It’s that time of year again when Pastimes for a Lifetime hosts a fabulous Guest Artist Workshop! We were excited to have renowned Classical Figurative Artist, Eric Armusik teach his 2-day Workshop: Painting the Dramatic Portrait. The classes were held on Sunday & Monday, August 11th and 12th from 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM at Pastimes’ Valley Glen studio.
Here’s a little background about the artist:
Born in 1973, fine artist Eric Armusik grew up in the northeastern coal region of Pennsylvania. Once one of the largest coal mining operations in the county, his hometown was a landscape riddled with the depressions of post-industry. In contrast to the blight was a diverse ethnic community strong in faith. What the community lacked in public art and museums it made up for it with churches on each city block. It was there that Eric had his first experiences with art, staring at the walls and ceilings at church on Sunday. The traditions and academic realism of Catholic religious paintings and artwork made a permanent impression that continues to influence his work today.
His paintings have won numerous awards and are shown in galleries and museums across the country. Suffice it to say we were honored to have him teach this 2-day workshop.
In addition to being a sought-after commissioned artist, Eric Armusik is an excellent teacher. We found his demo and workshop riveting and insightful. I’m glad to share my boss Linda Wehrli’s and my notes and hope you find them helpful with your artistic journey.
Day 1 – 08/11/19
We began the workshop with a brief background on Eric’s education. He attended Penn State University. Finding that traditional painting techniques were not being taught at the university, he began studying with New York artist, Julie Heffernan. I related to Eric when he revealed that he tried graphic design classes but disliked them. Figure drawing classes sparked the realization that traditional fine art is what he needed to be doing.
Eric studied abroad in Todi, Italy between Florence and Rome, studying works by Caravaggio. You can really see Caravaggio’s influence on Eric’s work, such as the beautiful contrast of light and dark. He returned to the US painting huge paintings. Some teachers tried to discourage him saying “You’ll never have a career doing that.” His persistence and passion got him through. Now he is a successful artist painting true to his vision.
Palette and brushes were discussed next. For the workshop demo, Eric used a limited palette (based on Caravaggio): Titanium White – Yellow Ochre – Cadmium Red Medium or Deep – Burnt Umber – Raw Umber – Ivory Black – Ultramarine Blue (colors are listed from warm -> cool.)
Eric uses a smooth wood panel for his paintings to create a realistic look with limited brush strokes showing. He prefers Filbert Brushes and uses round brushes for blending. “A real artist finds out what is wrong and fixes or repairs it. Simple and pragmatic”, says Eric.
He began is demo by sketching with charcoal in a small sketchpad. This allows him to understand the angles and focus on proportions. He uses a ruler placed on the subject to ascertain the angles and to see what parts of the face line up with other parts of the face. The subject is always divided into thirds (also known as the Golden Proportion).
Now on to the panel! Eric doesn’t put down a basecoat. He sketches a light grisaille of the subject on the board using only burnt umber and Liquin (a quick-drying medium for oil paint.) Measuring and sketching the negative space is done rather than “drawing what you see.” He breaks the subject into shapes and angles. No roundness is attempted at this point.
Skin tone is incredibly difficult to master. Eric graciously provided much insight on this! He called it “The Trinity” of colors: Yellow Ochre + Cadmium Red + Ultramarine Blue. (Titanium White is added for adjusting the tone.) He uses these three colors to create cooler and warmer tones on the skin, even the eyebrows! Using browns for the shadows is not always recommended. In order to avoid the “muddy” look that I and so many artists fear, Eric encourages using many brushes for the different values. He also warns to be careful with what white touches as it can dull a color.
After a lunch break, it was our turn! This was my boss’ and my first time painting on panel and it was quite different from the regular canvas (and very difficult!) The smoothness of the surface was something to get used to. Starting out, we weren’t concerned with details; we were focusing on getting the drawing as accurate as possible. Here are some photos from my beginning stages:
Here are some of Linda’s! We struggled nicely together. Haha!
Day 2 – 08/12/19
Eric started the second day of the workshop with a pep talk to encourage us to keep up the hard work. Drawing corrections were then discussed while he continued to rough in the subject and edit errors such as the distance from the nose to the cheek. Thanks to Liquin, his painting dried overnight and was ready for additional skin tone layers. I had never heard of the term “oiling out”. Eric explained that this is when he uses light Liquin over areas he is going to paint. It helps layer the highlights and bring out the darker tones. He always works from left to right and explains that painting is always a “push and pull” process of putting on and pulling off paint.
One can spend years studying how to paint each facial feature. We even had an Eye Painting Workshop with Ignat Ignatov a few years ago! Eric had some great insight on how to paint the eyes. The white of the eyes is not pure white. They are created with Burnt Umber + French Ultramarine Blue + varieties of warm and cool white. The middle of the eye projects out and therefore gets the brightest light. The edges of the eyes will be darker. Eric encourages to notice the direction of the light source. Eyelashes are like an awning; they cast shadows on the eyes and skin. It is important to view the eyes in a socket in order to capture the curvature.
The edge of the nose will always have the hottest highlight. He uses old brushes for texture and uneven tufts like facial hair. Eric says to always paint in the direction the hair grows and paint the tones of the hair first before going for the details. For the eyebrows, we painted over the burnt umber with the skin tone shade in order to create the effect of the hair growing from the skin outward. Eric used white with yellow ochre to create the highlight in the brows.
I had to stop a bit early as my painting was too wet to noodle with anymore. But I plan on completing it at home.
Here are some photos of the guests hard at work!
At the end of the day, Linda and Eric’s mutual friend, realist painter Scott Kiche, stopped by to visit! It was such a thrill to be surrounded by such talent.
We learned so much and hope Eric will return again to teach another workshop! If you’d like to learn more about the artist and his upcoming workshops, please check out his website. He also teaches remotely if you’re not located in Pennsylvania!
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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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