A Small Portrait Head in Oil from Life

Ala Prima oil

I’ve just had the pleasure of completing this small  (10 x 8″) oil portrait from a model that has been sitting for the portrait class that I lead Tuesday evenings a The Honolulu Museum of Art School.

Noil is a rare find, he has a great look and focus, and maintains a pose with great accuracy.  At one sitting, (perhaps more than one, now that I think of it), he stayed in pose for the entire three hour session without a break.  Our kinda model!



Anyway, I managed this small piece while teaching, and it’s grown on me over time. There’s a simple and direct “thing” it seems to possess.  “Noil” is painted on masonite primed with Gamblin oil primer.

A Fresh Portrait Drawing in Charcoal

From last evening’s Portrait class…I managed to turn out this fairly quick charcoal drawing of Noil, a very good model we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Vine charcoal is about the simplest drawing media one could dream up, but really deserves a great deal of respect for it’s amazing qualities.  It has a value range from a whisper to a roar,  yet can be made to disappear with the sweep of a rag.


                      Noil B. Vine charcoal on Canson MeiTeintes,  about 11 x 14″

Pastel Portrait…a moment revisited

autumn pastel Autumn, pastel on paper , 18 x 24″

I received word that this painting, which has been in my flat files for perhaps six years now, is going to be purchased. Pulling it out and re-viewing it brought back a lot of memories.

A Moment Revisited

The subject, A. T., was in college in NYC as an art major but here in Hawai’i on a visit home.  Now, she’s happily married and with two children, something that certainly wasn’t on her immediate horizon then.  I was doing mostly the ocean pieces that many viewers are used to seeing, and wanted to exercise (or revive) the portrait side of myself.  So I engaged her for a few drawings and paintings during afternoons. I thought it was a good fit. We talked about life a lot while she was posing.  I was a Sunday School teacher at the time, and  my thoughts tended toward the philosophical and spiritual, which is still true I suppose.  Posing is tedious work and she did very well. Things change, people change, and life passes quickly.   I should do more of these. They don’t stop any of the change, certainly, but they contain it somehow and there’s a solid satisfaction in providing that for other people’s lives. Autumn cropped

12/11/13 A Portrait Sketch in Pastel

This is a two session pastel head that I managed to get completed last night in our final “Drawing and Painting the Portrait Head” class at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.  The first night was an hour or two of placement of shapes and color, the second session was just moving forward with the whole piece.

Tom, our subject, was new to sitting for portraits, and did a fine job.  I’ve found that a model must, perhaps above any other quality, possess some sort of inner life….an intellectual, spiritual dimension to their character that they can exist in during the long and tedious process of sitting.  People who require external stimulation to focus on simply won’t be able to do the work for long.

Tom Ciletti

This was the first pastel I’ve done in a while.  I used Lascaux pastel ground on a piece of rag mat board, which I then toned with gouache…just  stuff lying about my studio! The work was done with my Girault setup and some  Stabilo pastel pencils for the smaller passages on the features.  I wanted the informal sort of look that I got, nothing fussed over too much, except the drawing (i.e.placement of shapes) and color choices, which I pushed forward as best I could.





12/04/13 A Small Portrait Head

If you are at all interested in painting people, you probably will understand what I’m about to write.

Walking into a party last August, I was by chance reintroduced to this gentleman, Dr. Paul Brennan and his wife Dorothy. I will admit, and you’ll likely understand,  that upon first seeing Paul again from across the room, the painter-part of me immediately took to conniving and scheming about asking this fellow to sit for a portrait of some sort. How embarrassingly crass of me. I fought it successfully for a bit , but after getting reacquainted over a friendly conversation  with the two of them, I took the plunge and inquired (with understandably high hopes) as to whether he would be interested in sitting for my portrait class.  Thankfully he was willing and available, and in November we had the happy privilege of working with him for five three-hour sessions at the Honolulu Museum School of Art.



Paul Brennan

Dr. Brennan Oil on stretched linen, 14 x 11″

Though I worked on this while teaching, which means rather sporadically, it was still a pleasure to tackle this distinguished, noble character. With his vast interests and wealth of life experiences, Paul kept all of us entertained as we chipped away at our studies.

Simply painting a head adequately is challenge enough, and the skills in painting and problem -solving are acquired slowly and require honing. My own emphasis in this particular piece, which is only 14 x 11″, was to try to get at the truth of the subject’s color and to state the color notes as succinctly as I could, using the brush and knife as directly and expressively as possible, working towards surface interest and texture as well as light, shade, and color. I’ve been interested in some of the heads painted by artists such as George Clausen, where the verity of the likeness is equal with the knowledge that  you ‘re looking at pieces of paint. I find that to be a very rich experience.

