Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Richard Schmid Lecture Notes

I visited the Pasadena Museum of Californian art to check out their latest show, which was a great exhibition. As I was about leave, I overheard someone mention a slideshow presentation. I checked my brochure and found out there was a Richard Schmid lecture starting in five minutes!

I also quickly shook his hand and said thankyou just before the lecture, never washing my hand again!!! must extract the dna and make a schmid clone teach me to paint!

Here are the rough notes I made, I hope they might help in some way! They are just my personal notes, I'm not trying to teach anyone but myself, and writing helps me get my thoughts in order.

I managed to scribble down some quotes too.
Lucikly I found some of the paintings he used in his lecture too!


Schmid eased us into the talk with his oddball sense of humour, getting us relaxed as he made his first point: the primacy of direct, sensory experience is most important and can only achieved by painting from life. No digital camera could ever capture that same experience, visually or otherwise. He then stated every painting is a self portrait in a way and that every artist in this sense has an obligation to be introspective.
The external reality only serves as a springboard to allow the artist to explore their inner landscape.

One of the funny images Schmid used throughout to make it a really fun experience.

The presentation consisted of slides of both his and his wife Nancy's work, pointing out the importance of design, edges, colour and various other aspects you can read in his books.

The portrait lighting - lit from both sides. One side has to be dominant, even if slightly. Difference in temperature has to be observed carefully between the light sources. Always check the shapes.

There were a lot of direct advice on painting a still life.

- Painting every part of the flower including the stems, paying attention to the subtleties of the leaves and the symphony of their motion, the design shape created by its beauty and variety and of course to love every second of it.

-Painting the dead leaves as well, or the different stages of life. The browns harmonise nicely with the fresh ones and create a richer, deeper and more balanced images. Flowers from the florist come too perfect and clean- get out in the real world and paint them as they are.

Spend as long as necessary to set up a still life- even if it takes a week or two. Find objects that are interesting and pay attention to the way it is set up.

This was the still life included in the exhibition

An example of a more elaborate set up. The one he used in the presentation was more involved and complex.

Preparation is key according to Shmid, because once your technical skills are in the right place, then all that is left is to copy the set up in a painterly fashion, to copy the shapes and use the brushwork to describe the edges, lighting, drawing and design.

Nancy Guzik's painting of children: He showed a series of his wife's painting of kids.

-She finds parts of life that any other artist would overlook- a child clenching her foot so the shoe won't fit. Find these aspects in life through experience and understanding.

-importance of design elements in foreground leading up to the focal point- use nature to find interesting shapes for your composition.

This image wasn't in the lecture but still a good example, the river leads in, and is kept interesting by attention to its unique, natural design.

There is a strong no nonsense approach to schmiddo, to him art is not just a verb but an entire sensory and emotional connection to the interior and exterior world.
Even after talking about art history and the slow development of understanding up to the pinnacle of 19th Century art, he would quickly let his words disintegrate into a blah blah blah. He is not even interested in his subject (though he does contradict himself there) or symbolism for that matter.
"People want to know the symbolism behind any paintings and I make up a different story each time."
He tells a story with direct control of brushwork and edges, his experience of the moment, a visual language that scholars can only dream of controlling. It makes sense. Writing about his art is for writers to do. His role is to do it.

-The one point he made about styles- it is important to have different approaches and techniques to use, because it is akin to searching for the perfect turn of phrase, or having an expansive vocabulary to draw upon- the paths to expressing oneself all depend on the mastery of the technique. He broke technique down to four points- Good drawing, value, edges and colour.

-He then proceeded to introduce a new method he had been using to absolutely stunning effect.

-After making a mid toned wash of stand oil, damar and turps (I think) he then proceeded to rub out the wash to form the distinct design of the petal with a towel and cotton tip to reveal parts of the white beneath. He then introduced opaque paint over these areas and created a powerful image- there was a clear distinct cleanliness to this method which seemed to take it to a slightly higher level.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but an old dog can teach himself new tricks"

These were painted using that technique and were used to demonstrate its effects.

Schmid is all about observation and technique- there is a sense to his works that he does not try to glorify his objects, but copy them and let them reveal their own beauty. There isn't exaggeration of colour or any of the overkill that is present in a lot of landscape work.


  1. Oh man, thanks for the notes. I'm totally jealous that by sheer luck you managed to meet and learn from the man himself.

  2. Thanks for sharing your notes with us :) It must've been one hell of a lecture. I *love* that last painting, it's magical.

  3. Thanks so much for this man! Funny how you just stumbled upon the lecture, the universe works in strange ways!

  4. James7:17 AM

    Thank you very much for the notes