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My day 3 and 4 attempt at portraiture.-Leslie Miller

Workshop Review-

Michelle Dunaway

Many of you have asked about the workshop I attended in January with Michelle Dunaway at the Scottsdale Artists’ School. It was a phenomenal experience- intimidating, galvanizing, exhausting, challenging, and overall exhilarating! The whole experience was blogworthy. From the road trip with artist and dear friend, Pam Wedemeyer, to the school itself, being in the presence of so much talent and energy, and learning from Michelle both the technical and spiritual side of painting was inspiring.

The night before the workshop, as I packed and prepared my things for the workshop, I noticed that I had signed up for an advanced class. An advanced class in portraiture! I was already quite intimidated, but this was icing on the nervous cake. I had never painted a live model. I had only worked with still life and landscape. Now, I was set up to take an advanced class in a new field for me. Still, I eagerly anticipated the chance to learn.
Artists can sometimes seem anti-social as we retreat into our creative spaces. Being able to share our thoughts and emotions about art with like-minded individuals is the key to not becoming a recluse. We left Tubac at 6 a.m., and though Pam is not a morning person, we talked non-stop the whole way there about our goals, ideas, and fears. What a boost to my spirit!

Scottsdale Artist’s School

I had no clue what to expect when we arrived at the school. The Scottsdale Artists’ School is located in a former grammar school built in 1928 in old town Scottsdale. The halls are lined with museum quality, awe-inspiring artwork by students and teachers of the school. The moment we stepped inside, I felt the buzz of energy and creativity, knowing good things were about to happen.


Leslie Miller, Michelle Dunaway and Pam Wedemeyer

There were five classrooms listed on the directory, Michelle Dunaway, Daniel Keys, Susan Lyon, Kathy Anderson and the Academy! 15 to 16 students for each of the workshops, a welcoming staff at the reception desk, Symi from England with a huge selection of handmade Rosemary brushes, a couple libraries filled with art books, props line the hallways and the aroma of linseed oil and fresh flowers fill the light-filled corridors. Models changing into costumes, backdrops and lighting being adjusted to cast the perfect shadows. Can you imagine the buzz?

The classroom Michelle’s class was held in was at the end of the hall and filled with light, two stages on either side set with an armchair filled with a beautiful ivory complexed brunette in a 1920 period costume, music from Downton Abbey fills the room along with the scrapping of easels being positioned and brushes placed in jars in preparation to create a symphony in paint. The four-day workshop format consisted of Michelle painting a demo, with loads of instruction and wisdom, on of the first and third mornings and in the afternoons, we would paint one of the two models while Michelle provided guidance and critique. Day three there will be two new models, males and of African American descent, a completely different complexion, facial structure and palette. Demonstrating two separate approaches to portraiture.

Take-aways from Michelle Dunaway Workshop

I have pages and pages of notes representing only a smattering of the things I learned, Michelle talks really fast! Here is a random listing of some of my faves.

  • Always State three intentions for a study painted Alla Prima.
    In other words,what are the things you want to convey most?
    – Is it the light?
    – is it color?
    – is it contrast?
    – is it an emotion?
  • – is it a likeness?
  • Painting is like drawing with puzzle pieces that fit together like a mosaic.
  • Paint the abstract shapes not the eyelid the iris or the pupil but the abstract shapes you see.
  • It’s not how fast but how accurate.
  • Better to have a small area really accurate then a covered canvas covered from edge to edge incorrectly.
  • Learn to not be so attached to whatever you put it down. It may need to change.That said, don’t change to chase the light or the model or the article of clothing but to make drawing more accurate.
  • So it is better to do something bold, then, selectively soften, than it is to be timid.
  • Brilliance tends towards color not white.
  • “Don’t paint everything in sight, paint things that make your heart beats faster.” quote by Daniel Gerhartz
  • The focal point should be completed to a higher degree of realism or resolve. Linger in these areas
  • Returning to them with each pass
  • Have Patience!
  • Michelle Dunaway thinks of painting as “a way of saying Amen visually”
  • Michelle uses small paint color tiles because she wants small color changes throughout the painting for added interest. In other words, Keep simple values but use many color variations.
  • Being attached to your vision but don’t be attached to each stroke take the leap sometimes. You need to let go of the good to get to the great.


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