Morgan Weistling Homework

Maybe you’ve read this book by Morgan Weistling… or if you’re like me, you just look at the pictures. This book is an inexpensive visual treat to anyone wishing to study the style, composition and color schemes of an artist to whom many refer as a modern-day master.

Yes, he’s a personal friend of mine, but he’s also a contemporary and a competitor, if you will. In addition to our dead heroes we all have our living favorites. Morgan is mine. To my great delight, when I went to his website a month or two ago (I visit fairly often, since he’s so prolific), he was announcing his new 10-hour instruction DVD titled Advanced Fundamentals for the Beginning Expert.

Knowing Morgan as I do, I just knew he had strong input on this humorous title. He never takes himself too seriously, and I thought at first that he was just poking fun at all the pompous titles in the art world. But I was wrong. Having viewed the DVD set several times, I can tell you that however humorous or oxymoronic the title may sound, it is as apt a title as can be. The recurring theme

My friendship with
Morgan has no
bearing on my
opinion of
this DVD

throughout this detailed instructional walk-through is basics. And don’t let that fool you into thinking this is for beginners, this is for serious painters, intermediates and professionals alike.

The video is all about one painting, Homework[Picture], which is created, start-to-finish, before your eyes. Now, to the non-artist, watching a painting being created one brushstroke at a time may be just one step “funner” than watching paint dry. But to someone who is interested in seeing the process demystified, this DVD is golden. In fact, I can tell you from experience, it’s worth just listening to.

As a teacher myself, I am pleased to tell you that Morgan preaches the absolute most important fundamental of all great painting: drawing. And he explains it so well, as he does values, edges and color.

Mercifully, the video editors do some time-lapse dissolves in some of the background painting passages, allowing for the fact that things like lay-ins and larger block-ins are really going to be of little interest or use to anyone, and instead use the redeemed video time for several “side trips”—so-called Bonus Material, though they are integrated into the regular running time of the video and do not need to be accessed via a special menu—in which Morgan expands his descriptions of certain fundamentals.

A most worthy book to any serious artist’s library is Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting, which can be purchased at Schmid’s site.

Morgan’s video not only covers so much of what Schmid talks about in his book, but includes—and brings to life—the most glaring omissions from Schmid’s book: examples. Everything Morgan discusses, he practices in front of your eyes. No flipping through pages to see if there is an example of what he’s talking about. It’s all there!

The video is also entertaining. Morgan has a dry, whimsical sense of humor—the kind that checks to see if you’re listening. He’s told me personally that the editors removed a substantial amount of his antics—items he hopes to include as a gag-reel disc someday. But what’s left will still make you laugh. Unless you don’t like his sense of humor. Or his art. And in both cases, there’s no accounting for taste.

At $195, this may be the most expensive DVD set you own. But at $195, it’ll likely be the cheapest one-on-one instruction you will ever have—and with a master at that! And you’ll always have it to return to, for free!

The video is sharp, and close-up when needed. There’s a camera angle on his painting and another on his palette, and all the video was shot with attention to color balance and good lighting—though, inexplicably one of the three cameras seems a little hot or blown-out in the highlights (fortunately it is the least-used angle). There is a cut to the palette each time Morgan mixes a new brushload. For me, this is a refreshing additon to educational painting videos. My only complaints about this palette-cam are that 1). Morgan is too fast with his color, playing the paint blobs like a skilled xylophonist, dazzling in his magical speed. And 2). [a nit-picky detail from someone who’s done video editing] it seems the editor used the “brush leaving the canvas” as the cue for a cut-to-palette, which, in a few frames-per-second way, is a little too soon for an artist such as myself, who wants to see for a moment just how that last stroke added to the overall work.

I give the teaching 5 out of 5 stars, and the video quality 4 out of 5.

A must-have for any representational painter.


In the Studio with Morgan Weistling: Video Review

In the past I have been reluctant to review instruction videos put out by artists because I hate to mess with someone's bread and butter. These artists rely not only the sale of their paintings, but on workshops and videos to supplement their income and pay their mortgages.  So after giving it careful thought I decided, what the heck.

Over the Christmas holidays I had a chance to watchMorgan Weistling's mammoth ten hour video (yes 10 Hours!).  It was so interesting I decided I just had to review it. Someone, somewhere may be thinking of buying or renting it, and before investing that amount of time watching the video, may want to know someone else's opinion.

Mr. Weistling himself will be the first one to admit the video is long -  very long. So long rumour has it he swore never to do another instructional video. In the video he paints a girl aged about twelve sitting at a desk with a forelorn expression on her face. She is placed somewhere in the romantic past of 100 years ago wearing a dress straight out of "Little House on the Prairie". The painting is a large gallery piece and is entitled "Homework".

When thinking about watching this video I was hesitant for two reasons: I'm not much of a fan of Mr. Weistlings paintings or his style of painting. I think it was Ken Auster who said you should try to learn from artists whose work you admire, and whose style of painting is compatible to your own.  Unless of course you want to get out of your comfort zone. That being said, I figured I'd give him a look.

He paints thick, very thick with Langnickels. He doesn't use any thinners, instead rinsing frequently in a container of walnut oil. He places his composition on the surface with charcoal, not bothering about details, then he fixes and tones the canvas. He paints in what I call "The Puzzle Method", that is he works on one section at a time comparing value and color to an adjacent area. There is no overall block-in and development of the painting. Each section is developed to its final form before moving on to the next, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. This makes sense when painting from the live model since areas like the hands and shoulders will move or shift from session to session - no matter how good the model.

As the painting progressed the under-drawing was used as a guide or map, but it wasn't strictly adhered to. Objects were moved, folds were painted over and the composition was refined. The progress was very much like putting together a puzzle with 'little tiles of paint' (his phrase), moving from the face down the figure to the hands and foreground.

So why was this video ten hours, and why did I actually sit there watching it? Because of what Mr. Weistling had to say and how he said it. There is a TON of practical advice here for an artist, and it is the way he explains it that makes the video so valuable. Watching artists work on video can be a bit like watching grass grow (or paint dry). Infinitely boring. But Mr. Weistling keeps up a constant, interesting patter. What I like best is the dude is practical. He tells you stuff you can actually use. Then he shows you. He's the first instructor I've seen who admits painting is mostly boring stuff - and hard work. This video won't appeal to those looking to 'express themselves creatively', or who paint for 'fun'. 

Maybe its because he came from an illustration background, but Weistling is all about getting the job done. There are numerous side-trips away from the main picture where he illustrates and explains shapes (drawing), values, edges, and color. He demonstrates the Five Value Method. He explains and illustrates edge quality in a no-nonsense way. He talks about color temperature without going into the metaphysical properties of light. The guy is all about making a picture.

Negatives? Waay too much time spent with the camera on his palette. Not sure why, but we're forced to watch every, single, little color mixture he makes - this despite him saying repeatedly color is nowhere near as important as shapes, values and edges. Also not enough split screen showing us the model, and how he solves problems on the canvas. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of split-screen, but there could have been more if they'd just broken away from that damn palette.

Bottom line is this: The video is ten hours long. I sat through all of it with no fast-forwarding. I'm still chewing over his teaching three months later, AND trying to use his instruction every day. The link to his website is here
There's an interview with Morgan Weistling where he talks about his influences and training etc. here

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