The 10th edition of the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop, held annually in Dubois, Wyoming, was a little more dazzling this year due to the participation of master artist Everett Raymond Kinstler. The famous painter has taught scores of students at New York’s Art Students League and has painted from life the portraits of seven U.S. presidents and hundreds of portraits of celebrities, business, government, and education leaders. SKB-goers eagerly listened to his advice and anecdotes.
In addition to painting a full demonstration at the September 2011 event, Kinstler also served as a juror for SKB’s annual miniature show, which attracted more than 120 entries. Participants seemed equally excited to have the opportunity to share meals and informally chat with the noted artist, who has more than 100 of his pieces in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.
Kinstler’s rich history as a contemporary painter is matched by few living artists, and his stories delighted the more than 140 people gathered for the workshop. During his demo Kinstler kept up a steady stream of talk, deftly folding in tips on painting and brief explanations of what he was doing amid the fascinating recollections of famous sitters, formative teachers, and a few self-deprecating foibles. Using a simple palette of only 10 colors, Kinstler sketched the head of his sitter, SKB chairman Jim Parkman, on a middle-tone grey canvas.
The master painter repeatedly emphasized that a likeness comes from the proper placement of the basic facial features in an accurately shaped skull. “If my head feels solid and has good color, I can go back and forth on the features, make the nose bigger or smaller, etc.,” he said. “Within the framework of the skull is the likeness.”
Among the bits of wisdom Kinstler dropped on the audience were these helpful statements:
“If you can understand values, you can learn color. Don’t say it is too red–say the red is too dark, if that’s what is happening.”
“I make men’s faces life-size or slightly larger. I make women’s or children’s faces slightly smaller than life.”
“Do you paint in moles or wrinkles? If you see them from that distance, then yes.”
“Distinguish between ‘highlight’ and ‘light plane.’ A highlight is a reflection.”
“I paint heavier in the light areas and thinner in the dark ones.”
And most of all, Kinstler explained that he is an artist, not a portraitist, and anyone who wished to paint portraits should first concentrate on being a good artist. “Learn how to paint,” he said, “and you can paint a portrait.”
At the end of the demo, the audience was invited to purchase his DVD “Painting a Head, My Approach” at a discounted price for SKBers.
That night, Kinstler was surprised with a Lifetime Achievement Award, the first ever given by SKB. Parkman presented the award after explaining why Kinstler was chosen as a recipient. He noted three strong traits in Kinstler that he felt assured the painter’s success: a strong work ethic, generosity toward students and other artists, and the nurturing and proper use of connections.
Artist and instructor Dawn Whitelaw, a former student of Kinstler’s, acknowledged that the first undeniable trait one notices in Kinstler is the ability to “just charm your socks off.” And she said an enduring lesson she learned from him is to “dig a little deeper and do your homework.” Whitelaw noted that Kinstler will do charcoal sketches and watercolor studies for every commission–even now, after he has demonstrated his mastery of painting and capturing the likeness for dozens of years. An appreciative Kinstler was speechless from this presentation–an uncommon situation for that most gregarious of men. Ω