Sunday, November 23, 2014

Workshop Schedule

2017 Upcoming workshops for Martinho:

November 6 - 17, Richmond B.C -  Methods of the Masters: Caravaggio
In this 60-hour workshop, students will gain hands-on familiarity with the techniques of one of the great masters of sacred art, Michelangelo Merisi, also called Caravaggio. Known for dramatic compositions using light and dark, called chiaroscuro, Caravaggio developed a very specific and efficient way of working. Using a high-quality reproduction, students will have the opportunity to thoroughly study how Caravaggio created his masterpieces. Beginning with the drawing stage through to the final glazes, all stages of Caravaggio’s painting process will be discussed and practiced.

The workshop will begin with a slide presentation introducing Caravaggio and his work, along with a step-by-step overview of the painting process. The instructor will demonstrate each of the key steps in the painting process and will individually assist each student as they progress on their copy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Artistic Anatomy - Odd Nerdrum

Odd Nerdrum is  one of the most interesting and important artists alive today. Nerdrum's pictures reflect the spiritual malaise which overwhelms post-modern man. His paintings are timeless, yet radically traditional.
The figures of Nerdrum's (seemingly) post-apocolyptic landscapes reflect a clear belief in the manipulation of anatomy to express a mood or an idea. The master himself talks about this:
"The highest level you could think about is when you make a picture where you can't say when it was made. You have to make small heads, big hands, long stomachs, so the whole figure is moving upwards". (

"Two Green Feathers" 

"The Singers"

In other of Nerdrum's paintings he distorts the figures in a less graceful way.

"Woman Kills Injured Man"

Man Bitten by a Snake 

Nerdrum works exclusively from life, with multiple sittings from multiple models. He selects those features he needs, distorting and interpreting to create the characters that populate his landscapes.
As an example of this, in my time studying with Nerdrum, I was asked to pose for one of the figures in a painting, that of an old wizard. The model for the wizard was a well-built older gentleman with a healthy head of hair while the figure in the painting was bald. My head came in handy as I was the only bald student around.

This quote from the website sine qua non sums up Nerdrum's work beautifully:

"In Nerdrum's work the body and its natural functions - erections, defecation, even aging- are used to jolt us out of our tidy complacency. His blighted landscapes also do much to increase the overall disquiet. 
But at the core, the essence, Nerdrum's paintings violate with one final traumatic twinge: that of almost unbearable beauty"

For more pictures of unbearable beauty:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dimension Bomb

Koji Morimoto is one of Japan's premiere anime artist/directors but his work is not well known outside of his homeland. I was never a huge manga or anime fan but I happened to see a show of drawings and paintings from various anime projects while I was in Madrid a couple of years ago. It lead me to look into Morimoto's work. 

If you have 20 minutes you will be transported to another world. Morimoto's film is wonderful.

Artistic Anatomy - Kirby, Steranko and the Laws of Action

What is "artistic anatomy"? It is the deliberate distortion of anatomy in order to make an artistic statement which may (or may not) support a philosophical idea. Artistic anatomy is the "...practical application of learned anatomy for heightened dramatic effect and maximum visual impact. Just as the most elegant words have no effectiveness unless they are used properly in a sentence, anatomical expertise without intelligent and judicious application will fail to communicate even the finest draughtsman's attention."* In today's academies, students are taught fidelity to nature and accuracy of seeing which makes for excellent work which however can sometimes be a little sterile. Interpretation and distortion for the sake of expression is often overlooked when drawing and painting figures.

For much of the 20th century, particularly in the dark days of the 60's and 70's, comic books were where much of the figurative tradition lived. Comic books are a great way to start of a series of posts on artistic anatomy considering that the simplification and distortion of anatomy is key to the art form.

