Sunday, June 8, 2014

Robert Liberace and Oak Hollow Studios

Realistic, Classic and Energy Filled

Before this last year, my primary source of study for portraiture was video. I had never taken a portrait painting or drawing class. Now I have had the great pleasure of taking two classes with Robert Liberace and attending two classes at Oak Hollow Studios. Is there a theme emerging?

Classical drawing and paintings have always inspired me. Because of their richness of color, line, and information, it's like reading a good book. It's easy for me to stand in museums translating and absorbing paintings for hours, breathing in their grace and feeding my spirit.

Robert Liberace

Robert Liberace's paintings and drawings have been a favorite of mine since first seeing his work. Rob's work and enthusiastic teaching style evoke his love for what he does and the great classical spirit. Rob brings a very present energy to a class, and he expresses that passion through his gestures and drawings while engaging the students.  

Rob holds workshops throughout the country offering a range of classes on the portrait and figure. Living in the greater DC area, he also teaches workshops and ongoing classes at the Art Student League in Alexandria, VA. Both are popular and fill quickly. Rob's website keeps an up to date list of all classes offered.
Wonderful Lunches

My  first workshop with Rob was at The Art Student League in Alexandria this past December. During that workshop, I learned of the upcoming workshop for 3-color drawing at Oak Hollow Studios. Working with 3-color was a process of great interest to me, so I quickly signed up. To study with Rob so close to my home was a great opportunity. Another advantage was the workshop size. The class size was limited and offered more one-on-one interaction.   

Carmen Drake Gordon owns Oak Hollow Studios located in Carthage, NC, a neighbor of Pinehurst, NC. Oak Hollow Studios is a unique place to study. It's truly an art/life experience. The studio located on a beautiful farm is replete with chickens and gardens. Included in the workshop are incredible lunches prepared by Carmen and her helpers. Of course dessert is never forgotten.   

Robert Liberace

This workshop focused on a process that was used for centuries, drawing using three colors red, black and white chalk. Traditional materials of charcoal and conte (red clay) were used in the class. DaVinci, Rubens, and Watteau excelled at the three-color process using these materials. 

In this workshop, we also used new materials, Prismacolor Verithin pencils in terracotta, black and white. Our paper was Twinrocker handmade paper from Indiana. Prior to the class, we prepared our paper. First, we toned it with watercolor. Next, we allowed the paper to dry, and then coated it with a shellac mixture.

Red and black chalk simulate skin tones very well. The red and black chalk when hatched or blended, create a blue color. In conjunction with the tinted paper, this approximates the appearance of skin tone.

The workshop was four full days. Each morning we gathered before class for coffee, greetings and set up. Because Oak Hollow Studios is located on a farm away from any distractions, everyone was able to focus intently on the work. The days seem to fly by, and the 20-minute pose sessions seemed like 2 minutes. Our model for the 4-day workshop held difficult positions remarkably well. 

Robert Liberace
Daily demonstrations were insightful and fun to watch as Rob created sketches with ease. The rest of the day we worked as Rob traveled the room, giving feedback to each person.   

provided so much information over the 4-day span it's hard to include everything in one article. Here are a few highlights from my notes.

The gesture of a pose is very important. Establish the gesture within the first few thoughts. It's what animates a pose. Exaggerate a gesture if necessary to give the form better energy, and use it to create a spark. Maintain that original gesture all the way to the finish. Don't just pack on information. Keep drawing looking lively, loose, relaxed not heavy. All detail is included to support the gesture and make it more convincing.

Robert Liberace
Boil down to a simple form and fill in. Exploit areas of form with occasional contours but not solid heavy contour lines. Create balance between big important shapes, intermediate shapes, and finer shapes. Create the illusion of dimensional form with animated poses, and make a lively realistic impression with an energy filled drawing.

Try to discover and understand the figure, and then allude to key points. Refine and suggest information, and tell a story of dimension. Before going into any detail establish the overall pattern of light and dark before going into any detail to get a lively impression of the figure. Definition and contrast moves the shadow.

Allow the detail to appear slowly. Allow the lines to flutter and fly. Getting it correct is not the point. Extra lines or pentimenti help you see where you've been, giving your drawing a vibrational effect. Keep pencil points sharp and change pencils often. Use pencils on their side, as this gives a painterly line and can be easily erased or adjusted.

Draw in a way to allow yourself to change or adjust the drawing. Draw quickly and move to the next thing. Keep lines diagonal to the direction of the form then transversely, occasionally use one unifying diagonal line. Use hatch lines in a way so as to feel the form. Varying lines gives a dimensional quality and a nice pattern. Create smokiness or sfumato at the edge by spraying lines beyond form, this helps create realism. Sharp edges appear flat and cartoon-like, use them well.

Carmen and Rob

There was so much more that we learned!!! I'll have to end here or write another blog. Hopefully, this will inspire you to take a closer look at paintings, visit a museum or to create more with you own images. The workshop was a blast, and thanks Carmen for hosting another great workshop. A big thanks to Rob, who is such an amazing teacher. 

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Until next time...

Artfully Yours,

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The Class


  1. How I wish I could have joined you all! Annette, thanks for such an insightful blog post!

    1. Thanks Chris, to have had you there with us would have been awesome.