Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jennifer McChristian Workshop

Last week I participated in a workshop with the fabulous artist and painter, Jennifer McChristian. It was in Scottsdale, AZ, so my art friend and I, Judy Nocifora, went on an extended road trip and traipsed across 5 states for 3 days to get there! Yes, I know you are thinking we could've flown much quicker, but neither of us had ever been to New Mexico nor Arizona, so it was fun to see more of the country.

The workshop was all that I thought it would be and more. If you are familiar with Jennifer's work, you know that she is a master at capturing values and the light in a painting, and she often paints scenes that the "average" artist wouldn't even look at twice. However, her mastery of choosing the unusual composition and making it read just right and excite the viewer is uncanny in person. She definitely has a gift for seeing those little things that I just walk right past on a day to day basis and making them into a beautiful and inspiring painting!

On the first day of the workshop, Scottsdale had a little rain and cold temps, so we stayed inside the beautiful Scottsdale Artists School in the classroom and Jennifer talked about her preferred supplies and other interesting things that she does with her paintings and her painting experiences. She also demonstrated to us (from a photo) of how to do a value study in three values of gray paint plus white, which we would mix ourselves and do during the week for our own plein air paintings. Although the photo above is at an angle, you can see the photo on the left that she worked from, the gray painted value study, and the demo painting. I have done value studies before in neutral tones of brown or in pencil or marker, but this was a very cool learning experience for me. Not only with the mixing of the three grays and trying to get them at just the right value according to the value scales she gave us, but just simplifying the shapes enough and squinting to make sure to decide what value each shape would be on the resulting study.

Below is a photo of my first practice value study on the second day of the workshop and the resulting color study. I superimposed the reference photo over the top of the canvas so you can see what I was looking at. These studies are done on a 9"x12" canvas which has been taped off with 1/2" tape into 4 equal quadrants, resulting in a very small place to paint. The good thing about working on this almost postcard sized area is that you can't get too involved in details and it makes it easier to concentrate on the big shapes and simplifying your values into just three or four values. Which, of course, was our mission for this week!

Now, I must say here, I approach all of my workshop pieces as the LEARNING experience that they are and do not try to come home with finished paintings that I would sell in a gallery or even hang in my own home. I see so many workshop participants, especially beginners, that stress themselves out trying to get a perfect painting and I prefer not to do that to myself. It is a such a freeing feeling knowing that you can learn and experiment with the things you are learning from the instructor "in the moment" and not pressure yourself to create a 'masterpiece'. My advice for workshop goers, for whatever it is worth, is to do the same thing, especially if you are trying to learn something new that you will carry over into your own future painting experiences! More to come tomorrow!


  1. Denise, it sounds like you had a fabulous time at the Jennifer McChristian workshop in Scottsdale . . . and what an excellent review! Too bad the weather wasn't better. Thanks for showing photos of the value studies; its so helpful to see the work "in progress".

  2. Excellent review, Denise! Reading through your description made me feel like I was back there again enjoying the workshop! What a fabulous learning experience with Jennifer and awesome places to see and paint!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience Denise. Sounds like it was a wonderful one. So nice to hear about other teachers and what they stress. Look forward to seeing more.

  4. Denise,
    What a wonderful thorough review and enjoyed reading your approach to workshops. I really enjoyed seeing what Jennifer teaches and how she goes about it. It sounds like it was wonderful!

  5. Denise, how kind you are to share all this wonderful information with us. Glad you had such a good experience.

  6. Such good, good, good advice about workshop experiences. Yes - we beginners (speaking for myself at least) often think we should come home with a masterpiece! After all - if you go to necklace making class - voila! - you come home with a pretty necklace. Sometimes it is easy to forget that painting is, and always will be, continued learning. Thank you for reminding me!

  7. tell me she's even more fantastic than you thought she's be :D
    Wonderful work and such a great comment about the learning curve. I RARELY, if ever do anything memorable in any workshop. I'm too keyed up and find it hard to settle down. It comes to me afterward.