Friday, December 23, 2011

Nelson Shanks: "The Portrait as Fine Art"

This is a seven minute video of Nelson Shanks talking about portrait painting.  Enjoy!  Happy Holidays and a creative and Happy New Year from Studio Incamminati. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Realism?

The other day I was listening to Philadelphia's public radio station, WHYY, and Lloyd Swartz was giving a review of the Willem de Kooning exhibit at the MoMA in New York. He quoted the artist as saying, "After awhile, all kinds of painting becomes just painting for you....abstract or otherwise. Being anti-traditional is just as corny as being traditional." I have often considered the question as to why I have chosen realism as my niche, and have come up with many different explanations. I think it is an important question, and one that is fun to I put it to the level four students the other day. Here are some of the responses that they came up with.

"I am a realist because I love true abstaction." Jason Espey

"There is more magic in reality, than you could possibly imagine, therefore that's where I look" Penny Harris

"I think I'm just a masochist." Caroline Weitzman

"I decided to become a realist painter so that I could study and understand life in a meaningful, profound way and then express what I have discovered to others. By painting what I see as realisticically as I can, as close to the truth as possible, I come to know something about the object in front of me. The in-depth study gives me the chance to relate to what I am seeing and motivates me to share that insight with others. My hope is to move the viewer emotionally in some way that causes them to think about what they are looking at....sharing an idea that they will want to ponder and perhaps share with someone else." Allisyn Kuntz

"For me, sometimes, too much is made of the difference between abstraction and realism. All visual artists work with spacial construction. For example, the figure painter works with geometric anatomical constructs to understand the form. Good realsim is just the successful overlapping of all these abstractions in one painting." Vanessa Fenton

"Why do I choose to paint realistically? Because I am realist. The world is beautiful and important to everybody. Seeing truth with a pure eye is not too easy a task without making a stereotype of an image and idea. You have to study nature's rules almost rather scientifically. It is exciting to see and to product as an artist." Sakiko Shinkai

So, that is what some of our students have to say about why they have thus far on their journeys, to travel down the path of realism. Please feel free to write into our blog and let us know what you think.

By the way, my favorite painting of de Kooning's is "Clam Diggers."

Willem De Kooning
Clam Diggers
Oil on paper on composition board
20.2" x 14.5"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hello, I'll Be Your Waiter This Evening.......Even Though I Am A Highly Talented and Skilled Artist

The Soul Stirrers  Oil on canvas  30" x 40" to sustain oneself as an artist? Lots of're an artist....get creative. Sure, there is always the gallery approach, which I have minimal experience with at this point, so somebody else feel free to write in about that. (It is a goal of mine...) I enter shows that are I think are appropriate venues for my paintings. Most recently, I was in the 115th Annual Open Exhibition at the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club in NYC, along with my colleague and friend, Lea Colie Wight, and an alumna of Incamminati, Diane Rappissi. The painting that I entered was an allegory entitled "The Soul Stirrers", which I painted totally free from thinking "Will This Sell?" (it hasn't so far...) , and I was in love with its process the entire time. Not to mention that I completely believe in this piece.

I am only speaking from my own personal experience, but every time that I have been totally gone on a painting, it has sold at one time or another. Also, I am not ashamed to mention that I have made a small fortune on Ebay...with works that I could let go of at very low prices.....but I sold a bunch! I held onto all my work, and discovered that when I would throw things out, people would invariably pick them out of the trash. Idea.....hmmmm.....why shouldn't I get some money for them? A business man/friend commented on what a great idea this learn about marketing and selling, and you end up with cash in the you can get rid of a lot of art school studies. Go ahead....look me up, I'm on there right now.....mind you will not find "The Soul Stirrers" on there. Prepare yourself for some work, though, which brings me to another point.

