Guest Artist Workshop :: Aaron Westerberg
One of the many perks of working at Pastimes for a Lifetime is the free art education from hosting Guest Artist Workshops! We were ecstatic to have master-painter, Aaron Westerberg provide a 2-Day Oil Painting demo + workshop on the Zørn Palette at Pastimes’s art studio on Sunday and Monday, October 14th and 15th from 10 AM – 5 PM. My boss, Linda Wehrli said it was more like an Art Bootcamp!
For readers who might not know, Westerberg taught painting at the California Art Institute from 2000- 2005 and from 2005-2010 was a popular faculty member at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. He has been given a feature story in American Art Collector magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, as well as being named one of the best 24 artists under 40 by Artists’ Magazine. Aaron Westerberg is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the Portrait Society of America and a Signature Member of the California Art Club. Mr. Westerberg’s work now hangs in major corporations and museums around the world. Suffice to say, we were thrilled to host his 2-day Oil Painting Demo + Workshop!
Before the demo and lecture began, Aaron set out his personal reference library books for our perusal and his use during his instruction. Very thoughtful of him.
The classroom was fully booked. Westerberg kept everyone’s attention rapt with his wit, wisdom and technique.
To start off Day 1, Westerberg began his lecture and demo by introducing the Zørn Palette, a palette of colors attributed to the great, Swedish artist, Anders Zørn (18 February 1860 – 22 August 1920). It consists of just four colors: yellow ochre, ivory black, cadmium red, and titanium white. This is in contrast to a Full Palette which Aaron defined as warm and cool varieties of every color such as Ultramarine Blue to Cerulean Blue.
Aaron recommends Utrecht oil paints. These are not water-soluble. He warns against using “student grade” paints as the pigment is cut too much with filler and won’t provide sufficient coverage and pigment for accurate color mixing.
As for painting tools, Aaron prefers Red Sable flat brushes, not brights. He likes the longer lengths. Rounds for finishing. No fan brushes. Palette knives for mixing paint, scraping off paint or painting straight lines. For clean up, he uses Ivory soap. Nothing fancy. Just a good quality soap will do, according to Aaron.
In addition to stretched canvas and canvas boards, Aaron likes to paint on aluminum Panel he purchases from Diebond Sign Shop. Canvas is glued to panel with PVG Poly Vinyl Glue. Other times, he paints on Braemar Panels.
“I rarely paint on the same surface. I like to challenge myself,” says Westerberg.
For lighting his subjects, Aaron uses a Generay LED lamp which allows him to control the brightness as well as the warmth or coolness of the light. He advised any LED lamp is fine to use, though.
There are two painting staples that Westerberg could not stress enough:
1. Nothing exists in isolation.
We see and recognize subjects based on comparison. For example, the size or scale of a building can be determined or demonstrated by placing a person next to it. Tones around a subject affect how we see the subject. The color around a subject defines its color and temperature.
2. Keep it simple.
Aaron stated, “Simpler is always better. Drawing should not be more than a few lines to express the subject. Painting, just a few brush strokes are better than laboring and overworking.”
He also mentioned using geometry when drawing, using a shape to find another shape.
This helps when wrapping one’s brain around a portrait. Westerberg says, “A portrait is big shapes in the right spots. Put down extreme tones first. It’s how you recognize someone from a distance. Don’t put in every detail. Proportions and values are determined by broad shapes.”
For example, the suggestion of an ear with just a few simple brushstrokes is more effective than overworking every little detail of the ear.
That said, Westerberg began his demo by adding in the darkest darks then the lightest lights which he referred to as the “extremes”. This allows you to see the mid tones more easily. Blocking in the biggest shapes is very important. He called it “mapping shadows”.
You will notice Aaron does not use charcoal to draw his portraits. Instead, he uses a thin base coat which allows paint to be removed with a clean dry brush, a Q-tip or tortillon.
