Sunday, July 3, 2011

Shanks Demo at the National Arts Club


Editorial Director of American Artist Magazine, Michael Gormley, introduces Nelson Shanks after explaining how the Irish saved civilization.

On June 23rd, as part of American Artist Magazine's Weekend with the Masters Intensive in New York City,  premier artist Nelson Shanks offered a specially scheduled, two-and-a-half hour portrait demonstration.  Shanks was one of the many incredible instructors gathered for the workshop series, and teachers from his Philadelphian school, Studio Incamminati, were responsible for two of the five training tracks being offered during the four-day intensive.  For those of us who were fortunate, we gathered in the famous National Arts Club to watch Shanks paint a portrait of the Club's acting president, Dianne Bernhard.

Shanks began the portrait by quickly establishing the composition using a relatively dry-brush with brown pigment.  Though it was not declared at the time, I seem to remember that Shanks uses canvases toned with grey acrylic paint at a value 6 or 7 on the Munsell Scale.  This may not be true for his larger commissions, but I believe it is the surface he uses for alla prima demonstrations.

Shanks holds his brushes at the very end of the handle.  He uses his entire arm when painting, and often pauses above his canvas, creating, in the air, a flourish with the brush similar to the waving of a conductor's baton.  It seems that he is planning the motion of his brush before letting it actually touch the painting surface.

I am often surprised by the chroma of Shanks' color choices.  I was once told by a former student of Shanks that he uses a different palette for his demonstrations than he uses for his finished paintings.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that he uses his standard color choices in a different manner than he would when doing a commissioned work.  I cannot quite say either statement is valid;  I have seen many of Shanks' originals, and though the colors look more naturalistic from a distance in these works, when they are examined closely, they are composed of tiles of somewhat intense color which blend visually from only a short distance from the canvas. 

Shanks' palette features more than a dozen piles of white paint, presumably so he can create tints without fear of cross-contaminating the colors.

His full palette (as of December 2001) was as follows:

Burnt Umber
Burnt Sienna
Venetian Red
Crimson Lake Deep Extra (Old Holland)
Permanent Rose (W-N)
Cadmium Red Deep
Camium Scarlet
Perinone Red (Gamblin)
Perylene Red (Gamblin)
Cadmium Orange
Raw Sienna
Indian Yellow (W-N)
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Green Pale
Cadmium Green
Viridian (W-N)
Pthalo Green
Cerulean Blue
Cobalt Blue
Manganese Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Dioxazine Purple
Ivory Black
Flake White #2

(SOURCE:  William Seccombe's Blogcast 08/20/08)

National Arts Club acting president Dianne Bernhard was a very cooperative model.  The gold lamé trim on her cape nearly swallowed her, and as a courtesy to the artist, she never left her seat during the entire demonstration, even during breaks, so as not to disturb the position of her clothing.

I especially enjoyed watching the way Shanks handled the brush.  He had a certain calligraphy which exhibited itself prominently when he painted the highlights on the lamé.  When changing stroke direction, the brush would remain in contact with the canvas, and he would then increase pressure before flicking the brush on its new course.

Prior to the start of the demonstration, I was introduced to Shanks, and I mentioned to him that this would be the second demonstration of his I was privileged to attend.  The first, I told him, was held in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, shortly after the official opening of Studio Incamminati.  He told me, "That was the worst demonstration I ever gave," to which I laughed.  "No.  Seriously, that was the worst demonstration I ever gave."

He was obviously more pleased with the outcome of this demonstration.  When it reached 9:30 PM, Shanks asked if the audience would mind if he continued painting another half-hour, and when we gave our encouragement, he resumed painting for about another 45 minutes.

Tickets for the demonstration were available for purchase separately from the Weekend with the Masters tuition, for a fee of $50 apiece.  Proceeds from the event were donated to the Artists' Fellowship, a charitable foundation organized in 1859 to support professional artists and their families in times of need.    The Fellowship is limited only by the amount of contributions they receive each year, and typically, they provide help to approximately 70 artists annually.  There are different levels of membership into the organization, starting with  Active status for only $25 per year.

Shanks has a new book available, a 160 page, hardbound catalog which accompanied recent shows of his work in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The cost is $79.95 plus $15 shipping, and can be ordered directly from the Studio Incamminati store.



Art By Erika said...

What time did the demo start? So is the last image how he left it? He probably could have told her he wasn't going to to really paint the lame in :) But she seemed quite pleased so that's good and it's a great portrait excellent likeness! I love the big screen view you posted. Thanks so much for sharing!

Darren Kingsley said...

The canvas is almost always oil primed and oil toned. The palette never changes between demos and finished paintings either, its only the handling of the paint thickness that varies between them. Demos have to get to the point in a very short time.

innisart said...

@Erika The demonstration began shortly after 7 PM, and the last image is where he left off. I think he would have happily continued, but there were time constraints that eventually just made him lay the brush down.

It WAS a better demo than the one I saw previously, though it had nothing to do with Shanks' skill. He just had so much more control at the NAC - a better modeling set-up, better lighting, etc.. The projection system was better too (technology keeps advancing!).

innisart said...

@Darren Thanks for commenting, Darren! I needed someone with personal experience to add to the post.

Yeah, I thought it was strange when the former student said he used a "show palette" for demos. It didn't make much sense, and I'm glad you cleared that up. His finished paintings looked like they used the same colors, it was just the layers of paint which created more subtlety, especially in the flesh.

I heard about the acrylic toning years ago. Liquitex was making their soft body acrylics available in various values of neutral gray (they only sell value 5 now). I think it was value 4 (not on the Munsell Scale, but in the reverse), that was recommended to workshop participants. Perhaps this was just so participants would show up with canvases ready to begin work, and which would be in a value range he preferred. Communicating such information may have been more difficult if he were asking students to make mixtures and match values prior to getting to his class. Telling the students to prime with this particular acrylic may have just been the least frustrating avenue to take.

Lokelani Forrest said...

Thanks for sharing Nelson Shanks demonstration. He is an artist I admire very much, but doubt whether I will ever see his work upclose and personal.

The Painted Sky said...

Zeus, what is she wearing?......doesn't she know you can kill an old artist with that?

tinoradman said...

Thanks for the wip shots. Shanks does like to use high chroma colors when painting flesh (a trait noticeable among many of his pupils as well). I remember an interview in which Shanks said that one should begin a piece using high chroma colors, since inevitably they will lose intensity in the painting process.
Btw, has anybody bought this new monograph? I have a previous, much thinner one.

Albert. S said...

I wonder if Leffel studied with him?? He holds the brush the same way and makes the same type of strokes. Only the palette is difference and of course the actual style of painting.

jeff said...

David Leffel studied with Frank Mason.
If I'm not mistaken Nelson Shanks and Mr. Leffel are about the same age or generation anyway.

Sharon Knettell said...

What white paint does he use ? I notice it was flake white #2 which I believe is the Michael Harding lead white in walnut oil- which is now unavailable in the US. It is a great white paint and I miss it.

What does he use now?