Work. work, work!!!! I have known Nelson Shanks for over twenty years, and have had the opportunity of observing him in action. The man works it. You gotta. Nowadays I say yes to every opportunity to sell, I can't afford not to. Need a portrait of your favorite pet that has been dead for five years? All you've got is the photo? You got it. Do the best that you can, and if all else fails put the skills learned and acquired to work. Maybe at best it is just practice, but it will probably beat waiting tables.....which I did for a decade.....quit one day right after I clocked in because the temperamental bartender snarled at me. Harvey Pekar chose to work in the USPostal Service because he liked the regular hours, the weekly paychecks, and the benefits. He would go home and do his real life's work at night.

My advice: Take on whatever comes your way, no matter how small or big.....I feel like that is a way of saying "Thank-you", and a way to open windows that opens other windows, that opens french doors looking out onto a breath-taking veranda that overlooks a stunning garden with a tree-covered path that leads to a sun-kissed meadow…….well, you get the point….
Time for me to go……time to hear from some others.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How To Paint

Oops…..sorry….I hope you didn’t think that this was going to be a cheap discourse on how to do a sketch of Obama….or how to draw eyes perfectly each time.
I was thinking more about how to get truly meaningful results from one’s work by staying, as Michael Grimaldi says, "get jazzed" about the process. Same guy said "If you really, really want to paint flowers, then paint flowers…..if you are painting flowers because you think that they will sell….wrong reason to paint."

I was also thinking about how to paint things that others would be interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty well-known for not being a people-pleaser. I would like to think that my work actually reflects that, that I have a unique way of seeing things, and expressing them. I had a lot of great teachers infuse that into my head, my being.

I have a very fond memory of talking with one of my instructors, Darren Kingsley, about the difficulties that I was having in his class. I actually whimpered, "I just want to be able to draw like this!", and I melodramatically pointed to one of his drawings that were hanging on the wall. He didn’t pause for even a second with his response. "You never will." That is what he said. And….I took it the wrong way.

For several years I thought that he meant that I would just never be as good as him. I ruminated on this for a couple of years…..and over time came to realize that what he was saying was my work would never look like his for the simple fact that I am not nor ever will be, him. I am me, and if I truly embrace that fact, with the learned skills that I have acquired, my work will have its own distinctive qualities.

I was with a friend once, and we were at a gallery and she was trying to pick the gallery owner’s brain about what sold in that area. Was it seashells? Horses? Seascapes? Maybe…..tomatoes? And the owner replied "Paint what you respond to, and others will respond to those paintings." Wonderfully awesome answer.

How to paint… about with some real intelligence….Yes, of course that means with skills attained in school. But beyond technical mastery, that in itself takes a lo-o-o-ong time to acquire, try to use your own brain to really paint from the heart and soul.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why do we paint?

A friend and colleague of mine once observed that I like to have fun…..that is absolutely the truth. I have often said to students that if you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong. Painting is hard work, but the reason I paint is because I love it, enjoy it, and can’t live without it. The day it stops being fun and rewarding, is the day I will quit, and go get a job at Walmart, as a register clerk!!
Yesterday I found myself saying this to the students in the Level 3 figure painting class that I teach with Leona Shanks. After two years of grueling exercises that include 1-minute gesture drawings, value-studies in charcoal, as well as black and white paint, and a process that has been dubbed “Duo-tone” that utilizes an extremely limited palette, and three semesters of color-study……they are then placed into a figure-painting class, where we teach them to start building paintings…….which is easy…….right???
Along with working in our chosen Incamminati manner of big shapes to small shapes, technical mastery and execution, which gets my total-hands-down-approval, I find myself concerned about the student’s (a.k.a.: the budding painter) ability to have fun. Fun involves the creative process, inventiveness, originality, authenticity, and joy in one’s work, to name a few.
The way that I remedy frustration, despair, and even boredom within the realms of my work is simple: I start standing back and start squinting…..(I said it was simple!) This starts to engage me physically and leads me to getting pumped up about my painting process. We emphasize these two actions all the time here at Incamminati, although, of course we didn’t invent it. The painter, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), was, and is still, known as Guercino -- "the Squinter”. Nelson (Shanks) has been known to say, “Paint what you see when you squint.”

