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Days Two and Three of Ryan Wurmser's Workshop

Last weekend at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Arts was relatively quiet. It was evidently between sessions, so on Saturday only Ryan Wurmser's class and a few staff members were on site. LAAFA is a wonderful art academy. Compact but roomy, artistic but neat and clean. I was very favorably impressed. Before I move on to tell about Ryan's workshop, I'll say one more thing about our hosts. Sunday was really interesting. It seems that four times a year, the academy hosts a "Themed Model Uninstructed Workshop". We were painting away in a large studio way in the back of the academy when in wafted delicious smells and intriguing music. The themed workshop had begun. Two studios were filled with artists who wanted to sketch or paint one of two different models posed with an elaborate Egyptian costume and backdrop! It looked like fun. I'll have to try it when they do the next one!


Ryan tried to demonstrate and help us practice a variety of techniques. Friday we did a grisaille in preparation for a glazed painting. On Saturday he demonstrated a line and mass block in using a limited palette of titanium white, yellow ochre, cad red and ivory black.... (the Zorn palette). He had reminded me the previous day about careful measuring and carefully drawing in the subject and we watched while he carefully measured and sketched in the model, Forrest's face and upper body. Then before blocking in the masses, he began mixing his skin tones using the Zorn palette. Once again the focus was on trying to get the accurate values. Among the many things Ryan talked about was the need to compare values with those values near them. All values are relative and understanding how the eye responds to increasing contrasts and gradual changes in value. He also discussed color temperature as it relates to values. My day was made when Ryan gave me an "atta girl" on my drawing. Silly how a nice word can encourage you no matter how long you've been a learner.

On Sunday Ryan demonstrated the principle of a select start. In this process a detailed drawing isn't used. There is a general outline of the envelope and indications of the main gestures and face measurements, but the detail isn't necessary. Instead of trying to block in the large value masses all over the canvas, this method calls for completing one section before moving on. Usually the artist will select the center of interest to complete before moving on to the rest of the painting.  He also showed us how to paint using only earth toned colors such as raw and burnt umber, raw sienna, yellow ocher, etc.  (We did cheat and use cad red a bit, however.)

I enjoyed the workshop and I learned as I almost always do. It seems however, that the more I learn, the more I realize how very much more I have to learn. Oh well. In addition to the practice and reinforcement, I enjoyed the lunch and interplay when the model, Toni, joined us on the last day. She brought us food and regaled us with lively stories. Additionally I enjoyed getting to know another artist that I had met briefly in the past. It turned out that Lorelle Miller, another artist in this workshop, is a friend of Laura Wambsgans who has invited me to paintouts with her group and has been generally kind and encouraging. Lorelle and I even discovered that we'd gone to the same high school! (although not at the same time). What a small world we live in.
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Ryan Wurmser Workshop at LAAFA

Liz In Grisaille
Oil on Canvas / Wood Board
by Marian Fortunati
14" x 11"

Today was the first day of a three day workshop I'm taking from Ryan Wurmser. Ryan is a wonderful artist and a good teacher. Three years ago his painting was awarded first place in the prestigious California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition. A year or so ago I took a class from him at the California Art Institute in Thousand Oaks. Because it is a long drive from my home and Ryan's class is at night, I haven't taken it again. However, this workshop is at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA), so I fit it in between other things in my life. I'm always eager to practice with wonderful artists.

During today's class we all worked in a method called grisaille. According to wikipedia, grisaille (grĭ-zī', -zāl'; French: gris, grey) is a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome, usually in shades of grey or brown, particularly used in decoration to represent objects in relief. Italian examples may be described as work in grisaglia or chiaroscuro, although this term has other meanings as well. Ryan explained that this is good practice for better understanding values and is often used for an underpainting which is followed by many layers of transparent paint called glazes which creates paintings which seem to have great depth. I remember from back in my days at Mission: Renaissance when we did many paintings in the styles of the old masters who always used this glazing method.

Ryan demonstrated and had us mix up 5 values using a combination of burnt umber and black as our darkest dark (he then had us lighten it a bit) and a toned white as our lightest light.

He painted his demo most of the morning emphasizing the importance of getting the drawing right first and then using patience and lots of time to get the values right. Ryan explained tiling which is a method to transition between shapes of value so that there is a smoother transition between values.

After he did most of his demo we were left with a little more than two hours to work on our painting. As usual, I needed to spend more time on measuring and drawing correctly. He thought my values were pretty good, but helped me work on some of the transitions.

Tomorrow we'll be doing a limited palette painting. Something to look forward to.
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