Casey Baugh's Workshop: Seeing Accurately and Solving Problems

11 Sep 2008

This dynamic young artist believes anyone can learn the language of painting and use it to express themselves, which he proves in both short-term and extended workshops.

by M. Stephen Doherty

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Baugh working directly on
a student's canvas

“There is a new generation of young, determined, talented artists who have had access to solid instruction and professional opportunities that were not widely available to previous generations.

Whereas once there were only a few art schools and ateliers where one could receive a disciplined education in representational drawing and painting as well as introductions to dealers and collectors, there are now dozens of such schools, as well as informative websites, accessible filmed programs, workshops, and annual conferences. Casey Baugh is one outstanding member of this emerging group, and in just a short period of time he has utilized the tools available to him to establish a following among students, dealers, and collectors.

Baugh knows how fortunate he is, and he feels an obligation to share the knowledge he was given through workshops and by opening his studio one Saturday a month to eight to 10 eager students. He has also used his education in graphic design and computer technology to record his thoughts and procedures for others. Workshop magazine recently assigned Steven Smith, an artist and photographer, to report on both Baugh’s studio and outdoor classes in Framingham, Massachusetts. The results of Smith’s reportage can offer many valuable lessons to artists of all levels.

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Nonchalant
2008, oil, 20 x 16.
Private collection.

“The aim of my demonstrations, critiques, and personal discussions is to show people how to paint what they see, not what they have memorized,” Baugh explains. “Furthermore, I want them to use the language of painting to push the envelope of expression so they convey an attitude or tell a story. My goal is to give people specific information and get them excited enough to stay motivated as they learn.”

During the Saturday classes Baugh offers once a month in his studio, he starts with a three-hour demonstration of painting from a model. “The human figure is the most challenging subject because there is no allowance for inaccurate drawing or painting,” he commented during a recent session. “Each week I test myself and offer students a different problem-solving demonstration by changing the lighting, the costuming, the background, or the orientation of the pose. I want them to see that the solution to each new problem comes from what I see, not from a formula. The composition, colors, values, edges, and procedures are determined by an assessment of what I observe when I look carefully at the model. All that we are capable of seeing is light. Therefore, if we can learn to paint the effect of light we can have the freedom to paint anything.”

After the lunch break, Baugh gives the students a chance to paint the model in the same position as when he did his demonstration, and he walks around the studio offering comments on the accuracy of the drawing, the color mixtures, the balance of values and edges, or whatever he thinks will be helpful to the person at that stage of their painting. “I really try to test each artist by setting up a new set of problems each week and pushing them to get better at handling the fundamental skills of seeing and painting,” he says. “By the end of the long day, we are all fairly exhausted from both the physical and mental aspects of the process—but we all really enjoy it.” Although he is frequently asked to teach in other locations, the demand for new paintings from collectors and the time involved in producing filmed instructional programs has made it hard for Baugh to accept more than a couple of invitations to teach.

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Shades of Yellow
2008, oil, 30 x 20.

Baugh distinguishes his approach from other instructors by saying it is based on a “peripheral” vision rather than a focused or a generalized perception. That is, he opens his eyes and forms an impression of the entire figure, including the peripheral areas around the model, because he believes that when one looks at a subject, one first sees it in the context of a complete environment, not as an isolated part of that total space. Furthermore, when one focuses on a person, building, tree, or vase, his or her perception is clearest in the area around that center of interest. One’s method of painting should reflect the way he or she sees objects in a context that is both focused and blurred. Baugh’s peripheral vision contrasts with other methods of seeing a subject that is to be painted. For example, some artists squint so all the shapes blur and they can more easily gauge the big masses of colors and values without seeing details; other artists focus on connected areas of the subject and carefully measuring the outlines and relationships between each of the shapes.

Much of Baugh’s approach to painting is based on his close
association with Richard Schmid, an artist who is a strong influence on such young artists as Jeremy Lipking, Ryan Wurmser, Daniel Gerhartz, and Aaron Westerberg. As a teenager growing up in Georgia, Baugh read books, magazine articles, and exhibition catalogues to learn about contemporary representational painting, and he gravitated to Schmid’s style of drawing and painting. He did nothing but charcoal drawing for 10 years, and when he branched into oil painting he contacted Schmid about the possibility of studying with him. Baugh eventually moved with his wife and daughter to Massachusetts where he would be close enough to Schmid’s Vermont studio to work with him. “I loved the freedom and accuracy evidenced in the way Richard handles his subjects,” Baugh says. “After having the privilege of studying with him for several years, I now visit him to paint, talk about art theory, and review my current work. He always knows when to give me praise and when to challenge me. He has a keen eye and a brilliant mind, and his advice is always helpful.”

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Baugh showed a student
how she could use her
paint brush as a plumb
line to more accurately
judge the alignment of
shapes within the figure.

Baugh was just 21 years old when he won our 2005 Drawing Cover Competition. In describing his winning piece, Study of a Girl, the artist mentioned that most of his work occurs before he makes his first stroke with charcoal or oil paint. “I think the visualization process is the most important and fragile stage of a drawing,” he said. “If the initial image in my head is weak, no amount of fancy strokes or unique tricks will save me.”

Once the model is ready, the artist focuses on the second most important task: the first few strokes of the drawing, which will serve as the foundation for everything that will follow. “I begin by determining what part of my subject most compels me,” Baugh said. “I visualize that portion into a number of strokes, and then I carefully render those strokes in the simplest way I know how.”

As demonstrated by Baugh’s award-winning drawing, his method for indicating the peripheral areas around a model’s face is to mark them as chiseled fragments of charcoal where the face is defined with blended tones and soft edges. The dynamic movement of those outer lines and shapes brings the viewer’s attention to the facial expression while suggesting hair, clothing, and background structures. The early applications of charcoal are secured with a light spray of acetone, making it possible to rub more charcoal with a bristle brush or paper towel or remove some with a kneaded eraser.

Baugh’s oil-painting technique is quite similar, with the first applications of thin color being applied with bold movements of a bristle brush and refinements being gradually added with softer and smaller brushes. The idea is to approach the figure as one would at first sight, with general forms becoming clearer and more specific as the person comes into focus.

The thrust of Baugh’s workshop and filmed programs is to convince others that drawing and painting are based on skills that can be learned through study and repetition. “Painting is a skill and a trade that can be learned. Anyone can do it,” he says. “My job as a teacher is to bring the process down to earth so people recognize that through study and hard work, they can make a living as an artist or just participate in an entertaining, satisfying experience. I can’t teach people to think or feel, but I can show them how to express their ideas and emotions. It helps if they draw and paint a figure because it is easier to express those concepts with the gestures, pose, and facial expressions of a posed model. Great paintings often tell stories about a time, place, event, person, or experience, so I encourage students to make that an objective in their work.” 

About the Artist
Casey Baugh studied web design in Georgia before moving to Massachusetts to study with artist Richard Schmid. He won the 2005 Drawing Cover Competition and was a finalist in the 2008 American Artist Cover Competition. He was most recently a finalist in the 2008 Portrait Society of America’s National Portrait Competition. Baugh has taught workshops in various venues—including the Scottsdale Artists’ School, in Scottsdale, Arizona—he has produced two filmed programs on drawing, and he will be issuing instructional DVDs on painting in the near future. He is represented by Wendt Gallery, in Laguna Beach, California. For more information, visit his website at www.caseybaugh.com.

M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Workshop.


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