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
Feb. 8, 1591 - Dec. 22, 1666

Okay……so painting is supposed to be fun…..says I……it also has to have meaning for me, in order to keep me mentally enthused and involved. Here is where I quote something Leona read in class today from “Baroque and Rococo Art”, c.1964, by Germain Bazin: “The figurative arts of the Baroque period, especially in Italy, are governed by an aesthetic that considered art as a means of expressing the passions of the soul. Psychology made considerable progress in the seventeenth century, and the problems of the passions pre-occupied a number of philosophers. Biologists laid down the first principles of physiognomy, and several artists or critics formulated treatises on expression, one of the most famous of these being by the French painter Charles Le Brun. These treatises indicate how the technique of art should render the various passions-love, suffering, anger, tenderness, joy, fury, warlike ardour, irony, fear, contempt, panic, admiration, tranquility, longing, despair, boldness, etc.” Well….there you have it!

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
David with the Head of Goliath

There are two other elements that, in my opinion, need to be included in the process of painting: How about truth and beauty? I do not think that these two elements are antiquated. I once did a painting of a crumbled up paper bag that I found interesting and beguiling. Someone thought that it was garbage (the paper bag…not the painting!) and threw it away(again…the paper bag!). Thus, the title of the painting was begat, “Trash.”
So, why paint? I think the above mentioned are some good reasons…..and I would love to hear why others do, and what keep them excited about painting.
I’m going to end this with a favorite quote of mine:
"It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life, and it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps then you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you've had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered." Jim Collins, From Good to Great

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where are you?

I have had many discussions with artists over the years, especially here at Incamminati, about their personal dialogue with themselves, about themselves, as artists, as persons. Perhaps a few do not struggle with feelings of inadequacy, but there is a good number who do. I have struggled with my own thoughts and feelings about myself and my work. In fact, I'm probably a notable warrior in this vicious battle.

Several things have helped me overcome feelings and thoughts of inadequacy: I heard Richard Schmidt once say that he does not degrade himself or his art...(that was sort of a wake-up call for me!). Having Nelson Shanks tell me to "rise to the challenge of painting..."(never forgot that!). Reading the book "Painting and the Personal Equation," by Charles Woodbury, and landing on the passage where he says to become a better painter, he or she has to change as a person. Lastly, I got completely exhausted from questioning myself and my work. That kind of self-dialogue just doesn’t gets in the way of progress, and it just is not necessary!

I had one student who used to perpetually degrade herself and her art, and I used to tell her over and over that she had to quit doing that. She continued taking my Saturday class, and slowly started to improve. One day I asked her how she had turned this corner, and she just said “I got tired of being so negative.” Hmmmm...

So, the purpose of this entry is to invite others to write in about their own metamorphosis from self-induced slug to self-proclaimed viable and veritable artist. I would love to hear from everyone, and anyone…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paintings fron top counter-clockwise: Peter Kelsey, Katya Held, Rob Goodman

Well, here we are, in the fall of 2011, already into the second month of the school year. Three new Fellowships were awarded this past summer to Peter Kelsey, Rob Goodman, and Katya Held, all of whom completed four years of study here. Peter has started teaching level one at Incamminati, and is very fervent in his still-life class to take one’s time with the big shapes, that is, the blocking in of the masses of shadow and light. Rob and Katya will be teaching a 28-week drawing class that will include still-life, figure, and portrait at the Doane Academy in Burlington, New Jersey. Both Rob and Peter have studios on the premises of the school. Peter has started some still-life paintings, as well as painting the figure model in various classes.

