Week-long study with Kevin Macpherson

 Jennifer with Kevin Macpherson

Jennifer with Kevin Macpherson

Last week I did something I haven't done in a very long time...devote myself to the art mistress from morning to night for an entire week. And it was a week studying with the talented Kevin Macpherson at that! As you may have read from my previous blog posts,  I am a big fan of his paintings and his books. He is truly one of the best teachers I have encountered so far. Not only is he a highly skilled painter, but he has a way of honing in on and distilling essential information that actually penetrates my rock-hard noggin.

The workshop took place in a beautiful new space called Chesapeake Fine Art Studio, run by artist Hai-Ou Hou in Stevensville, MD (great location- about 20 mins. away from Annapolis). If you are an artist on the east coast,  it would behoove you to check out her site. Hai-Ou is quite the painter herself, and also appears to be drawing some of the best and brightest painter/instructors in the plein air and traditional/representational painting movements.

I really wish I had time to delve into all I learned during my workshop experience, but life is slamming me pretty hard right now. This week marked a return to the "real world" (insert the sound of needle scraping across a record here) with kitchen renovation, school activities, and doctor's appointments commanding most of my time and energy.

But my biggest takeaways from Kevin's instruction had to do with value and composition. He spoke a lot about light and shadow, and how one can create much stronger paintings by clearly indicating which elements belong in the light family and which belong in the shadow family. (This sounds simple in theory but it isn't always so easy in practice.) He stressed seeing and painting "shapes, not things", with the idea that if we are too wrapped up in painting a "thing" we lose the ability to really see it accurately and how it relates to the rest of the painting as a whole. We spent a good deal of time really learning how to see the true value of things (er, shapes, that is!) He stressed using a color isolator in the field to identify true value and color, determining and laying down your darkest note of color first, followed by the rest of the shadow family, and finally the values in the light family, keying everything up from that very darkest note, so that you really can get a handle on color and value relationships.

In essence, how dark you key your darks will determine how light you key your lights. I use the analogy of playing "Chopsticks" on the piano. You can play low on the scale or high on the scale, but the arrangement of notes and their relationship to each other are the same no matter how high or low you move along the keyboard.

Kevin Macpherson's workshop
Kevin Macpherson's workshop

His demos didn't disappoint. In addition to demos in the field, mid-week during his opening he did a remarkable demonstration in the studio (from a photo) on a canvas sized at about 20x24" . During that opening he also presented an inspiring and highly entertaining lecture. This lecture, I understand, was very similar to the one he presented at the Plein Air Convention. Not being able to travel as much as I used to, I really appreciated having the opportunity to see this presentation, in a much more intimate setting.

Though we were meant to work largely out of doors, we had our share of rain and wind. When the weather didn't cooperate, it gave us the opportunity to study (in the gorgeous and spacious studio) some of the more pertinent points Kevin was trying to drive home. We spent a good deal of time studying value relationships among the "light family and shadow family". On another occasion we delved into "The Golden Mean" or "Golden Section" (the informal subdivision of space) and he presented a fascinating slide lecture with many, many inspiring examples of  how it has been used by painters throughout history.

Kevin Macpherson's painting demo
Kevin Macpherson's painting demo

Here are a couple of my plein air paintings done during the workshop that actually reached a level of finish:

 "Silo Shadows" Oil on panel, 10x8" ©Jennifer Young

"Silo Shadows" Oil on panel, 10x8" ©Jennifer Young

 "Docked on a Gray Day", Oil on canvas, 10x12" © Jennifer E. Young

"Docked on a Gray Day", Oil on canvas, 10x12" © Jennifer E. Young

At the week's end, I left feeling completely exhausted and totally exhilarated at the same time. I didn't leave with many "finished" pieces, but that wasn't my goal at all any how. What I did leave with was a wealth of knowledge and insight, as well as a good deal of creative spark. Whether that spark ignites a fire, is now totally up to me.