Workshop Wednesday: Rick Weaver’s Abstraction for Realists

Drawing by artist, Rick Weaver.

I’ve had the pleasure of taking two workshops from the artist, Rick Weaver. Rick has extremely impressive credentials having received his formal art training in New York at the National Academy of Design, the New York Academy (now known as the Graduate School for Figurative Art), and the Art Students League.  He studied painting and drawing with a number of notable art instructors, including Robert Beverly Hale, Ted Seth Jacobs, Ron Sherr, Harvey Dinnerstein and he earned his Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he was influenced by the sculptor Billy Lee.

I can tell you from experience that he is a deep thinker who stretches your mind alongside your skills. He seems to come at things always from a new angle and perhaps this is because he is both a sculptor and a painter, and extremely accomplished at both. I’ve discovered that the best teachers show you how they think which is much more powerful than learning someone’s style. Rick is definitely that kind of teacher. If you ever have the opportunity to take one of his workshops, I would strongly encourage that you do so.

Below are my notes and photos I took during his workshop this past July which was hosted in the beautiful studio of Francie Freitas. Thank you Francie for having included me in this wonderful workshop.

Rick Weaver Workshop
Abstraction for Realists
July 22 2014

[Rick began Day 1 of his workshop by having us look at prints of masterpieces he intentionally distorted digitally (using filters) to better show us the degree of abstraction underpinning the work.]

Here are some print outs of Master paintings that Rick altered digitally to aid in showing us the abstraction and formal properties underlying each painting.

When you look at a great masterpiece in a museum, if you pay attention you will always notice an emphasis on composition.

“Ask yourself why an artist did things. Why a cloud there? Why that shape?”

Great painting is a combination of formal elements; line, shape, color & value organization.

Space is not a formal element but it collects form together for us. So does rhythm, so does light. Visual weight etc.

“There is a natural trade off between the amount of resolution (finish) you want and the base abstract power of the painting.”

“Making a painting is not copying nature. Old masters made significant changes to what they observed in making their paintings. Be aware of this and be sensitive to it in your work.”

“Make yourself make changes for the better in your work.”

There are 3 main elements of painting
1.  Subject Matter, what you see in the painting, direction of etc.
2. Form= line, shape, color (value)
3. Content

Artist Rick Weaver demonstrating how he begins his drawings by using a connective line that unites the objects and helps him to emphasize strong compositional elements from the onset.

The early stages in a painting are an opportunity to give your painting a strong abstract power to build upon.

Don’t think of objects as separate. Think of them as joined, like in their shadows & forms, color.

If you think in terms of object you are ultimately separating. If you think inclusively you will see all kinds of connections.

Like in figure, the shadow is often indicative of the color of the drapery.

Show those connections.

Rounded lines are organic.

Angled lines are inorganic.

There should be a strong connection between form & subject matter.

Square, is a non directional shape, neutral. Look at Lincoln Perry. Be wary of putting something right in the middle because it will be weak.

Look at subject matter and see it as pattern within the rectangle. (Matisse)

There aren’t really any definitive books on composition out there that I am aware of but these books are a start:

Erle Loran book on Cezanne composition

-Andrew Loomis’ book on perfect mean

Things you can physically do at the start of a painting to think formally:

Connectivity/Unity-literally make things connect in the beginning.

Always make a rectangle on your page to set up your boundary, picture plane.

“As soon as you put a silhouette you are making an object”. Draw a two dimensional shape showing how the subjects link into each other from edge to edge, line to line. Work from the edge of the picture plane in. You can get in touch very quickly with the whole thing this way. Picture remains open, promotes flexibility.

You can use a more organic or architectural line.

No line has anything to do with the object. It functions just form connectivity. Same thing with tone, divide the subject into 2 or 3 values.

Here Rick organizes and classifies his values into 3 distinct tones which help unify his drawing.

“If I can’t get a preliminary sketch to say/do what I want it to in 3 values, I never go further with it.”

What seems to visually connect to you? You got to want it. Make it connect. Be on the hunt for those 3 values and only those values.

Vertical spacing pushes things towards you.

Horizontal spacing pushes things away.

Pay attention to your “sit down” (object touches plane) spacing will give you the horizontal space.

Paying attention to negative space will give you the vertical spacing.

Ideally make your circuit within a minute round the entire drawing for that first exploratory line.

Exercise to just allow things to connect more than anything else (mine was too slow).

Am I able to move into the picture? Is there ground plane? Foreground, middle ground, back ground?


Day 2

4 color palette, primaries + white
Permanent rose, Ultramarine blue (or thalo blue), cad lemon

The underpainting of Rick’s demo in ultramarine blue.

Subject of demo: Hue-the most problematic issue of color.

Gestural start, linking forms. One continuous line.

Thinned down ultramarine

Uses a brush larger than he’s comfortable with to keep him from drawing objects.

Holds brush perpendicular to surface, carving shapes as he masses in.