All three of them are happy to be with us again this year, and they are each asset to our school. We are thrilled to have them!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Claudio Bravo 1936-2011

"Circe" by Claudio Bravo, oil on canvas, 1986
 Claudio Bravo, a Chilean-born artist whose technically dazzling trompe-l’oeil paintings of paper-wrapped packages and draped cloth blended hyperrealism and classical Spanish influences, died on June 4 at his home in Taroudant, Morocco. He was 74. The cause was complications of epilepsy, David Robinson, the director of his New York gallery, Marlborough, said.
After working in Madrid in the 1960s and establishing a reputation as a society portrait painter, Mr. Bravo made an immediate impact with his first New York show, at the Staempfli Gallery in 1970.
His paintings, depicting crumpled paper, paper bags and paper-wrapped packages tied with string, put technical virtuosity at the service of an imagination shaped by old master painting, especially the work of 17th-century Spanish artists like Zurbarán, Cotán and Velázquez. Unlike American photorealists, who took the world as they found it, Mr. Bravo rooted his commonplace objects in a rich art-historical soil that lent depth and mystery to his work.
The headline in The New York Times to John Canaday’s review of that 1970 show was an art dealer’s dream: “The Amazing Paintings of Bravo.”
After moving to Tangier in 1972, Mr. Bravo expanded his repertory to include landscapes, animal portraits, still lifes and human subjects, often in exotic Moroccan costume. He later executed a series of paintings that deployed lush, color-saturated fabrics that looked as if they had been snatched from old master paintings (this is excerpted from an article that appeared in the New York Times on June 13).

Claudio Bravo 1936-2011
 After moving to Tangier in 1972, Mr. Bravo expanded his repertory to include landscapes, animal portraits, still lifes and human subjects, often in exotic Moroccan costume. He later executed a series of paintings that deployed lush, color-saturated fabrics that looked as if they had been snatched from old master paintings.
Ken Johnson, in a review in The New York Times of Mr. Bravo’s fabric paintings at Marlborough in 2000, wrote that “you could think of this work not as realism but as a kind of soulfully enriched Color Field painting.”
Claudio Nelson Bravo Camus was born on Nov. 8, 1936, in Valparaíso, Chile, and grew up on his family’s farm in Melipilla, where his father was a rancher and businessman. While attending a Jesuit school in Valparaíso, he took lessons with Miguel Venegas Cifuentes, an academic artist, but he was largely self-taught.
At 17, he had his first exhibition at the prestigious Salón 13 in Valparaíso. He also danced with the Compañia de Ballet de Chile and acted at the Teatro Ensayo at the Catholic University of Chile, but after moving to Concepción he became a sought-after portrait painter.
In 1961 he moved to Spain and continued to paint socially prominent subjects, including the daughter of Gen. Francisco Franco. In 1968 he was invited to the Philippines to paint Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and other members of that country’s elite.
It was during this period that he began painting packages in a heightened realist style. “The photorealists, like machines, copied directly from photographs,” he told Americas magazine in 2001. “Always I have relied on the actual subject matter because the eye sees so much more than the camera: half tones, shadows, minute changes in the color or light. I think I was working more in the tradition of the Color Field artists, like Mark Rothko, whom I still greatly admire. There was also a touch of the Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies, because he, too, did paintings involving string across a canvas surface.”
Mr. Bravo was hugely successful. He owned four villas in Morocco and an apartment in Manhattan. In 2004 Sotheby’s sold his 1967 painting “White Package” for more than $1 million.
Although strong demand for his paintings freed him from the need to do portrait work, he did accept the occasional commission. In 1978 he painted a portrait of Malcolm Forbes, dressed in a motorcycle racer’s jumpsuit and surrounded by motorcycle helmets.
In 1994 the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work that drew more than 280,000 visitors. “That exhibit was a social phenomenon,” the museum’s director, Milan Ivelic, told the newspaper El Mercurio. “No one imagined that over 250,000 people were going to attend, because Bravo had spent the previous two decades living in Morocco and was virtually unknown here in Chile. He had never had much Chilean coverage, but people came in droves nonetheless (NY times, June 13, 2011).”   He is represented by the Marlborough Gallery.

Naturaleza Muerta, Duraznos by Claudio Bravo
Four Blue Papers by Claudio Bravo, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nelson Shanks Exhibit at the State Museum in Russia

Katya Hald painting at the Repin Academy.  Nelson's painting in progress is on the right.

