Technique Tuesday: David Cheifetz Workshop Notes

David Cheifetz's knife painting demo from our workshop.

David Cheifetz's knife painting demo from our workshop.

"Paint with paint"

The mantra most frequently uttered by the masterful David Cheifetz at the 3 day painting workshop I recently participated in was simply, "Paint with paint". And David really meant it. In his demos his brush or palette knife was always fully loaded with a glob of yummy paint every single time he touched his canvas. We quickly discovered that he wanted each of us to do the same.

It was such a frequent utterance that fellow painter J Lyndon Douglas cheekily observed, "Amazing that paintings are made with paint. I think what I have been producing until now could be called smudgings." After laughing and probably snorting at his statement, I realized that J was really on to something. To see the amount of paint David Cheifetz skillfully uses while painting is a true revelation. Anything less just looks flat & lifeless in comparison. It has me very much rethinking how much paint I use in my own paintings, or smudgings as J would say.

Here are my personal notes from the workshop to share with you all. Many of these concepts were new to me. Enjoy!:

-Emphasize the values in your primary subject and dilute them everywhere else. You want your darkest dark and your lightest light on your primary subject.

-When setting up a still life, contrast secondary objects by picking darker subjects against the light of your primary subject. Always think dark vs. light.

-Think groupings. Don't scatter your subjects too much so or else they will compete against each other.

-"I always go for fear in a painting. If you are uncomfortable about something in your painting that is a good thing, it pushes you. Try to have at least one thing in each painting that makes you feel that way."

-Before you start a painting get a clear mental picture of what you want to paint. Sit, stare at it. Imagine it completely in your head the composition, area of focus, values and edges. Then begin to paint, and only then.

-Think surface/fabric. Do the folds add to your area of focus? If not take them out. Simplify.

-Make sure the light is directed on your primary subject.

-Example: When painting a ball of yarn, subdue any strings that leave the main form (skein). It should not compete with the ball of yarn itself.

-Example: Killing an apple (secondary object). Subdue it by not rendering it as well, more flat. Subdue chroma, value, everything.

-Your set up (composition) is just a tool for your narrative. Don't feel chained to it if it is not right.

-Cheifetz prefers to paint small. Mostly 9 x 12, 8 x 10 or 11 x 14.

-He sets his palette up from transparent colors to opaque. His colors include (but not in order): ivory black, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, cadmium lemon and titanium white.

-You want your lights to be painted in mostly opaque colors because they attract the most light rays visually.

-Begin your under drawing by getting in the abstract shape of the shadows.

-Indicates the table line. Positions objects within the composition by making vertical and horizontal marks.

-He prefers compositions that are eye level. They elevate ordinary objects by bringing it to a "human scale".

-He prefers to paint on a dry panel (no oiling in).

-Use enough medium to be able to draw. Prefers Gamblin's Megilp.

-A tip on drawing straight vertical lines by hand: Make micro adjustments back and forth as you lay down the line. The overall impression will be a straight line.

-Jumps right into massing the objects & shadows (like an open grissaile). He immediately moves into his lights with color (direct painting) working first on the highlight of his main subject and moving out from there.

The early stage of David Cheifetz's knife painting demo.

The early stage of David Cheifetz's knife painting demo.

-Put one or two generous strokes of paint before changing colors. PAINT WITH PAINT!

-Paint your backgrounds as lovingly as your objects.

-Lays his color down with filberts in long tiles.

-When painting a portrait, pick your area of focus and then let everything else melt out.

-Begin your painting with your subject and end it there.

I want to personally thank our host for the workshop, artist Tricia Ratliff of Agile Arts Atelier for conceiving this workshop and inviting me to participate. And thanks above all to David Cheifetz for his exceptional instruction and the individual attention he gave to each of us. I'd like to also add that David hosts his own awesome podcasts called The Impasto Logs that are all about painting and are especially wonderful to listen to when painting, or smudging.