Faith Puleston

Herdecke, Germany

Please call in at one of my blogs, e.g. / I’ve been ill recently, but I’m gradually updating...

How (not) to do a painting demonstration

This morning I went to my nearby art materials emporium – a paradise on earth, full of temptations not to be resisted – especially to attend what I thought might be a helpful demonstration on pastel painting on large canvases.
The studio used for these events is quite large and purpose-built. It seats about 50 people and there is a large “performance” area, good light and a coffee machine just outside the door.
I was late. I’d forgotten to recharge my mobile so waited a few minutes for it to get past the first stroke and be my helper in need for the morning.
So I actually went into the demo studio at about 11.45a.m., 45 mins after the demo had started. The artist was nowhere to be seen and I was informed that he was getting himself a coffee. 10 min later he returned. Please note that the coffee machine is 5 paces from the studio door.
What had he already accomplished? Well, he seemed to have unpacked his stuff, including several squeezy bottles of acrylic paint.
Aha, I said to someone, he’s going to do an acrylic underpainting.
No, I was told. He’s already used pastel ground on his canvas. Then I noticed that he only had one unworked canvas. 3 others were stacked on easels. One was a Modigliani copy and not nearly as good as mine, though I say it myself. The others were landscapes – of average standard, in my view.
Never mind. Perhaps he doesn’t want people to feel too over-awed, I thought to myself.
Since there was no free seat near the door (I like to be able to get out of studios and lecture halls fast – bitter experiance at other hopeless events of this nature) I stood and waited for something to happen.
The artist took a digital camera out of his workbox and handed it to one of the audience. I need photos of myself for my marketing, he explained. It’s good to have photos on your website, he continued. Helps sell the product.
What product?
I wondered if it might not be better if he started his painting! Then he would at least have something to sell.
As if telepathically inspired, the artist doled out some cyan blue and titanium white on a palette. After informing us all that you can paint anything blue with cyan – sky-sea-eyes – you name it, he’ll paint it blue for you – he said he was going to paint the canvas with it – the pastel ground canvas! I wanted to tell him he could have saved himself the ground if he’d mixed champagne chalk in the acrylic paint and just used that, but thought better of it.
Then he took a very small paintbrush and started to poke and dab around on his canvas.
I left.
At 12.40 p.m. I returned out of curiosity. The canvas was now covered in cyan paint and half wet. He was having a problem with the easel, which he wanted to have perpendicular. A member of the audience helped him to get it right.
At 12.50 the artist had not yet held a pastel chalk in his hand. And this was a demonstration of pastel painting, after all.
And he could not even start on his painting because the acrylic paint was not dry enough.
Instead he informed us all that he would be painting a work by Monet. He wanted to know if the audience knew the painting (I didn’t catch the title). Nobody did. Aha, he said, that’s because it’s the rarest Monet painting of all and prints are hard to come by. How convenient, I thought.
Then I left.

The demo lasts till 5 p.m. Presumably he will have got round to doing some Monet look-alike pastel work by then, but I won’t be there to see it.

Facit: if you can’t teach, don’t.

There’s a saying in German which I like to repeat whenever I have this kind of experience with so-called professionals (in any field):
People cook with water everywhere – Es wird überall mit Wasser gekocht!

Back to the drawing board.

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