Nelson and Leona Shanks paint at Repin's Academy in St. Petersburg.

Alexander, Leona, Nelson and Annalisa Shanks in St. Petersburg.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bridging the Gap Studio Incamminati attends Opening Reception for ACOPAL (American Chinese Organization for Painting Artists League)

On an early Wednesday afternoon Studio Incamminati students and instructors visited the opening in Grammercy Park , New York of the recently formed ACOPAL organization. This group began as the idea from Mr. He Yuehua and Mr. Peng (Stephen) Ling, two Chinese-American Immigrants who’s love for fine art and desire to “pool together their combined resources to promote and secure the significance of classical realism”1

The opening had such world renowned artists as but not limited to Nelson Shanks,
Max Ginsburg, Daniel E. Green, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Ronald N. Sherr, Anothony Waichulis, Anthony Ryder, Michael Kline, Patricia Watwood, Paul G. Oxborough, Robert Liberace, Daniel Sprick, Steven Assael and Burton Silverman. It was virtually a who’s who of contemporary traditional oil painters. Dan Thompson, an instructor at multiple locations including Studio Incamminati and a master painter under the Art Renewal Center was, also, in the show.

Outside of the Portrait Society of America, a show quite as strong as this with so many amazing painters has not been put together. In addition, there was a open competition for the first time. The grand prize went to Joshua LaRock "The Artists Wife", runner-up was Cesar Santos “Out of the Square” and then N.Michelle Tully for “Tondo”. You can also visit the website for the top 100 finalists. (

Currently there are 48 members of ACOPAL and I’m sure the numbers will continue to grow. With such great work coming out of both China and America the traditional oil painting movement is continuing to flourish and strengthen. It just goes to show you that can be a successful classically trained oil painter and still create work that is contemporary, exciting and cutting edge.

Please visit there website at (1:reference info.)

Article written by Jen Hagen
Jen is currently a Studio Incamminati Fellow Instructor who’s work can be viewed at and

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jen Hagen's Level 1 Color Study Class

 This is a color study set up from yesterday's Level 1 Color Study class, taught by Jen Hagen.

 Jen assisting Simmy Pell with a color study of two blocks.  Students will complete 2 studies during this three hour class, attempting to capture the effect of the warm, artificial light.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

David Shevlino at Rosenfeld Gallery

Philadelphia artist David Shevlino will have a show of paintings and drawings at the Rosenfeld Gallery in May.  The opening reception is Sunday, May 1, from 12 until 5pm. The exhibition continues until May 22.  The Rosenfeld gallery is located at 113 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 215-922-1376.

David's work is featured in the May 2011 issue of the Artist's magazine. You can read the article and see his work in progress at the following link:                                                             

Adam with Mask 45x34
Under the Sun 45x45
Two Sumo Wrestlers 33x28

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nelson Shanks Demonstration at Freeman's Auction April 2011

 Nelson Shanks gave a demonstration at Freeman's auction this week as part of the weeklong celebration of Studio Incamminati at Freeman's.  This included an exhibition of Studio Incamminati art work, a demo by Nelson, an interview with Michael Schmirconish and a royal wedding tribute.  Thanks to Deborah and Andrew Webster, the co-chairs of this exciting week!  Nelson began his demo with a quick grisaille, and then began working in a middle value in the light mass on the face. He then began to carve out lighter and darker planes, and indicated some highlights.  After that he painted the background color in light, the model's white top and her hair.  This took about 45 minutes.

 Here Nelson has painted the shadows under the chin and on the neck in full color, separating it into a warm and a cool area, and placed strong color notes in the background, showing the movement of the warmth of light across the pink drapery.  Notice how he does not use browns for the shadows, he paints them in full color.

 Here is the lovely model, Lauren Fadeley, who is part of the Pennsylvania Ballet, posing during a break. She was recently featured in the Academy award winning film Black Swan.

 The demonstration took about three hours and Nelson's virtuoso performance was amazing to watch!

