Learning the art of visual dexterity at the VAS

Continuing with their mission to bring international experts into the Cayman classroom for some one-to-one artistic instruction, the Visual Arts Society recently welcomed Ms Patricia O’Halloran to its wonderful Watler House at Pedro’s Castle location. Local art enthusiasts mastered the art of oils as well as appreciated the basics of anatomy under Patricia’s guidance. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.

Living in Haverford, Pennsylvania, Patricia O’Halloran has a master’s in education and teaches art to all age groups. An established artist herself, her work includes landscapes, still lifes and portraits done primarily in oil, watercolour, and plaster.
 
With a niece living in Cayman, Tricia says she has been a keen and constant visitor to the islands for many years.
 
“I first visited Cayman in the late Sixties and so I’ve seen a tremendous change in the islands over that period of time,” she confirms. “I have always loved Cayman and love visiting here.”
 
Over a short ten day period in February Patricia managed to cram in a huge amount of artistic instruction, providing advice on four separate courses, namely oil for beginners, three ways to start an oil painting and two ‘anatomy for the artist’ classes.
 
“I have had a wonderful time teaching at the superb Watler House location and have been very impressed by the students’ commitment to learning,” Patricia says. “Working in oils was actually a first for some of the students so it was a real thrill to see their enthusiasm for this new medium.”
 
One student, Karen Coles, says: “I found both the oil painting for beginners and the anatomy courses to be most instructive.  Patricia made the whole experience fun yet instructional.  She is truly a gifted teacher.  In particular her explanation of the mechanics of the human body will make me look at anatomy drawing in a completely different way.”
 
Established artist and Visual Arts Society Director Avril Ward attended Patricia’s anatomy class and says: “As established artists we often don’t think we need to do instructional courses.
 
This is so untrue – no matter how many times I have studied a subject, there is something new to be learnt. In this particular class we worked with a life size skeleton and a model. Having both and comparing the two side by side really enhanced my understanding of body positioning, especially of a body in motion. Also it is excellent discipline to actually spend a few hours just doing technical drawings, something I am usually to busy to do. I enjoyed the classes immensely.”

Learning the basics
Oil techniques for better painting
Patricia says she set out to instil in her students some basic principles of painting in oils.
 
“It’s a wonderful medium in which to paint,” she confirms. “Yet students really need to appreciate how it works to get the best out of their artwork.”
 
Starting with the palette, Patricia says students were required to organise their palette so that it did not become “wild and dirty” as Tricia puts it.
 
She explains: “You can waste a lot of paint if you don’t have some sort of order, so I suggest to students that they apply paint to the edge of their palettes and then take paint away with a palette knife instead of using a brush to stick into the paints and thereby muddy the colours.”
 
Ensuring that artists match the right colour to the subject matter is another important basic element of oil painting, as Patricia states: “I encourage students to place their colours on their palette knife and then match that directly to the subject matter. Colours on a palette look quite different when surrounded by other colours or white as opposed to actually placed against the subject itself.”
 
Patricia says that buying the best equipment an artist can possibly afford is important, but that equipment does not have to be elaborate – just a palette, paints, turpenoid, painting medium, canvass, brushes and an easel.
 
Another useful piece of advice for would-be oil painters is to use a wipe out technique, thereby applying colour liberally all over the canvas and then wiping away areas which the artist desires to be lighter.
 
“It’s liberating to wipe out a canvas,” Patricia says. “White can be so sterile and can suck the life out of a painting, so by using this technique light and dark, white and colour become choices for the artist.”
 
Oil, Patricia says, is the perfect medium for applying such a wash as it is slow drying and therefore allows the artist time to experiment in such a way with their work.
 
Layering is another clever tool in an oil painters’ arsenal and Patricia says this can lead to some really stunning results.
 
She furthers: “We move from lean to fat when it comes to layering in oils. This means we begin with spirits, then gradually build up to include more and more oil, allowing the oil paints to bind smoothly to the canvas. This allows a great flow to the work and can create freedom and versatility for the artist.”

Understanding anatomy
As far as her anatomy classes are concerned, Patricia says it was vital to have a real live model from which to work.
 
“A live model helps a good deal with the structure of the human form. As an artist you have to understand the figure you are drawing from the inside out. Once you know and understand form you can formulate substantial images instead of relying on what you can see just at the surface,” Patricia explains, and adds: “There is an interesting moment in history during the Renaissance period of art when anatomy was finally understood and the human form came to life.”
 
In a similar way to her wipe out technique for oils, Tricia teaches artists to cover paper with a mid range charcoal and then extract the charcoal where lighter shades are required as well as add more for darker shades.
 
“I’m teaching visual dexterity with these methods,” she explains. “This is because students tend to loosen up and really begin to translate what they see, creating shape and form rather than a single, tight lines.”

Summer art in Ireland
This summer Patricia will take a small group of painters and students to Ireland to experience the beauty of the Irish countryside. This year she has arranged a week of painting in Ireland at the Burren Painting Centre, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, beginning Saturday 10 July and leaving Saturday 17 July. Tricia says she welcomes artists from Cayman who might be interested in stretching their artistic capabilities while enjoying some gorgeous Irish scenery at the same time. Visit www.burrenpaintingcentre.com for more information.

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