The greatest comic artist of all time,  Jack Kirby, is a example of an artist using artistic anatomy,

Kirby's early work showed a mastery of anatomy but by the end of his career he had developed a short hand for anatomy that was distinctly his. Squiggly lines and sharp, straight lines interplay across the surface of his figures lending a sense of action and urgency to them.  This is the essence of artistic anatomy in the comic medium - "the amplification of anatomy to the point of impossibility and beyond."*

Also typical of  Kirby are the oversized hands, bodies at 8 heads or more tall and exaggerated musculature.  A hallmark of figures in heroic art:



El Greco

Jim Steranko was a young graphic designer who had a short but fantastic run on a series of Marvel Comics in the 1960's. He took Kirby's language and made it his own:

Later, in his self published magazine Media Scene, he wrote an article titled: The Laws of Action" in which he describes how an artist can bring energy, expression and grace to a figure. It is a manifesto that is useful for all figurative artists. Let me know what you think.

* All quotes above taken from "The Laws of Action " by Jim Steranko.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Glimpse of Divine Perfection

"The love of human beauty was the first step towards the love of God's own splendour" - St. Augustine
"A beautiful human body is thus a glimpse of divine perfection" - Dr. John Spike

In my on-going attempt to improve my artistic anatomy I thought I would share some of the recent sketches in my sketchbook. The sources come form a variety of places - wherever I see a beautifully designed body. Fine art, comics and illustration, drawing manuals as well as photographs. I am trying to absorb the mechanics of the body, to memorize the forms and understand how various artists distort the figure for a particular effect.

In an upcoming post I will discuss artistic anatomy and show examples from the range of art history.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dublin with David

I just finished up a 5-day workshop with noted American figure painter David Jon Kassan at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.

The workshop focused on the students learning Kassan's method of approaching a portrait painting. The class was split between David's demo and the students working.

From the first morn David set the tone, wanting the workshop to be a positive group experience. He would move through the classroom, attending to each student individually and guiding them in whatever way he saw necessary for success. David himself was very personable, alternating between cracking bad jokes and espousing his philosophy on painting.

David begins with a drawing on gunmetal gray Daler-Rowney Canford card paper, using Pan Pastel black blocked in with a number 4 trowel shaped drawing tool. From the block-in he refines the drawing with General's Charcoal pencils and white chalk pencils.
(check out this video)

Once completed, the drawing is photocopied and Pan Pastel red iron oxide is rubbed on the back of the copy.  This is placed upon die-bond plastic board that has been prepared with Golden N6 acrylic grey and traced out. Below you can see the beginning stages of the painting along with the drawing on the board.

David uses Vasari colours which he believes are the best.

He paints with small brushes specifically size 2 Isabey Kolinsky Sable round series 6227Z. He builds up texture with a series of lines, focusing on details and small variations. I compared it to a 
Van Gogh, but I do not think David appreciated it!

In order to get the desired texture, David uses Liquin oleopasto medium. Other mediums include stand-oil and M. Graham's walnut alkyd oil. Binoculars are used at all stages of the drawing and painting in order to refine shapes and details.

The final painting was auctioned of with proceeds going to the David Kassan Foundation

Below is my work (no time for the poor ear). David kept telling me to add more texture. The method is a lot different than the way I work which is from large general block-ins down to the specific. Here I had to jump into the detail right away and work from the center out.


David has videos on his drawing and painting methods that are available for purchase through his website:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Art and LIfe in China

My friend Karen Patterson gave an excellent talk at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary entitled: "Surveillance as an Art Form: Art, Life and Ai Wei Wei Under Scrutiny in the Peoples Republic of China". Karen spent 15 years, living and working in the artist community in Beijing. She was was married to the artist Wu Yuren and was a friend of Ai Weiwei. While we may know something in passing of the work of these artists, her talk gives us  close up view of the day-to-day struggles they face. The recording picks up just after the intro:

Ai Weiwei's website:
Karen's website:,
Wu Yuren's website:

Karen and Ai Weiwei

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sorolla Murals- The Painter of Light Goes Uptown

The Hispanic Society of America was founded in 1904 to promote the study of the rich artistic heritage of Spain and Portugal and their areas of influence throughout the world. The Society is located in New York City, way uptown at 155th Street and although it is free, does not receive the numbers of visitors it might if it was downtown. The Society is housed in a beautiful beaux-arts building and contains work by Velasquez, Goya and El Greco.