Tries to think in terms of three values, light, dark mid tone.

When he starts adding local color he looks to see where else it shows up, shadows, reflections etc.

“As I am working I am trying to reinforce my idea (initial gesture/approach) with the way I paint. Being consistent with the same approach through out the painting.”

“The last thing I want to do is complete an object with this approach. I want to keep things open.”

“I am starting to think about the quality of lights anything in the light has both yellow and red to it. You must use both.”

“I really try to keep it formal, stay away from object making as much as possible.”

“With the figure, I approach the same way but if I want a more traditional approach I take more care with the drawing. ”

I will go back and introduce the (unifying) line in drawing while painting (as many times as needed).

Here Rick adds two more primary values which begins to reveal and emphasize the strong abstract composition of his painting.

On a personal note I want to thank Rick for helping me to stretch both my thinking and my technique. I will be back for more workshops. You can count on that!

Childe Hassam in Action, c. 1932

“Long Island Pebbles and Fruit,” by Childe Hassam, oil on wood panel, 23 1/2 by 56 1/2 inches, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, frame: stained and painted wood, designed and made by Childe Hassam, 1931

I came across this great little film on the About Last Night blog showing Childe Hassam at work on this painting in his studio in Long Island. It was produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1932.

It totally inspired my work in the studio this morning. I am so grateful to have found it. To see the film for yourself click here.

Face Off Heavy Hitters

In clockwise order starting from far left, Face Off artists Elizabeth Floyd, Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious.

The most happening place to be last Friday was at the Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria for their annual alla prima portrait “Face Off” featuring gallery heavy hitters; Mia Bergeron, Elizabeth Floyd and Cindy Procious.

What is that you say? You didn’t know about it? Well I guess that just proves you’re not as cool as me. Luckily I am feeling generous today and will give you this brief little wrap up.

Veteran Face Off champions Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious went toe to toe with a new tenacious challenger, Elizabeth Floyd over 3 hours with plenty of breaks in between for schmoozing and attending to their adoring fans. It was obvious early on that all of them had a good likeness of the model, Mr. Franco Landini, who is the owner of several Old Town restaurants including Landini Brothers and is something of a local celebrity.

Events such as these at the Principle Gallery always attract the hippest artists from the local painting scene. Besides my fabulous self in attendance were Jonathan Linton, Rena Selim, Susan Gallagher O’Neill and Abigail Davis Muncy.

Honestly, next time you should really just come see it for yourself. But until then you will be able to watch it on Youtube and I will post that link here when the Principle makes it available.


What are you painting?


I’m only about 9 hours into copying this hand study of a portrait by Gerard Soest at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington DC. The reaction to my copy by the public has been extremely entertaining and at times has had me in stitches, like today. I guess visitors are not used to seeing a person paint only a small portion of a painting in the collection, and the oval shape I chose to emphasize the dramatic swirl of the dress and the gesture of her hand is unexpected and definitely throwing people off. But what seems to be the icing on the proverbial cake is that it appears to people that I am not painting the picture in the right color. Um, what gives?!! [Insert Valley Girl tone here]

Well there are some really good reasons for all the choices I have made so far in regards to this painting. The first decision I made, that of doing only a hand study of the larger painting is because I only have the months of July & August to copy and I thought by narrowing my subject I could get more accomplished in that time. Second, the oval shape is an intentional decision as far as the composition. In addition, if I have more time, I will paint another oval of her other hand to have a matching pair. And lastly, the colors you see before you are just the underpainting known as a “grisaille”. The areas that are more grey are called a “closed grisaille” meaning they include white, plus the umber I used previously and prussian blue to achieve the overall modeling and value relationships. Those are the areas that I painted today. I will indeed get around to the actual color of the painting, eventually, in thin glazes of color. It is the way this painting was painted and since I am more of a direct painter, learning this technique is part of what drew me to the painting.

Below are some of the amusing things I have overheard/ or been asked directly while painting in order of frequency:

“What are you painting?” (Um, a hand and her dress….)

“Are you trying to paint abstractly?” (Yes, actually. A strong abstract design is the basis of all realistic painting)

“Dad, I don’t get itttt!” (Snicker)

“Esa mano esta horrible/That hand is horrible” (Said by someone who doesn’t know I speak Spanish. Ouch? 😉

I’ll end this post by saying that painting is a process that is sometimes not self evident. So hang in there with me, eventually you will be staring at the exact doppelganger of that hand. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.

The underpainting I began with today.
My copy at the end of the day showing the first areas to receive the “closed grisaille”.


Great Painting Comes in Little Packages

Artist, Emily M. Acrylic on panel.

Sometimes the work of my students makes me so proud I fuss over it as if I were their actual mother. This painting definitely falls into that category. Painted by the amazing, newly minted 10 year old Emily (as in she was still 9 only a couple of weeks ago). All from direct observation. Way to go Emily!!!