Such little assignments within the task of painting the head keep me and the students on our toes and looking ahead to the next sitting.


A New Portrait Head ~Honolulu Academy School of Art Class

I’ve just finished work on a four-session portrait from a terrific local model, Sergio Janzen. This was done in my class as a demonstration/keep-the-students-enthused  piece.  18 x 14″ oil on stretched linen.

I say study, or even sketch, because there’s only so much one can and should do when students are present, they need help. At the same time I always try to teach by practical example… it’s much better, and certainly humbling, to be struggling with the same problems as they are rather than calling plays from the sidelines with a wine glass in my hand. And if one of the oil painters has a question, I can show them how to work out the answer on my own painting or theirs.  I think that’s an ideal way to learn


Red Sergio oil on linen 18 x 14″


It would have been nice to have had another 3 hours to work out some things on Sergio’s portrait, but I did some of that from memory after the sessions ended. I would rather work from memory in those instances, simply because it keeps me sharper.  I also am driven slightly nuts by the  number of people using cell phone photos to work from away from the model, but they just laugh and call me old  fashioned, which is somewhat true.

But I stick to my guns on this point, because the entire process is not, in the case of the student, to only “finish” a project, but to train their faculties, and one of those faculties involves taking three dimensional reality (nature) and recreating it in two dimensions (upon the canvas) without a machine doing it for them.

My palette was:

Yellow Ochre

Cad Lemon

Cad Orange

Cad Scarlett

Light Red

Flake White #1, with a touch of Liquin worked in

Alizarin Crimson


Ultramarine Blue

Ivory Black



A Special Workshop-The Figure in Watercolor October 6-7

I have a peculiar relationship with self promotion.  While I want very much for people to see my work (that’s half of the equation), I possess a reluctance to market myself conspicuously.  I don’t much like discussing the sales of my paintings outside family and closest friends, or operating as if I’m luring the unwitting into the artist’s version of a car dealership. I like to keep the work and the selling somewhat compartmentalized. This blog is an example, I don’t get into selling here, I would like readers to just come aboard and visit without a subtext.

That said, I now would like to brief my reading public on something that I’ve been working on that has me excited a bit beyond all reason, a special watercolor workshop on painting the figure.

As you may know, watercolor was my first love-experience in painting, and while I don’t participate in it full time,  I am perfectly comfortable working in it, and I often return to it for the working out of those subjects where watercolor is appropriate.   Also, I confess here rather remorsefully that I have a contrarian streak at times, one that chafes at some of the goings-on in the watercolor world.   There are great things being done by very talented people, certainly. But I also see very sincere painters-in-the-making that are struggling with some very basic and essential things about making paintings. They seem to go in circles, relying on method rather than really seeing, and hoping that tips n’ tricks might carry their work.  As a result they often stumble on the subject of the figure, and so that is the focus of the workshop I’m conducting in October.

Here’s what I’m doing:

My first step has been to analyze and address the repeated problems that I noticed watercolor painters incur.  They are summed up in the workshop credo I developed:

We are always looking ~We are always designing~ We are seeking fluency~We are wiling to practice.

There was a fifth We are artists first, watercolorists second, but I dropped it, it’s a bit much though it speaks to the problem of separating “watercolor” from painting in general, an error I believe.

Next,  I created a power point presentation to address and demonstrate each of these necessary attitudes.  I spent way too much time on making this, but found myself really excited to show what I think is a valuable point of view on the matter.

First, there’s a whole section on the study of master drawings.  People need to see the great work of the past, and why it’s great.  Rembrandt’s wash drawings are a great lead-in to the importance of seeing your everyday world, taking clues from your immediate surroundings and doing something with them. Then, committing oneself to a lifestyle of continued eye-opening, sketching, and active participation in development of one’s work as a designer, taking what’s around you and shaping it.  I also have a section on my own favorite painters in watercolor, many of whom students are unfamiliar with, because I believe that to gain fluency, you need heros and mentors.  Zorn,Sargent, Seago, Bonnington, and others have influenced me greatly, and I’m very happy to introduce some favorite works by them.

The workshop itself will be fun, I’ve developed a series of exercises to deal with everything from the slight indications of the figure in the landscape, sketching habitually, memory work, and finally to working directly from the live model.

Below is one  piece I developed to market the workshop, I’ve posted it in the past.  It’s developed totally from imagination and recollection of all sorts of things, which is something I’ve taught myself to do. I want students to understand that this is possible, it’s an attempt at fluency and integrating their life experience and their craft. It’s simply the sort of liberating and challenging work that I think artists, generally speaking, should some how be up to attempting.  Without photos… those will always be around anyway.


For more information, email me at mark@marknorseth.com   or call the Academy at 808.532.8741.   I believe we have only 3 spaces left.  Could be a game changer.