Lessons learned

I just finished an online workshop with Felicia Forte. She is a well-known representational oil painter whose works has been exhibited throughout the US as well as abroad. I had taken her workshop in Los Gatos, CA and felt that I can learned more from her. So I signed for her online classes.

There were many “aha” moments but the main point I have taken away from the sessions is that I need to pay more attention to clean brushstrokes and to be decisive in what colors I mixed. Below is a quick oil study that I did after finishing.

Nectarine Study
Nectarine oil study by Marlene Lee

Alla Prima Oil Painting Workshop at NUMU

I had an opportunity to attend a workshop by an artist I had been following on instagram for quite a while, Felicia Forte. Her workshop was at NUMU in Los Gatos. The focus of the workshop was to paint with a limited palette, Zorn Palette (titanium white, ivory black, yellow ochre and cadmium red) within a limited time period.

On the first day, Felicia showed us her approach step-by-step. Starting with an accurate drawing of the head, she used the average dark value to block in the darks/shadow areas and then with the average light value painted any areas in the light. Then from there she finished off the portrait with more accurate and deliberate brushstrokes

Demos by Felicia Forte

Day 2 was with time limitations. In 20 minutes session and 5 minute breaks between the first painting was done in 60 minutes (3 20 minutes). Then the second from a different angle in 40 minutes (2 20 minutes) and then the last (1 20 minutes). The 5 minute break allows us to step away and come back with a fresher view of our painting.

Demos by Felicia Forte

Day 3 was the 3-hour painting – a longer painting time.

Demos by Felicia Forte

What I learned from this workshop: draw accurately, find the average dark and light values and painting within a time limitations.

Abstract Nature painting

I took a workshop taught by Stacey Vetter called Abstract Nature. The focus as described in the class description is to capture “the essence of still life objects from the natural world.”

Stacey had us do a series of exercises – working with brushes, sumi ink and watercolor. Her critiques pointed out three essential design qualities that attracts the eye – scale, texture, and light versus dark.

Below is what I had  done during the workshop.


My first attempt using this concept outside the workshop was a palm tree.

Palm Tree at Chestnut Park.jpg
Palm Tree at Chestnut Park, 3.5 x 5.5 inches from Handbook Journal sketchbook, watercolor.

A Weekend with Still Life Painter, Qiang Huang

I was excited to be able to take a workshop with Qiang Huang. I had been following his blog for a few years now and had admired his loose brushworks and gestural paintings of still life, landscapes and figurative.

Basically self-taught, Qiang, had become successful in selling his works online as well as in galleries. He had taken workshops from David Leffel and Scott Burdick.

So his “secrets” in loose brushstrokes were “revealed” to me in this workshop.

Still life set up

Setting up the still life was so important. There were still life stations set up and we, students had to set up our own still life. Qiang then went around each station and critique our still life, even rearranging to show what worked and what didn’t. This was a gold nugget for me.

Stage 1 – Placement of large shapes.

Before blocking in Qiang applied a little linseed oil to smooth out the surface. Even on his linen canvas. This allows the paint to go on smoothly especially for the background that needs to be transparent.

Stage 2 – Establishing three values – darks, middle and light

Using a mixture of ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide, Qiang painted in the darks and mid values with a soft watercolor brushes. It seemed that he painted mostly with that. His principle with brushes is sable/synthetic brushes for transparency like in shadows and darks. For light, bristles are best for texture and opaqueness.

Stage 3 – Painting in Colors

Now comes the general application of colors. Here Qiang followed his grisalle established in Stage 2 to determined the values of colors for each object. He put in his very darks and his light in order to work the mid values. There is an abstract quality at this stage. He questions the temperature, the opacity and the chroma for the objects in the set up. It was in this stage that I got lost in my own painting.

Stage 4 – Modeling

Here edges are defined. Are they soft or sharp? The objects are looking more like 3-D.

Stage 5 – Consolidation

The final is completing the painting. It’s solidifying the colors into the objects. Or leave some in an abstract form.


Below is my painting in the workshop…actually it’s the second one.

The set up

Qiang rearranged our still life. It was important that it reads from left to right.

Stage 3

I was able to establish the values and add the colors to match up with the values. This was my second attempt.

This was one of the best workshop I had ever attended. Qiang, a former professor, knew exactly how to present his lessons a logical way – broke his painting process in stages.

In addition he presented his lessons in different ways for different learners. Day 1, Qiang did a three hour demo and then we painted in the afternoon. Day 2 though he painted in stages. He did stage 1 and then we went to our stations and did stage 1. All the stages was done this way so that we can see where we have done right or wrong.

Qiang is a regular at Patris’ and hopefully, I can take his workshop next year.


Burnt Umber Underpainting for Color

In WattsAtelierOnline, I’m now in a series of videos introducing four methods of painting the portrait in color. This is the first method – Burnt umber underpainting with color.

