Model Study, 8x6" oil, (my first painting after workshop)©DianeMannion
Learning from a Master
Dan Thompson Workshop
Southern Atelier, Sarasota, Florida
I try to take one or two workshops a year from artists I admire, not that I want to emulate their style, but to discover bits of knowledge that could enhance my work. I believe artists must keep growing and learning, without this continuing education work can become static and uninspired.
It was an honor and privilege to spend last weekend learning from Dan Thompson! He’s a direct link of artistic knowledge from the late Nelson Shanks who started the Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia. Dan entertained us with stories of Nelson Shanks while he demonstrated drawing techniques.
Soft spoken and knowledgeable, Dan’s an excellent teacher! He has the rare capacity to draw and speak at the same time, vividly illustrating with words what he was accomplishing with pencil. Graceful and elegant, watching him standing at the easel drawing from a live model was like watching a dance. One hand held several pencils, kneaded eraser, and paper stump, while the other deftly drew delicate straight lines that magically gathered together into a poetic image in no time at all.
He has an adaptable system that keeps everything loose with lots of space to move around in. For example, instead of drawing one line to define an edge, he draws several. Searching out shapes, he explores movements and rhythm, waves of connections with simple straight lines. He quoted Nelson Shanks, “Curves are death,” at least at the start of a drawing.
Dan’s first stage in approaching a drawing is to react, feel the situation with a rapid response… “Let the pencil flow.” The beginning has to be visually compelling. It also had to be fun and filled with joy.
He said there’s an energy exchange between the sitter that doesn’t happen when working from photos. While continuing to draw with long straight lines, a tonality builds up that connects the head with the background. These long lines also help him look for opportunities for abstraction, patterns and design.
He keeps forms open as long as possible, rather than setting outlines this keeps the masses fluid. He scans and plants placemarks, setting in perspective and point of view. With his well-trained eye, he triangulates visually for measurements, comparing placemarks with background relationships. Marking the top and bottom of the head, he keeps side measurements flexible. He triangulated top, bottom and degree of push to sides.
He lectured on anatomical landmarks, cross-hatching for drawing techniques, structures and planes of the head. He demonstrated the academic stance of holding a pencil at the end, rather than the way we would write, and mentioned paintbrushes should also be held the same way.
I have pages of notes and miles of inspiration, so glad I took this workshop! Most everything I learned can be translated into brushes. I believe drawing is painting and painting is drawing.
Dan stressed the importance of starts! Quoted William Merrit Chase…
“A thing not started is a start not finished.”
(My favorite quote of the weekend! May have to engrave this in my paintbox next to “Paint faster, Stupid.”)
Dan with model, Lee who served tea to all of us.
Dan Thompson's unfinished but brilliant demo.
Snapshot of Dan Thompson pencil taken in gallery. Under glass, pardon glare.
My pen sketch of Dan while he was drawing.
Another pen sketch in my Moleskine notebook.
My drawing the first day of workshop.
Second day I drew both models at once.
Kerry Vosler's wonderful drawing. Many talented artists took this workshop!
Many of us wanted a chance to paint Lee and the Southern Atelier made a date for the following week which will be the subject of my next blog post. We are indeed fortunate to have such an amazing and friendly place to study and learn in the company of artists and masters!
***Forgot to mention that my first painting after the workshop was also an experiment using a limited palette of Naples yellow light, ultramarine blue, and red iron oxide. How's that for red, yellow, and blue! The only touch of titanium white was in the earring.