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Sunday, April 30, 2023

My Painting Teachers and Mentors

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by a Bot**

Four Teacher/Mentors and their Work

I’ve been blessed with many painting teachers over the years, some in person, some virtual.  But it’s the “in person” ones that have had the most impact, and I thought I’d honor them here with a few words.  The ones that continue to influence me, in alphabetical order by last name (so as not to bruise any egos):  Doug Dawson, Albert Handell, Bob Rohm and Ann Templeton.

Above Silver Plume / Doug Dawson
21x21, pastel

Doug Dawson

Even though I started painting in oil at an early age (teenager), it was pastel that brought me back to painting after a detour of several years.  When I took a one-day pastel workshop to get my feet wet, I started reading everything I could on the subject.  While in Santa Fe and in galleries looking for examples of pastel, I came across copies of Pastel Journal in a rack at Ventana Fine Art, which also happened to represent Doug.  His work struck me immediately as vibrant and dynamic with a truly awesome handling of color.  And when I read his book, Capturing Light and Color in Pastel, I knew he was someone I wanted to study with.  Eventually—how many workshops later?—I even hosted a couple of workshops for him, both in Maine and in Arizona.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working and studying with Doug.  (And spending time with his wife, Sue, who invariably accompanies him to his workshops.)  He’s got a pleasant, easy-going demeanor and, I think, often puts his students higher and as more important than his own work.  He’s a born teacher.

If I learned one thing from Doug, it is to not fear color.  This doesn’t mean that you just slap down color willy-nilly; but it does mean you can make a number of color experiments—however wild—before settling on a palette that enhances the final desired effect.  (I learned a lot more than this, but to keep this post short, I’m limiting each teacher to just one item.)

Lakeway Grotto 2 / Albert Handell
12x16 pastel

Albert Handell

As with Doug’s work, I’d seen Albert’s at Ventana as well as in Pastel Journal.  It is almost impossible to not know about Albert.  Highly respected and praised by the fine art community nationwide, he is a very popular teacher with pastel artists especially.  I think he has probably won more awards and accolades than any artist in pastel, oil or any other medium, and he has served as mentor to many younger artists, me included.

When I first saw his work, what struck me was that he paid attention to realism but didn’t let it master him; if the painting needed to wander off into a more abstract realm, he allowed it do so, but always with the intent of intensifying the aspect of the scene that lured him in.  This ended up making the painting seem more “real” than the scene.  I also found that Albert had a number of books, and I purchased them all before finally taking my first workshop with him.  Since that time, as with Doug, I have hosted several workshops with him in Maine and Arizona and have assisted him in his Santa Fe studio.  I continue to study with him today.

If I learned one thing from Albert, it is that a painting not only needs to have an immediate impact on the viewer that pulls him in but also “carrying power”—enough of those little touches that will keep him looking at and enjoying the painting.  For Albert, much of this consists of knife work, little touches of bright color here, little marks to suggest detail there.  (And, of course, I’ve learned a lot more than this….)

Chama River Overlook / Bob Rohm
16x20 pastel

Bob Rohm

Although both Doug and Albert paint en plein air, it was Bob who really introduced me to the pleasure of painting outdoors.  I first came across him in—what else?—Pastel Journal. What I sensed in his work was an easy, almost natural, capturing of light, color and form in the landscape.  I liked what I saw and wanted to paint the same way.  When I found he was teaching a workshop at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, just a few hours from my home, I signed up.  I spent a very pleasurable week painting in the fantasy-like landscape in and around Ghost Ranch.  (Ghost Ranch is probably best known for its long association with Georgia O’Keeffe.)  Despite the rustic accommodations and the cattle-drive-style grub, the experience turned me into a committed plein air painter.

Since then, I took another workshop or two with Bob, and painted with him up in Colorado during fall foliage for a day.  When I decided to pick up painting in oils again, the first teacher I thought of was Bob, and I took a workshop with him to improve my skill.  A few years later, he asked me to help him with his book, The Painterly Approach, a process which I very much enjoyed.  I haven’t seen or talked to Bob in several years now, but he is still painting, though I don’t believe he is teaching workshops these days.

If I learned one thing from Bob, it is to avoid using white if you can.  I know this sounds like a small thing, but it is a very big thing when you are dealing with color.  White deadens color—greys it, cools it.  If you want to maintain the vibrancy of bright color, use a lighter pigment rather than white.  White is an additive of last resort.  (And of course, I learned a lot more….)

Penasco Church / Ann Templeton
16x16 pastel

Ann Templeton

What can I say about Ann?  She is gone now, having passed away several years ago, but she was a dear friend.  I didn’t know about Ann when I first moved to New Mexico.  New in town, I contacted the local art society to introduce myself, and I was told Ann was teaching a workshop, and would I like to sit in on the class for a day?  At lunch, Ann, who seemed a very mild and shy person, learned I was writing for Pastel Journal and asked:  “Would you like to write an article about me?”  I recovered from my momentary surprise at this directness and said yes.  

This led to a long, wonderful and mutually beneficial relationship.  I painted beside her in the studio when she had friends over for a painting day; I drove with her to workshops to help in the field; I house-sat for her when she was away teaching; and finally, I ended up interviewing her at length while compiling notes for her 30-year retrospective, The Art of Ann Templeton: A Step Beyond.  Through her, I got to meet other painters, like Walt Gonske and William F. Reese.

If I learned one thing from Ann, it was the commitment one has to make to be a professional artist.  While staying at her house to work on her book, a dinner invitation with some of her collectors came up.  I was beat after our efforts and told her I thought I’d just stay in for the night.  “Michael,” she said, “if you are going to do this, you have to do this.”  (Emphasis on the second "do".)

And of course, I learned a lot more from Ann—about painting, about professionalism and, finally, about how one keeps going even despite personal sadness.  Ann went through a lot, but her quiet cheerfulness—and her desire to keep painting and teaching—persisted through to the end.

Both Doug Dawson and Albert Handell will be at the Plein Air Convention and Expo this May in Denver.  I’m looking forward to seeing them again.


Jo Castillo said...

We have and like some of the same teachers. I think I ran across you when you were giving a workshop at Ann Templeton's a long time ago. I never got to her workshops but she gave a demo in Austin to the Austin Pastel Society. Then saw Handel at the IAPS conventions. Got to see Bob Rohm a coouple of times and take a workshop. It was amazing. Saw Doug Dawson at IAPS as well. Great artists. You keep good company! After a few years of missing you in NM or AZ, I finally signed up for one in Sedona and then had to cancel for an emergency. So one of these days we may finally cross paths. We haven't gone to NM for the last 3 summers so not too likely, but maybe...... Thanks for sharing.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Sounds like we have some folks in common. Yes, if you do get out this way, let me know!