First, a detailed pencil drawing is done. It is sprayed with workable fixative so that the pencil won’t smear when oil is applied.
Burnt Umber Color drawing Marlene Lee

Then just using only burnt umber and Gamsol, I create a value study. I used various items to remove lighten the value – cotton swab, rags, fingers, kneaded eraser. This took about 4 hours to do.
Burnt Umber underpainting Marlene Lee

The burnt umber pick out becomes an underpainting for the color painting. I still use the Zorn palette of ivory black, titanium white, yellow ochre and cadmium red light. Another 3 to 4 hours were spend on the color painting.
Burnt Umber Underpainting with Color Marlene lee

This method is great for portrait commission.

Watts had set up his palette for the 9 values of each color – grey, yellow, red, green and purple. I had not been working with the 9 values setup but only three values for the light and two values for the shadow. To extend the life of his paints, he uses clove oil. I’ve been using walnut oil and seems to working for me…but one I’ll buy the clove oil.

Watts Atelier Online program: The Skull

I started back up with the painting program at Watts Atelier Online. I just finished a series of assignments that involves painting the skull, Asaro head and a cast. Each were to be painted from a profile, three-quarter and straight view as well as painting with combination of monochromatic colors. This was the second time I have done these assignments but it had been a year ago. But to do them again was worth it all.

Here is a profile view using the burnt umber pick out method. Burnt umber is applied in mid value. Lighter values are then picked out with cotton swabs, towels, brush dipped in gamsol or even with my finger.

Skull Profile burnt umber 060115

This assignment was to use burnt umber with white. The beginning of blending colors together.
Skull 3:4 painting 2

The final assignment is adding ivory black to titanium white and phthalo blue. Thalo blue is a very strong color so black and white toned it down. Quite a interesting but ghostly effects.
Skull Front thalo blue w blk wht 060115

The Finish of the 6-Hour Pose

Last Tuesday was the last 3 hours of the 6-Hour pose at Paulo Ruvalcabo’s alla prima class at the School of Light and Color.

Here’s the previous post on the first 6 hour – https://marleneleeart.com/2015/04/29/6-hour-pose/.

What I took from here is something I had heard before but now is sinking it – The sphere shape in rendering the values from shadows to light. Areas to pay close attention to is around the forehead, along the cheekbones, around the jaw line, the transition on the nose planes from side to top and then to the other side, the roundness of the eyelids and the roundness of the lips.

Another point that I have finally become more aware of is that different colors of the same values can be blended in. I’m a bit still uncertain how to deal with this new knowledge but I still need to think in values even though colors are introduced.

Anyway I’m happy with the results. I found spending longer forces me to developed the painting more and even taking the time to correct. Lesson well learned!
Michael 050812 oil 14x11

Quick Study

This is a quick study of the 6-hour pose. Based on an article I read in the May issue of The Artist Magazine by Felicia Forte, I followed her technique of painting a portrait using just 4 colors: titanium white, ivory black, yellow ochre and cadmium red.

The procedure is drawing the shapes, establishing light/shadow patterns, put in the local skin color and the local shadow colors and finally refining. All four colors are used but in varying degrees depending if it is shadow or light. For instance, the shadow consist mainly of black and red with a touch of yellow. The skin in the light is made up of red and yellow with a touch of white. Highlights are mainly yellow and white with a very touch of red.

This article helped quite a bit as how to use the colors more effectively.

And this is 6 x 8 on canvas paper.

Male Model at SLC

6 Hour Pose

In class today we start the 6 hour pose. If I hadn’t mentioned it in my previous post, I’m taking an alla prima class taught by Paulo Ruvalcaba at the School of Light and Color.

The model posed for 25 minutes and then took a break. After each pose I took a photo of my WIP. Since it was a 6 hour pose, I worked slowly and more deliberately. And worked on a larger canvas panel, 11 x 14, instead of my normal 9 x 12.

The first 25 minute was spend measuring twice before “cutting”. I found myself readjusting the features a few times.
6 hour pose 1

Once the block in was established for the shadows, I came in with shadow color and light color for the skin. The hair was done with a separate color pile with more of a greenish tone.
6 hour pose 2

Here I developed lighter tones to the skin and hair. The lower lip is more rosy. Paulo pointed out that at this stage I need to break down the big shapes to smaller shapes.
6 hour pose 3

From this point I continued to develop the values in the light area and darkened the shadows. I paid attention to the 3 areas of colors in the face…top third is much lighter and yellow, the mid third tends to be more reddish due to the cheeks and the lower third is more gray.
6 hour pose 4

I was able to develop the lower third to have more of a greenish/gray tone in the shadows of the cheeks. Since there was a few minutes, Paulo suggested soften some of the edges.
6 hour pose 5

to be continued next week….