That reminds me. Aaron taught us some new terminology:
Open Grisaille a tone painting in which no white paint is used. Just one paint color for the base coat. He explained this makes it easy to remove paint for highlights. Thin paint is easy to move around. Easy to fix problems.
Closed Grisaille a tone painting in which white paint is mixed in with the base coat. Aaron warns it is harder to move around thicker paint.
Speaking of painting base coats, Aaron shared with us that Mars Black dries faster that Ivory Black making Mars Black a better choice for underpaintings. Who knew?!
As you probably also noticed, instead of working from a model, Aaron’s demo + workshop utilized portrait photograph
He warns that when studying from a photograph, edges will appear harder and the shadows will be darker and void of color.This is important to remember when painting from photos. He sometimes uses two photos of his subject, one darker and one lighter to help determine his darks and lights.
As the demo progressed, Aaron graciously lectured us on tips, techniques and thought processes. We are pleased to share the main points with our readers.
1. Keep it flexible. Start with a plan but prepare for happy accidents.
2. We all see something different in the same subject.
3. The light source harmonizes the painting. It creates the harmony of the painting. Cool light creates blue tones. Warm light creates yellow tones
4. The base color harmonizes all colors on the palette. Colors painted later harmonize with each other because they share that same base color in common.
5. Single source light works best for portraits.
6. To avoid a “chalky” look, adjust the color around the skin tones, rather than simply adding white. I was guilty of this!
7. Master painter, John Singer-Sargent’s unique color technique was introduced. Sargent kept tones or values simple. He shifted the color temperature to add dimension or make the portrait look 3-dimensional. Let that one sink in.
That’s right – Sargent did not use tone to create dimension. He used color temperatures to communicate shapes of the structure. He could change the plane by 20-degrees by changing its temperature!! According to Aaron, this harmonizes a painting, making it less busy.
Basically, you can explain anatomy with color. That was news to all of us!
8. To make a correction, use the opposite. In other words, the solution is the opposite of the problem.
To make an object bluer or cooler, warm up the area around it and vice versa.
To make an object appear smoother, make the background rougher.
9. Last but not least, Aaron said, “When I run into trouble, I ask myself – what would Zørn do?”
And with that, the clock struck 5:00 PM, concluding Day 1 of the workshop.
On Day 2, it was the students’ turn to paint!
Aaron perused students’ works in progress throughout the day, providing much appreciated corrections.
I’m pleased to share my work in progress.
My boss, Linda Wehrli wanted to share her work in progress and final painting, as well.
During the workshop, Aaron admonished us to “study the artists you admire”. Throughout the day, he mentioned important artists to know. It was literally a who’s who of the fine art world:
The Europeans – Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Diego Velasquez, Nicolai Fechin, Ilya Repin (Fechin’s teacher), Franz Hals (tiled technique), Joaquin Sorolla, Antonio Mancini (Sargent claimed him the best painter of their time), Carolus-Duran (John Singer-Sargent’s teacher), Anders Zørn and illustrator, Heinrich Kley.
The Americans – John Singer-Sargent, Frank J. Reilly, George B. Bridgeman (illustrator), Charles Dana Gibson, Alphonse Mucha, Hovsep Pushman (Cal Art Club Vice President), Thomas WIlmer DeWing (Lady in Yellow), Dan Pinkham (Cal Art Club Mentor Program), Norman Rockwell, Andrew Loomis (Creative Book of Illustrations) and Fred Fixler (illustrator and Cal Art Instructor).
Aaron enlightened us about how each country has its own ideas on how to learn to draw and paint. Each stresses something different. The culture itself informs the art strategy.
For example, Aaron explained that the Russian school does not measure. They study their subject, “then do what they want with the subject with lots of paint. They don’t play it safe. They paint with both hands to activate both sides of the brain.” Fascinating!
This 2-day workshop was so worth the time to attend. I highly recommend it for serious students who want to up their painting game. My boss was very impressed with Aaron’s professionalism and warmth. She confirmed we will definitely have Aaron back for more workshops in the future.
For a list of Westerberg’s upcoming workshops, please visit his website.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.
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