Workshop with Daniel Gerhartz

One of the first things that struck me when I attended Daniel Gerhartz's workshop was the familiarity of the landscape. I've spent a considerable amount of time studying Dan's paintings, and his love of nature, yet the orderliness of his works we're evident within a five mile radius of his home and studio. I drank in the neat plots of farmland, picturesque brick red barns, livestock grazing, and an almost Scandinavian feel to the architecture.

The landscaping around the studio was filled with the flowers, herbs, and veggies tucked behind free standing rock walls and large boulders. Behind the studio there is a seemingly wild open meadow, and the light on it in the mornings and evenings is quite recognizable in many of Dan's paintings.

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The studio had a rustic feel to it, with many wood accents throughout-a spacious round-feeling room, with painted dark middle-value, gray-green. Large, high, north facing windows or sky lights we're the primary source of light, with full spectrum fluorescent lights mounted just beneath them(to supplement the cool light source when needed), but still at least 9 feet above the floor. Even with all the cool lighting, the studio was a little darker and the reflected light a little warmer than what I was used to. This was the first of my darker/warmer encounters that would come up in due course of the workshop.

In the center of the studio was a model "stage" with a sitting area on opposing sides so that two different models and still life set-ups can be up as the same time. Sumptuous dark fabrics we're used as backdrops, and two overhead clip-on lamps we're positioned in front of chairs for the models. Antique chairs and various other props we're neatly sitting on shelves around the perimeter of the studio. Most noticeable, we're Dan's beautiful paintings. These masterpieces have an energy and passion that is not easily seen in the reproductions. It was worth the trip just to see the paintings! Throughout the workshop it became apparent to me that Dan is able to achieve this, not only by talent, skill, and hard work, but by painting what he knows-what he loves. Daniel Gerhartz paints was he sees. Whether the vision is in his head or in front of him, he doesn't paint to sell, to impress, or to improve. He paints to rejoice, to progress, but most of all, he paints to show his viewers how he sees-and Dan sees beauty.

I arrived for the first day late! Two hours late!! I suppose jet lag had taken a heavier toll than I anticipated. When I walked into the studio disheveled and embarrassed, I was greeted warmly by both students and instructor. He was in the middle of his first demo, painting a blonde, lovely, little thing that I recognized as a favorite model. Dan and my new friend Joan that I had met the night before quickly caught me up on what I'd missed.

Dan sets up his palette in the same way each time he paints. For the workshop he used a French companion looking palette with a middle gray tone in the center for his mixing. He puts large globs of paint on the top, and mixes in the center with sometimes three or more large pools of mixed skin tones which he progressively modifies as the painting progresses. His palette color selection is basically a split-primary palette with the addition of a couple of earth pigments and orange.

  • Titanium White or Titanium Zinc white
  • Cadmium Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Raw Sienna
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Rembrandt Permanent Red Medium or Winsor Red (Winsor & Newton)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Brown or Burnt Sienna
  • Prussian Blue and/or Ultramarine Blue
  • Ivory Black

Most of the students seemed surprised by the use of Ivory black. Dan uses this almost blue black, often instead of blue-making his blues and greens very quiet and suitable for shadows and receding planes on the face and hair. My own surprise was in the Prussian Blue which is thought to be marginally lightfast, but during the workshop Dan didn't use it, so neither did I. I asked Dan why he doesn't use Phthalo's blue instead, and he said that he finds that pigment too saturated, and it tends to take over his palette. If he does use it, he mixes it with black to tone it down (I only lasted two workshop days before I could no longer stand it, and added a phthalo green to my palette-I can't seem to paint without the stuff, I don't have problems controlling it, you just don't need nearly as much of it as the other colors-I mixed the phthalo green with the crimson to make a super-dark warm-gray violet.) New to me, we're the raw sienna, and the transparent brown oxide, both of which I liked very much. The raw sienna mixed with a little transparent white, is almost exactly my own skin tone in light; and when added to crimson, the transparent oxide, or even ivory black makes beautiful luminous and surprisingly saturated (but not too saturated) shadows-it's a keeper for me. The brown oxide is less orange than burnt sienna-very warm, and certainly convenient. I didn't reach for it as often as the raw sienna though, so am not sure if I will adopt it or not.