The high point however are the murals by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 - 1923). The Sorolla Room's panoramic series of 14 canvases present a celebration of regional costumes and cultures entitled, "The Provinces of Spain". This video I took gives you and idea of the scale:

For some wonderful close-ups visit: Sorolla Murals

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Two Michelangelos: Postscript - Another Contarelli Chapel Commission

Caravaggio was contracted for two side paintings in the Contarelli chapel, those we have looked at in the last three posts. The project was finished and installed in 8 months. For the front wall of the chapel, the Flemish sculptor Jacob Cobaert was commissioned to complete a "St. Matthew and the Angel" which was rejected for unknown reasons a short while after being installed. The sculpture ended up in Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini in Rome.

The church turned once again to Caravaggio, asking him to complete a painting for the space. Caravaggio produced this work:

The church rejected this painting as well and if we take a closer look it is easy to understand why. The angel is guiding St. Matthew's hand which, combined with the look on his face, makes him look rather like a simpleton. In addition, the position of the Saint's dirty left foot puts it precariously close to the  eucharist when it is raised during the liturgy. The painting eventually ended up in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum  in Berlin and was destroyed by American bombing in World War II. 

Caravaggio, being the consummate professional that he was, painted a second version that remains in the chapel to this day:

For amazing hi-res images of the paintings in the Chapel visit: Contarelli Chapel hi-res pics.
And an interesting documentary on how they produced the above images: Caravaggio, creating three facsimiles.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Two Michelangelos Part 2

This is the "Martyrdom of St. Matthew" from the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi Francesi in Rome.

Caravaggio's version of the martyrdom was inspired by the Golden Legend .  Matthew was murdered while celebrating mass in the Ethiopian city of Nadaber. He had refused to marry the King Hirtacua to Ephigenia, a consecrated virgin. Upset at this, the King sent an assassin to kill the saint.

The white vestments of Matthew set against the dark background bring our attention to the center of the painting, as the assassin stands over the saint, about to kill him. At left we see a group of young men (including Carvaggio's self portrait at the back)  dressed in contemporary 17th C clothing (as in the "Calling"). This group could be the faithful who, upon witnessing the murder, ran to light fire to the kings palace. On the right is the altar boy running away from the scene while just behind him is the altar. The bottom group is somewhat confusing as it seems the figures are distorted and/or limbless. Could this refer to the cripples that St. Matthew was known for healing? The strange space they are in may be a reference to the Pool of Bethedusa – a healing pool in Jerusalem mentioned in St. John’s Gospel. 

It is the grouping of St Matthew and the assassin that is most interesting. Once again Caravaggio references Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, using the body of Adam in the place of the assassin. Below I have photoshopped Adam next to the assassin to demonstrate the similarity:

This assassin is Adam up right, on his feet. Adam who has become sinner and been exiled from Paradise. The assassin/Adam grabs the hand of Matthew, trying to block contact with the palm of martyrdom being offered to him by the angel above. Adam here is an image of arrogance in contrast to the redemptive power offered to Matthew. It is sin that prevents us from receiving the grace of God. In this grouping Caravaggio represents the complex rapport between human and divine.

With  "The Calling of St. Matthew", the hand of Adam became the hand of Christ that calls Matthew. In "The Martyrdom", the body of Adam just created becomes the arrogant body of the assassin of St. Matthew. The angel above Matthew is one of the angles from the flight of the angels within God the Divine Creator.

In the next post we will see how Caravaggio continues to reference the Sistine Chapel in his painting of  "Supper at Emmaus"