Where to Find Down-to-Earth Mentors

25 Aug 2013

Robert Johnson strikes the perfect balance between master artist and down-to-earth mentor, supporting his students while pushing them to create the best works that they can. At a recent three-day workshop sponsored by The Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia, Johnson led students through the stages of creating a still life flower painting with oils. He was engaging from the very beginning, starting with a three-hour demonstration, during which he fielded questions about brushstroke technique, supplies, color-palette choices, and the attributes of his favored medium, which happens to be Gamsol.

Robert Johnson's floral still life demonstration began with a studied, thoughtfully arranged composition (left) that culminated in the oil painting on the right. Robert Johnson's floral still life demonstration began with a studied, thoughtfully arranged composition (left) that culminated in the oil painting on the right.

Robert Johnson's floral still life demonstration began with a studied, thoughtfully
arranged composition (left) that culminated in the oil painting on the right.

From the start, Johnson emphasized the importance of spending quality time thinking through and arranging the elements of a still life composition. I arrived at the workshop 45 minutes before it began and Johnson was just starting to organize his setup and he finished only as students started to file in. “Give sufficient time to design,” he told them. “The first stage of painting is the design stage—and it is not all about working in ‘odds, not evens’ or adhering to other rules, but more about creating variety and a sense of movement. You’re striving for shapes arranged in an artistically compelling way. The result should look natural, effortless.”

When the demonstration was over and the students began arranging their own still lifes, Johnson cautioned them to steer away from cluttered compositions, suggesting that they instead let highlights define forms. A pair of students was stumped about what to add to their composition, which consisted of a small copper pot, a single rose, and a few tangerines. The instructor suggested situating the items closer together so each appeared less isolated. He also proposed peeling one tangerine and having segments of it, along with the unpeeled fruit, in the composition so that there was more visual variety. But Johnson warned that too much variety can backfire if objects have no artistic relationship to one another. “A large lily in a delicate teacup and a tiny bud in a large vase are disjointed pairings, and they distract the viewer rather than draw them in,” he explained.

Johnson began by loosely painting forms, focusing on light and dark values, and only adding color once he was satisfied with the composition. His depictions of flowers started with the body of the flower as a lit mass, not individual petals. Johnson began by loosely painting forms, focusing on light and dark values, and only adding color once he was satisfied with the composition. His depictions of flowers started with the body of the flower as a lit mass, not individual petals. Johnson began by loosely painting forms, focusing on light and dark values, and only adding color once he was satisfied with the composition. His depictions of flowers started with the body of the flower as a lit mass, not individual petals.

Johnson began by loosely painting forms, focusing on light and dark values, and only adding
color once he was satisfied with the composition. His depictions of flowers
started with the body of the flower as a lit mass, not individual petals.

When it came to depicting flowers, Johnson quipped that students have to “earn the petals.” He warned students that the problem in all floral painting is the temptation to get bogged down in petals. Instead of working from the petals backwards or inwards, Johnson paints the big, lit mass or body of the flower first, and then adds coloration to the form to give a sense of the petals.

Another aspect of floral still lifes that is often overlooked is the importance of greenery, but Johnson stressed that these verdant tendrils are a floral painting’s “supporting cast.” Giving stems, leaves, and the shadows they cast the same attention as flowers is an important part of a successful floral painting.

Spending time in a workshop with an artist-instructor such as Robert Johnson is a sure-fire way to accelerate one’s learning and improve skills. How has the workshop environment shaped your artistic growth? Whether it was a great experience that left you wanting more or one that wasn't quite what you expected, leave a comment and let us know. And if you want all the workshop benefits while working independently in your studio, our Top 10 Acrylic Painting Techniques, Get Started in Pastels, and Draw Faces in Colored Pencil video bundles are the perfect solution--informative and convenient all in one, plus you get an eMag on your chosen topic absolutely free! Enjoy!


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Comments

on 23 Apr 2010 4:52 AM

Hello Courtney,

I have been a painter for 30 years and conduct workshops of my own.  Can you tell me how to get a feature in your newsletter and also workshop magazine.

i have 3 upcoming plein air workshops May - France,  July - Westminster, Md

September - Ghost Ranch, Taos, NM

I have many landscape paintings that show 'steps" in painting process that might be of interest.

Thank you and I enjoy your  "Artist Daily" very much,

sincerely,  Jeanean   website:  www.jeaneansongcomartin.com

JMarzetti wrote
on 23 Apr 2010 7:09 AM

Hi Courtney,

    I have been painting off and on in my own personal style for about 20 years, not having taken any type of class since college. I had thought about taking some type of class or workshop for years just for fun and to motivate me into being a more consistent artist. Well, I finally signed up for two classes at a local art center. It has been amazing how much I've gotten out of these two classes in just three weeks. I now wish I hadn't waited so long to do it. I recommend everyone should look into what is locally offered, investigate it a bit, and then sign up and try it for themselves. I doubt you'll regret it!

Jeff  Marzetti,

Cherry Hill, NJ

on 23 Apr 2010 7:47 AM

I have taken a workshop from Robert Johnson.  He is one of the nicest people I have ever met.  He is a master artist and not only that, but a gifted teacher as well.  I highly recommend his workshops.

Carol Griffin

www.carolgriffinfinearts.com

Margo5 wrote
on 23 Apr 2010 9:44 AM

Courtney, thank you for writing this article. All of the workshops I have gone to have been great and I have learned so much from each one. I don't think you have to paint 15 paintings in a workshop in order to learn something. You are there to soak up as much information as possible,that is, absorb as much as you can possibly digest while at the workshop, and then assimilate the rest of it later as you continue to work on your own.

You learn so much from each individual instructor. Each has their own personality and style, and each their own story. The workshops are fun and motivating. Interestingly, although each workshop has touched on just about every aspect of art that you need to know in order to paint, each workshop has focused on different aspects -- eg. design principles, painting techniques, capturing values.

The best part is: you can ask questions. The teachers don't seem to mind.

Abel visbal wrote
on 27 Aug 2013 5:45 PM

Hello

I write from Venezuela'm attached on your page always see your messages but not English, I would like if these courses, pdf, etc could come in Spanish was wonderful Here in Venezuela there is a large market of people who like art, waiting response