Learn Oil Portrait & Figure Painting Techniques Using A Live Model.
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New York Portrait Painting and Figure Painting Classes & Workshops

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contact portrait artist Marvin Mattelson
contact portrait artist Marvin Mattelson


...one of the greatest teachers ever. Marvin Mattelson changes the lives of anyone paying attention. I know I wouldn't be half the painter I am without his guidance.
Dorian Vallejo


Replicating the human head is the most demanding and challenging of all artistic endeavors. Although my workshops are specifically geared towards portrait painting, the methodologies I teach can be successfully utilized with any subject matter, any style and any medium. If you can paint a convincing life like realistic head in oil, you can achieve any artistic goal you set!


Classical Oil Portrait & Figure Painting Classes & Workshops


Painting Workshop Demonstration


My workshops and classes provide artists of all levels with a uniquely simple and logical approach to painting portraits and figures in oil. The instruction will emphasize the mind-set and methodologies that have guided master portrait artists for over five hundred years. I teach time-honored practices that lie at the heart of the world's great masterpieces.

People wonder why artists can no longer paint like the Old Masters. The reason is perfectly clear; painting today isn‘t approached in the same way as it once was. Today, artists are distracted from the truth, focusing on the superficial aspects of technique instead. The answer is quite obvious to anyone who seeks it. Fortunately, living in New York has provided me with unlimited access to many of the worlds greatest paintings. What I have discovered, by analyzing these masterworks, is that although they may be stylistically diverse, all great representational artists share the same mindset. I therefore maintain that the key to painting well is more a function of strategic thinking, rather than the result of using some secret exotic painting medium, flamboyant brushwork or having a potpourri of colors on your palette.

As a result, I now eschew the vast majority of today's commonly accepted practices and beliefs, which I feel serve only to confuse, rather than clarify, the issue of learning to paint well. If you’re not satisfied with your paintings, maybe you want to consider a different point of view.
I don't teach slick techniques and gratuitous effects. Nor do I teach arduous, lifeless, mechanical copying, I focus on creating realistic imagry in a way that will ultimitely enhance your ability to express your true artistic vision.

Successful painting is more than merely aping what is in front of you; it requires the ability to understand and interpret your subject. By working from a live model, students will rigorously engage with the principles of portrait painting in the classical tradition. Strategies for capturing a likeness, handling paint, emphasizing the effects of light and atmosphere, modeling form and mixing lifelike complexions will be covered. Every step from preparing a canvas to applying the final highlight will be thoroughly demonstrated and explained. NY workshops and classes include a field trip to the Met while my "outside of NY" students will be treated to my slide presentation: “Everything I know about Painting I Learned at the Met!”

My painting classes center around the unique palette arrangement and color choices I’ve developed. Color is but one aspect of what makes a painting work, but it is the most readily apparent, particularly with regards to portraiture. My palette gives me the ability to replicate the life-like flesh tones indigenous to each unique sitter I paint, regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. I believe that by using my palette, any artist, with practice, can create beautiful, believable, realistic and translucent skin tones.

However, my workshop goes far beyond merely conveying how to replicate accurate life-like flesh. The color aspect needs a framework to support it. Color is important but is much more effective in the context of illusionistic space. The ability to create depth, structure and the effect of light are what’s at the heart of all great portraiture. I don't, however, teach a preconceived or formulaic way to arrive at these things. I champion keen observation and intelligent reasoning, based on true understanding, as the ideal way to make the most appropriate decisions, particularly when working in life painting classes. Working from live models is a key factor in artistic training. Once you can understand how to portray the three dimensionality of the model you can in turn adapt this perception to your portrait paintingss, even if you are working from photos.

In addition, I will cover how to achieve more accurate drawing, as well as the thought process for developing value structure, mixing accurate colors (in addition to flesh), creating a sense of atmosphere and bringing your subject to life. Most importantly, all aspects of my teaching are thoroughly demonstrated and explained by me. I don't delegate the important task of critiquing my students to assistants. If I'm not demonstrating or lecturing, I’m working one-on-one with each of you.

My principles are broad based and can be utilized with any type of painting style: loose, tight or whatever. It is the knowledge that supports informed choices. The answer is not in some magic medium or mystical ritual. Painting mastery is a state of mind and, coupled with a great worth ethic, there is no limit to what can be achieved.

I believe the most effective way to teach is by showing people what to do while explaining each and every step. I will be demonstrating the following:

•Techniques for achieving great drawing accuracy
•Transparent under-painting for building luminosity
•Preparation and use of the Mattelson Flesh Palette
•Scumbling as well as wet into wet paint handling techniques
•Modeling three dimensional form

Whether you chose to take a class or a workshop, the same material is covered in both. The advantage of taking a class that meets once a week, is that it allows you to mull over and contemplate what you've learned, while the advantage of a workshop is that it offers day after day reinforcement. All my classes and workshops center around the same core material. Longer duration workshops give me with the opportunity to work longer on my demonstration paintings and my students also have more time to work lon their paintings, too.

The School of Visual Arts • NYC • Fall 2017 • Registration is now open
Classical Oil Painting - Continuing Education Classes
These courses may also be taken for undergraduate credit. For more information call the registrar's office (212) 592.2200.


Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting from Life • FIC-2221-CE
Friday 12:00PM - 6:00PM Sep 15 - Dec 15 • 12 Sessions
310 East 22nd Street
For more information or to register online or call 212-592-2200

Classical Portrait Painting from Life • FIC-2219-CE
Saturday 10:00AM - 4:00PM Sep 16 - Dec 16 • 11 Sessions
380 Second Avenue
For more information or to register online or call 212-592-2200

Oil Portrait Workshop • Summer 2018 • Registration begins April 2018

@ The School of Visual Arts • Department of Continuing Education • New York City

11 Day Realistic Oil Portrait Painting Workshop
Portrait Painting: The Real Deal
August 2018 • Dates T.B.A.
Click here to find out more information about the workshop


Structural Portrait Drawing for Portrait Painters

Drawing Workshop Demonstration - Click here to see an enlargement of the finished drawing.

The most critical aspect of portraiture is in attaining mastery over your drawing. Since any deviation will alter both the character and the sense of solidity in the visual portrayal of your sitter, the ability to faithfully represent what lies before you is the major factor in achieving long-term success as a portrait artist.

I created this workshop because I wanted to focus solely on the specific drawing skills that relate to portraiture. The skill set required to make an aesthetically pleasing drawing differs considerably from what is needed to create a solid painting.

It's common today, for those learning to paint better, to focus primarily on the color and brushwork aspects, because those are the first thing we notice when we look at a painting. These are superficial aspects and are rarely the reason a painting fails; it's generally the drawing inadequacies that are at the heart of the problem. Once you get the drawing down, the application of the paint is considerably easier. That's exactly the point of this workshop. A painting that relies solely on color and technique is like a house built over quicksand: it won’t stand for long.

What always attracted me to the work of the really great portrait artists like Van Dyke, Bouguereau, Raeburn and Paxton, to name but a few, was the convincing way they conveyed solidity of form. It goes way beyond just copying what lies before you. I have spent my whole life striving to understand, implement, and synthesize their approaches into my workflow. In my drawing workshop I'll be focusing on ways to integrate accurate objective seeing with a subjective understanding of the dimensionality of the head.

Draftsmanship is learnable. In this workshop, working from the live model, you will discover how to create an accurate and solid drawing. The focus of this workshop, goes far beyond doing an aesthetically pleasing drawing. You’ll learn how to construct a proper framework, on which you can ultimately build a life-like portrait painting that expresses the character of your sitter.

Time-tested methodologies, for objective measuring and discovering the specific proportions unique to every subject, will be covered. You’ll also learn how to use tone to verify the structural integrity of your drawing. All techniques will be thoroughly demonstrated and explained.

Whether or not you've previously taken a painting class or workshop with me, I believe this workshop can be a tremendous aid in allowing you to be a much more effective portrait artist and painter.

New York City • Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop • June 2018

The School of Visual Arts • Department of Continuing Education • New York City

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 2018 • Dates T.B.A.

Click here to find out more information about this workshop


Digital Reference Photography for Portrait Artists

I‘ve also spent the last thirty years developing my photography skills (pun intended) and I’m excited to share my insights with you. Invest two days and you’ll discover a tool that can radically improve the quality of your artwork. Digital photography goes far beyond what was ever possible with traditional film.

Looking at the work of other artists I see a near universal lack of understanding of what constitutes proper reference photos. Most photos fall short, even aesthetically beautiful ones. Good reference material provides the artist with the information necessary to enhance their understanding of the subject matter. If the information isn't there, the only choice is to "fake" it. This inevitably leads to areas of ambiguity which can only detract from a compelling end result.

The old masters did drawing studies to specifically record pertinent info. Does this mean if you take great reference photos you don't need to know how to draw? No, but it can sure save time. If Reubens were alive today would he be using digital photography? Indoor plumbing? Air-conditioning? An iPod? If you think not, you’re kidding yourself.
The problem is that the photographic process doesn't replicate the way the eye sees. You have to know how to compensate for the camera's shortcomings, an issue not addressed in photography books, because it's not a concern for photographers. They want their work to look like photos!

The computer acronym GIGO (Garbage In = Garbage Out) applies most appropriately to reference photography. Today portrait artists are at the mercy of the camera. The vast majority of people interested in commissioning a portrait don't have the time to sit for an adequate length of time. Nothing beats painting a live sitter, but I’ll show you how to come pretty darn close by using the camera to your best advantage.

Some of the things I'll be covering include:
•The advantages digital photography offers portrait artists
•How to maximize the potential of digital capture
•How to light your subject
•How to simulate and match various lighting conditions
•How to attain accurate color
•How to achieve proper exposure
•The best equipment to use for reference purposes
•How to process images in your computer
•How to get your printer's output to best match your monitor
•How to adjust color and contrast
•How to combine parts of different photos into one image
•How to correct distorted values and proportions

By improving the quality of your reference photography, you can dramatically enhance the quality of your painting.

No Photo Workshops are currently scheduled. Please check back for the lastest updates


You can see student class work, view examples of their portraits and figure paintings as well as artwork from portrait painting workshop students. You can read student feedback as well. If you're looking to enhance your portrait and figure painting skills and expand your knowledge of the painting process, you can find more information on my teaching programs page, and view some of the demonstrations I've painted in my classes.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

Marvin Mattelson

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