Dan used mostly flat bristle brushes (he doesn't like brights-I didn't catch why) of various sizes leaving the softies for when the canvas was covered in paint and he needed to soften edges. He used Langnickel Royal Sables #5590 for his softies, and they are way too soft for use without a medium. I never heard him address what he used for a medium, except to say that it had a very small amount of Damar in it (which is one of the reasons, I assume, that he does not varnish with Damar). For the class, we we're instructed not to use solvents, so most had a jar of walnut or safflower oil for medium and rinsing brushes. I used walnut oil and alkyd oil mixed together, so that the paint would stay open throughout the day, but tack up for the flight home (this worked great, BTW: one part alkyd to three parts oil. The mixture lasted all week and I used it both as the occasional medium and to rinse my brushes even more occasionally). I also had a pile of Rublev Impasto medium that I used to bulk up my paints and enable me to use less white. I noticed Dan did not rinse his brushed much while painting, preferring instead to simply wipe them on a paper towel.

Dan's method or painting process (at least for the workshop) was pretty straight forward and consistent (very unlike my own that changes sometimes dramatically depending on my subject). It goes as follows:

  • 1. He painted on oil primed linen
  • 2. He toned his canvas on the spot with a thin wash of neutralized color that is often the opposite temperature than his light source and/or subject. After putting on the wash, he wiped it off with a paper towel leaving a beautiful transparent tone in the texture of the canvas.
  • 3. Squinting down hard, he drew with vine charcoal using straight lines, the largest masses of the face and feature landmarks-very minimalistic and linear, but impressively accurate. While he did not discourage measuring, he never measured himself. For accuracy he stated that objectivity was of the utmost importance. He stepped way back from his drawing seemingly every 30 seconds, and glanced through a mirror behind him to keep his vision objective. Squinting down to assess and simplify values, dancing back and forth from the easel, and using a the mirror we're concepts he drilled into us constantly, and by the last day of class, all the students we're much more active in their painting than they had previously been.
  • 4. Daniel mixed and placed his lightest value and his darkest value on the canvas so that he could always use them for comparison. Both the light and the dark we're significantly darker and warmer than I expected. Daniel often used opposing color temperatures to convey form or 3 dimensions, but he asserts that no matter the temperature of the light source, the deepest shadows will always be hot. While I can see colors more than most, temperature is more of a challenge for me, and I had to just go on faith in Dan's ability and knowledge, when I painted my own shadows so much hotter than I saw them. By the end of the workshop, however, I too was able to see the intense heat in the deepest of shadows. What paints make hot shadows? This is where the transparent oxide and crimson came in really handy. Even blue and green are warmer than black, though not as warm as brown, the deepest crimson, and violet. The same applies to the lights. Any color is warmer than pure white. Black and white are the coldest colors on the palette-thinking of snow and space helped solidify that concept in my brain-brrrr
  • 5. While Dan says he was blocking in his lights and darks, what he was really doing was "tiling" them in. Brush stroke by brush stroke, he filled the empty spaces grouping all his values into the light area or the shadow area. He grouped his halftones in the light category. He constantly compared the temperatures and values to his initial lightest light and darkest dark notes. If a mixed color wasn't quite right, he wiped or scraped it off immediately. Continuously dancing back and forth, eyes looking as if they are practically closed from squinting so hard, and often holding his brush like a man wielding the sword, he continued to tile in the painting, a brushstroke at a time. In the first demo, he didn't address edges very much, but by the last demo, it was mostly what he talked about.
  • 6. Dan finished the painting by addressing edge handling, and final correction in values and temperature. He proof-read the painting by reviewing the edges and temperatures, making adjustments accordingly. Sometimes adding a sharp edge, other times softening. He made it look so easy. On one of the following days he also mentioned that the common repeated "rule" regarding edges closest to us on the picture plane needing to be the sharpest; as opposed to edges farthest needing be the softest. He said that he did not agree with this formula, since it was not consistent with his observations. He just painted the edges softness and hardness as he saw them. He would squint down hard, and see which edges remained-those we're his hardest edges. The edges that dissolved the first we're his softest. [* A Tali epiphany! This particular insight was the most powerful for my own progression. I saw what he meant immediately. Early in my painting journey and earlier in my graphic design education, I gobbled up and embraced the "rules" as if they we're living waters. But the longer I progress in painting, the more formulas, rules and methodologies seem to becoming more of a hindrance and in conflict to what I see before me, than a means to progression. "Paint what you see" has now taken on a whole new meaning. Being able to understand what I see, is an added bonus, but really not imperative to representational painting. Being able to see, see correctly, and trust my vision is far more important! BTW, I'm pretty sure that edge variety is the result of both where the edge lies in the picture plane AND value contrast AND intensity of the light source (light when an object "glows" if it is very strongly lit, yet has a dark background). But I may end up being wrong-it is only for my own educational pursuits that I want to know the "why"-brain food and such, it might come in handy some day. ] Back to the demo, Dan's values, drawing, and proportions on the painting we're spot on. He ended up adjusting hardly perceptible temperature differences. In a matter of two to three brush strokes, the model's shirt and the backdrop's floral texture appeared as if by magic!

