From a letter to a young artist in 1901 . . .
“You say you are studying to become a portrait painter and I think you’d be making a great mistake if you kept that only in view during the time you intend to work in life class, for the object of the student should be to acquire sufficient command over his materials and do whatever nature presents him. The conventionalities of portrait painting are only tolerable in one who is a good painter.
If he is only a good portrait painter, he is a nobody. Try to become a painter first and then apply your knowledge to a special branch. But do not begin by learning what is required for a special branch or you will become a mannerist.”
John Singer Sargent
These words were shared with me by one of my teachers, Everett Raymond Kinstler, and I have taken them to heart. The idea that a painter should work to become well rounded and be able to paint anything, in any situation, led me to request an oil painting class of any type when I applied for a scholarship from the Scottsdale Artist’s School. I had the privilege of studying at this fabulous school the previous spring, when I took a portrait class from William Whitaker and I hoped to have the opportunity to continue my artistic growth. I wished to branch out and challenge myself with new ideas and practices. I believe it is particularly important to work from life and plein air landscape painting requires all the skills and perseverance a painter possesses. You are dealing with the elements – wind, rain, cold, bugs and sun, for instance. You are lugging heavy equipment into rugged terrain and ignoring your hunger and thirst at times. You need to decide on how to render the huge range of value before you. You need to work very quickly to capture the essence of the scene before the light changes too much. You need to convey depth and enough detail without ruining that effect. However, you are also enjoying the beauty of nature and the zen of flow while becoming absorbed in your work.
The class I was awarded, was with Gabor Svagrik, a young artist who specializes in outdoor scenes. I think representational painters naturally gravitate to what they are good at and landscape is a whole different cup of tea from portraiture. When painting the figure, most decisions are made when you set up the pose. What you paint is right in front of you. You certainly don’t change the position of the person’s features, but in landscape painting that is exactly what you do. You must edit and include only part of the panorama you are confronted with. You must simplify the complexity that nature presents and choose the best, most interesting and commanding features of the grand scene before you.
The week spent painting Tucson vistas was exciting and inspirational. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I will take what I learned and apply it to my outdoor portraits and continue to work outdoors as much as possible.
I want to sincerely thank Scottsdale Artist’s School and the Windgate Charitable Foundation for their generosity, which has enabled me to continue to expand my abilities. Becoming an artist is a lifelong process, which is why the never ending fascination with painting is such an obsession for many students of art and I am very grateful that they have made it possible for me to advance a little further on that path.