Nathan Fowkes Workshop Review: Color Concepts, February 2011

A page from Nathan Fowke’s sketchbook.

Nathan Fowkes is a renowned Los Angeles artist and teacher. Among many things he is known for being a masterful color stylist. All you have to do is see hislandscape sketches to know he is a master of color and his craft. Being a fan of his work I was eagerly awaiting his one day Color Concepts WorkshopLos Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA).

The 8 hour event was divided into 3 parts. First was lecture and slideshow.  Next came a demo from the model where Nathan put into practice the topics of the lecture. Finally the students got their chance to paint from the model with Nathan’s guidance.

Nathan began the lecture and slideshow with personal stories and experiences. Relating how painting and sketching drives his illustration at Dreamworks Animation where Nathan does spectacular visual development work.  The meat of the lecture consisted of color principals, concepts and color theory.

Obviously the lecture had tremedous value. My only gripe was that it was a bit long at 41/2  hours. As an artist eager to paint alongside Nathan, I wanted more painting time and would have liked to see a more condensed lecture. Considering the circumstance and the 1 day schedule, Nathan did an excellent job presenting the material.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away from the lecture was the importance of temperature (warmth or coolness) of a color. Nathan spent a lot of time on temperature and its emotional impact on the viewer. That in itself was priceless.  Having laid a foundation it was time to put the concepts into practice and demo for the class.

For the demo, Nathan prepared a costumed model with dramatic, colorful, saturated theatrical lighting. A rich red spot light complemented by a bright green rim light.

The quiet before the storm. Nathan’s trademark watercolor setup.

For those who have ever wanted to see Nathan demo his process, it is a thing of beauty. Imagine a crescendo of fat sable brushes applying thick color with fearless and agressive strokes. Each stroke bold and precise. Wow!  I had previously seen Nathan demo at a previous LAAFA workshop and I was still mesmerized.

A master at work. A thing of beauty. I could of watched him all day.

The first half of the demo consisted of  a color exercise where Nathan harmonized two opposing colors. The goal of the exercise was to work a interesting and powerful color harmony out of 2 seemingly unrelated colors. He worked small, quickly and very abstract with his trademark bold marks. After completing 2 small studies Nathan moved on to the model.

Again working small and relatively abstract. Nathan began to apply his color concepts. Now the challenge was not only to compose an interesting figure but to relate a red and green light being shone on a living, breathing form.  Watching someone with that much experience makes it look so easy.   I came away with a feeling of,  “hey, I can do that”.

The studies on the left are color exercises. The right is the final demo from the model. Approx. 1 hour to finish.

After the demo the class excited for the final session of painting from the model.  There were 2 models with 2 different scenarious set up. I chose the original model from Nathan’s demo.

My humble little watercolor setup.

As with his demo, he had the class spend the first hour doing the harmonizing exercising. Working small, loose and abstract. Admittedly, I was bored at first, but then the wheels in my brain started turning. The relationships between colors change so dramatically as I painted. It became a compelling exercise and proved to valuable when painting from the model.

The last 2 hours was dedicated to painting the model. Nathan gave a lot of feedback to students while we were painting.  At the end of the final session, Nathan thanked the group and gave some final thoughts. Even after class, he was also very generous with his time in answering questions and giving feedback and critique.  That’s one thing I appreciate about him is his eagerness to share and help students.  Of course, I took full advantage and was able to spend some time Nathan and get feedback on my own work. Thanks Nathan.

Overall, the workshop was an excellent experience. The lecture was interesting and the material was extremely valuable. Even though it felt a bit long, Nathan presented the material well. The demo was valuable and exciting. Watching Nathan work was a tremendous learning experience. Finally, the painting session with Nathan’s guidance was fun and valuable.

Congratulations to LAAFA for another successful workshop and special thanks to Nathan for his time and generosity. LAAFA did another outstanding job organizing and hosting the event. Every workshop I’ve taken there has been fun and well organized.  I always feel at home when I’m there.  I am definitely looking forward to the next Fowkes workshop and the next visit to LAAFA.

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