After a break for lunch we eager students had a chance to try our own hand. It didn't take long to see that it was not easy at all. While this particular group of students seemed more experienced or skilled than a previous workshop I've attended, the task of painting a portrait with a reasonable likeness in 3 hours proved daunting most (there we're a few artists that thought it was too much time-I'm one of the slow ones, sigh). The class had fourteen students total, which we're split seven to each side-each getting their own model. I must admit that my only dissatisfaction was that I felt rather crowded, with little elbow room to mimic Dan's painting dance, let alone be able to see well. But my poor eyesight has always been an obstacle, and my phobia of crowds a personal issue as well, so perhaps I was unreasonable in my disappointment-especially since the ratio would be considered quite favorable in most workshop or classroom scenarios. Both models we're pretty young things, with rather soft proportional facial features-more difficult to paint than people with strong features that make them easily recognizable even if the proportions are not in perfect likeness. Dan went from person to person, giving personal advice and observations, all the while reminding the class to step back, squint, and keep values and shapes simple. He spoke of the common mistake of not making the head large enough in comparison to the placement of the eyes, reminding us of the mass of the skull that often gets overlooked. He also collectively reminded us that it was ok to tell the model if she has moved and to help her get back in her position. Throughout the workshop I found this bit of instruction a little difficult, since every student remembered the model in a slightly different position, and only the most assertive got their way. Still, the changes we're minimal enough that I didn't find that it interfered with my painting, and the students we're amiable enough (what a relief) that there didn't seem to be any hard feelings regarding the matter. It did become a bit of a problem on the very last day when we had a full composition with model and still life props-this is where my camera came in quite handy, so I kept my mouth shut as a few students moved the model to match their paintings rather than move their paintings to match the model. As we progressed, Dan often would show what he meant by painting on the students canvas, but with me, he only mixed a color (adding orange with is a color I rarely use out of the tube for portraits) he thought better representing the area I was working on. He was always good about pointing out what he liked, as well as areas he felt needed work. He was positive, kind and encouraging, treating all the students with equal respect, and answering all questions with the same patience and interest as if it was the first time he's heard them.

For some unknown reason I was a little edgy the first day. Perhaps it was jetlag, nerves, or insecurity (most likely). It could have also been on the account of being late, using a palette of unfamiliar colors, feeling hemmed in, or not having sufficient light for my feeble eyes nor the nerve to ask for more light to compensate (which I worked up the nerve to do on the third day). Whatever the reason, I was rather relieved when it was time to go home. Here's Kate, the first of my painting studies for the workshop. I wasn't too unhappy with the result-though she certainly was nowhere near finished. She looked rather crowded and annoyed, however-which I think is a little funny, since it reflects more my own feelings than the models. Emoting is something that seems to be the natural result of trying to paint. I did not mean to put any feelings in the painting-I saw it strictly as a study, and had no feelings for the model either way, and yet, because my lack of regard or distaste for the model, my own feelings of for the moment took shape in the paint. How does that happen?

I will address the rest of the workshop in less detail, since the following days we're mostly repeats of the first, only each day, a new concept took root. Dan covered all the fundamentals the first day, using the following days to emphasize a particular point or demo a different light source.

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Posted in Cleaning Services Post Date 05/10/2017






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