how he had finally mustered the courage to plow into the portrait. “It’s like this”, he said, “The first day, I had watched him do the still life and was able to go back to my easel and emulate the process. Today, though, I was clueless about how to paint the portrait since he had not demonstrated this morning, but I knew after our last interaction that if I didn’t agree with him he wouldn’t have released my ears. I still didn’t know what to do, but figured I might as well approach it like the still life since I knew how to do that. I just kept thinking, this is a round shape, this is a flat plane, this cooler, this warmer, and you know what? It is all the same! The still life is the portrait, and the portrait the landscape.” A lesson learned.
As I flip through the beautiful pages of the Pastel 100 winners in the current Pastel Journal, starting with the lovely Terri Ford painting on the cover, I am again reminded that the subject matter might be different, the personal style and application unique, but when it is all said and done, it really is all the same!
Congratulations to the winners and to those that took a chance and entered. We all benefit artistically from your efforts!
Get more expert advice from Richard McKinley in his instructional videos. Watch a free preview here!
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