Love and kudos to the model, who did a wonderful job!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Freeman's Auction and Studio Incamminati - Opening Reception April 15, 2011

Studio Incamminati instructors Lea Wight and Natalie Italiano
 Studio Incamminati is having a week long celebration of art at Freeman's Auction in Philadelphia, 1808 Chestnut Street, April 15-21, 2011.  Freeman's Auction is the oldest auction house in the country. In anticipation of the upcoming royal wedding, this celebration includes a Royal Wedding Tribute, featuring a display of rare photographs and letters of Diana, Princess of Wales.  On view is also a new portrait of Diana painted by Studio Incamminati artistic director Nelson Shanks, as well as 50 additional paintings by Shanks and Studio Incamminati instructors and students. 

Studio Incamminati artist Yoni Park with "Fellow" Joe Dolderer
 There are numerous events during the week, including a virtuoso demo by Shanks on Wednesday night, April 20, from 6:00 to 9:00 at Freeman's.  Shank's demos are a must see for any serious realist painter or student of representational art, as well as collectors or anyone who loves painting. It is a truly amazing experience and a privilege to see this world renowned master at work. His understanding and use of color to communicate the effect of light is unparalleled. Tickets are $50.00 per person.

Students Sakiko Shinkai, Ruth Miller and "Fellow' Joe Dolderer 
 Additional events include a Royal Wedding Tribute Reception featuring  Michael Smerconish interviewing Patrick Jephson and Nelson Shanks about their close relationships with Princess Diana, and a Royal Wedding Private Tribute dinner, on Thursday, April 21. Studio Incamminati artists will be painting portraits from live models in Freeman's window daily from approximately 10 to 4, so stop by and experience this amazing process. The exhibit inside is on display daily from Saturday, April 16 to Thursday, April 21, and is free and open to the public.  For further information and to purchase tickets for the special events visit or call 215-592-7910.  There is also a silent auction in the exhibit, bids will be accepted all week.

Instructors Kerry Dunn and Jafang Lu with student John Flavin
Dr. Alan Kwon with Studio Incamminati artist Liora Seltzer
Studio Incamminati board president Frank Giordano and Marc Mostovoy, board member emeritus
Instructor Robin Frey and student Penny Harris
Instructors Darren Kingsley, Steve Early and advanced student Katya Held.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Studio Incamminati Open House March 25 - 26

Studio Incamminati is hosting an open house this Friday from 4:30-8:30 and Saturday from noon to 4:30. We hope you take this opportunity to visit us and see inside our studio!  This open house provides a window into the inside world of a world class atelier. We will be giving demonstrations, guided tours of the classrooms and instructor's private studios, and personal critiques of your work if you are an artist.  I think we could be an exciting television series called "Real Art World: Philadelphia".

Third year student, Adele, painting a still life as part of our mentorship program.  The third year students paint still life in the instructor's studios on Fridays.   You can see her color study on the left.

Instructor Lea Wight painting a still life in her studio. In  the background are several of her large paintings of figures in interiors, which you will be able to see.

Instructor Robin Frey is currently working on a large self portrait in her studio.  Several of her other large figurative paintings can be seen in the background.

A student's still life set up currently in Leona Shanks studio.  One of Leona's paintings about the environment is visible in the background.

One of Leona's allegorical still life paintings in progress, with the set up in view.

Third year student Caroline Wiseman painting in instructor Natalie Italiano's studio.

Workshops students painting from the figure model.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Studio Incamminati Artists Paint the Town at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Instructor Jen Hagen and Katya Held
Studio Incamminati artists welcome spring this year painting at the annual Philadelphia International    Flower Show.  The theme of this year's show is" Springtime in Paris". The annual horticultural event at the convention center is welcoming visitors with 25,000 tulips under a faux Eiffel Tower.
Steve Early painting a model in French costume
Jen Hagen and Katya Held
Snehal Page and Instructor Rebecca Tait

Instructor Rebecca Tait and Snehal Page