William Jameson: The Elements of a Great Workshop

15 May 2009

During a recent workshop in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, William Jameson provided instruction in plein air oil painting, but he knew it was just as important to offer encouragement and direction to students while they enjoyed the experience.

by M. Stephen Doherty

William Jameson beginning a demonstration
during his recent workshop on Seabrook Island,
South Carolina.

The format and style of workshops can vary greatly depending on the location, weather, amount of time, size of the group, and personalities of the participants and instructor. Some classes are long, intense sessions during which nothing can be heard but the instructor issuing stern criticism of student work; others are social gatherings during which there is lots of laughter, conversation, eating, and very little painting. A few bring together old friends who just want to share a painting experience without instruction, and some are courses that offer a good balance between friendly interchange and solid education. North Carolina artist William Jameson finds that sensitive balance between education and encouragement and strives to make his workshops fun learning experiences for all participants.

“I’ve heard a lot of comments from students about the good and bad things that have happened to them in other workshops, and I try to use that information to improve my classes,” said Jameson after a recent workshop. “After all, my goal is to help the students, not to discourage them. It’s their experience that matters most, not mine.”

Jameson provided that kind of well-balanced program during a recent three-day workshop he conducted in the Lowcountry of South Carolina on Seabrook Island and Wadmalaw Island—two of the most beautiful, charming, and historic spots where artists are inspired to paint. After a get-acquainted party and general discussion during the first evening the group was together, Jameson devoted the next three days to demonstrating techniques for making quick ink and watercolor sketches, as well as small oil studies, and providing individual instruction to students no matter what medium they chose. He also made an effort to bring together students who had little previous experience so that he could offer them instruction in fundamentals. Each day of Jameson’s workshop included six hours of instruction, an opportunity for students to paint and receive individual guidance, and a group critique in the evening.

“On the first full day of the class I discussed the objectives of the workshop, indicated where we would be painting, identified alternative locations if we weren’t able to be outdoors, and asked people to let me know if they had any particular interests or concerns,” Jameson recalled. “When we arrived at the first painting location and set up our easels, I selected the view we would paint. A complete demonstration preceded each painting session, with plenty of time allocated for questions from the participants. The class size varied from eight to 15 because some people were only able to join us for one day, but it was still small enough that we could carpool to the painting locations and gather together for the demonstrations and critiques.

12 Things to Remember About Outdoor
Landscape Painting
  1. The key word in plein air painting is simplify.
    That applies to materials, techniques, and
    procedures.
  2. Choose your subject, and verbalize why you
    want to paint it.
  3. Position yourself with the sun on the left or
    right of the subject. Avoid the sun at your
    back. Early mornings and late afternoons
    provide dramatic lighting.
  4. Establish the horizon line.
  5. Observe atmospheric perspective. Cools
    recede, warms come forward.
  6. Identify the center of interest.
  7. Identify the lightest lights and darkest darks to
    begin establishing the values involved.
  8. Look at shadows. Identify cast and form
    shadows. Look for reflected light.
  9. Make a quick thumbnail sketch of your subject.
  10. Use a limited palette, and put out a lot of paint.
  11. When you begin painting, sketch with a round
    brush, and keep painting with the biggest
    brush you can.
  12. Work from big shapes to little shapes, dark
    values to light values, cool colors to warm
    colors.

“I am a big advocate of making sketches, either to plan paintings or to document fleeting subjects, so during the first morning of the class I showed the students how I use a rollerball pen (with either permanent or water-soluble ink) and watercolor to quickly record observations,” Jameson said. “I have about 40 sketchbooks in my studio that document my travels and nearby locations, and sometimes I use that material to develop large studio paintings.”

When he offered painting demonstrations, Jameson worked quickly on 9"-x-12" panels to capture an impression of what he saw. “I keep things simple, use a limited palette, work with big brushes, and never spend more than 45 minutes on any one painting,” he explained. “The point is to be spontaneous and fresh, and it can be successful in the first 10 minutes. I then put that canvas aside and start on another one. I encourage students to do the same thing.”

Jameson also suggests that students limit the number of supplies they work with on location or in the studio. “In most situations, students load themselves down with a lot of paints and supplies for fear of not having something they might need,” the instructor commented. “It’s really a matter of confidence, preparation, and simplicity. Artists can’t concentrate on the most important aspects of painting if they are busy sorting through piles of brushes, paints, canvases, and supplies. The better organized painters are, the more effective they will be as plein air painters.”

Jameson provided students with a list of 12 things they could do to improve their plein air landscape painting (see sidebar), which he reviewed during the course of the workshop. His list was developed to help people focus their attention on what is important, eliminate distractions, use the painting materials to their best advantage, and enjoy the creative process. For example, the instructor recommended starting the painting process by blocking in the big shapes and then moving to the smaller ones; establishing the dark values with thin mixtures of oil color and then adding lighter, thicker strokes of paint; and developing the shapes that are best described with cool colors before painting those that should be indicated with warm colors. “These are not hard-and-fast rules,” Jameson said. “They are suggestions of what is most likely to work for plein air painters. In my experience, it’s always better for students to start with a clear idea of what works well for other artists before they consider other approaches.”


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on 20 May 2009 12:36 PM

The Table of Contents for the Summer 2009 issue of Workshop magazine.

on 12 Jun 2012 11:03 PM

The Table of Contents for the Summer 2009 issue of Workshop magazine.