Weekend with the Masters - David Jon Kassan demo

David Jon Kassan is an artist I was really excited to meet and study with at the painting conference I recently attended, American Artist's Weekend With the Masters, in Monterey, California.  Aside from his technique and acute observational abilities, Kassan has been an artist I've admired for his subject matter and unusual juxtaposition of realist figures against street art or other interesting abstract textures. 

I've also enjoyed the videos he has put together, particularly a portrait on an ipad tablet using the ArtRage app as well as traditional portrait sessions of people around where he lives in Brooklyn, NY.  If you haven't watched them yet, be sure to check out his blog and enjoy.

From Kassan's artist statement on his website:

My influences are understandably just as contradictory as they have fed and connected my perspective on painting. I am constantly seeking out work that is congruent with my own which has led me to explore the work of life size old master paintings, urban stencil and graffiti street art, Marcel Duchamp's found objects, abstract paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, and finally the sheer conceptual and executed realism of Caravaggio.

A flexible and open mind. I like that.

Notable supplies for the day included pan pastel in black, Generals charcoal pencils in blacks, greys, and white, a custom maul stick he made using a collapsible tent pole and coat hanger, and binoculars...

Kassan's drawing supply list can be found here.


He began the demo on toned paper in a mid range moving up or down the value scale in order to model the form. He started by massing in the key darks of the eye sockets, under the nose and mouth with black Pan Pastel.





After he laid in the darks, he refined them by looking into a set of a binoculars at the model (not the drawing) to find the exact edges of these shapes and adjusting with an eraser. I had never before seen an artist use binoculars and was really curious to know how he was using them.

Kassan explained that the binoculars aid in finding the exact edges of shadow shapes and help in observing specifically where forms turn. He told us that occasionally students find this device controversial. His view is that while yes, binoculars are an optical aid, the mind and the hand are still creating the work; an artist still has to understand the form well enough to know what to look for in the first place as well as translate what is being seen on to the page. I have no problem with this myself. I wear eyeglasses for the same reason so binoculars to me feel like essentially the same thing.


After he adjusted and refined the shadow shapes with a tuff stuff eraser, he used a white General's pencil employing crosshatching, another departure from my own training and one that attracted me to Kassan's work.


As he continued to refine the form in the light and add more depth and accuracy to the darks, he explained further about his use of crosshatching with white in the light tones. He follows each form around the face according to the natural grain that grows on that particular feature, something he learned from Costa Vavagiakis, with whom he studied at The Art Student's League in NYC. Years later Kassan learned from a doctor who was also a student of his that there is a medical term for this concept, Langer lines !!!





Kassan's finished 3 hour demo drawing:


It was cathardic for me to hear about Kassan's use of white pencil, crosshatching and langer lines. A seemingly innocent thing like cross hatching has become a bit of a flash point in my personal art.

Many years ago, while I was in high school, I became completely obsessed with Langer lines, although at the time I didn't realize that is what they were. I had been at a local book store and discovered the Dover Press Alphonse Mucha's Figurative Decoratives, a book which remains incredibly inspiring to me to this day. I stopped experimenting with this technique when I went to art school because I learned that lines do not exist in Nature, that light illuminates volume creating tones rather than lines. Additionally, when I began to study at the Palette and Chisel during the early 90's, this idea was reinforced quite powerfully as tone being the best way to accurately depict light in Nature.

While this concept might be actual fact, it does not take into account that visual language is a human way of depicting our world on to two dimensional surfaces. During a lecture given by Quang Ho, he mentioned line as a part of visual language - and it caused a bit of an on stage controversy. (more about this in subsequent posts)

 I have always loved the line work in Mucha's life drawings throughout the years; It was the addition of using white plus line work in the lights that attracted me to Kassan's work and in my personal life I know so many comics artists who use line ONLY to create absolutely stunning work. It was a relief to hear from another artist in the fine art Realist community who is intrigued by cross hatching and line work and makes no apologies about it.

Further, during the above portrait demo, Kassan mentioned that he felt it was a good idea to try out various techniques in order to find what fits your personal temperament - also an idea that resonates with me.

MuchaFiguresDecoratives-1 MuchaFiguresDecoratives-2

a nice flickr set of Alphonse Mucha's Figurative Decoratives can be found here.

Here are some of my more recent experimentations using Langer lines: 

"Bilge" pastel pencil on Strathmore paper, 9 x 12 


"Tiffany", brown and white pastel pencil on Canson's Mi Tientes paper
*note: this might have been more effective had the lines followed the forms on the face and body - and if the hand were more accurately drawn.

What I've learned over time, perhaps more than anything else, is that the art community is rife with opinions about the 'right' way. It is quite easy as a young and eager student to be overwhelmed by a Master, especially as I was genuinely blown away by some of the artists around me and wanted to paint exactly like they did.

Later in life, I have begun to realize my own internal temperament is different than those who influenced me in school, but they are still difficult to to ignore; I want to explore the idea of drawing with lines and yet I feel horribly when I do because it is the opposite of what I was taught. The only way I can address it is to break away from that line of thinking completely and put my fine art work "on hold" while I experiment with whatever I seem to gravitate toward.

So far it has been an interesting journey in finding my original influences, the things that attracted me to drawing before I even went to art school which are still deep within like a burning ember that never went out.

”…pay attention to the urges that motivate you…it’s your job to make it yours…not to judge it or compare it to other expressions…no artist is pleased…it’s just a divine dissatisfaction…a blessed unrest that keeps us marching…and makes us more alive...”
Martha Graham


Words of Wisdom

"I want to paint like a pig eats." 

Last week I attended the Weekend with the Masters, in Monterey, California. The weekend is a conference with some of the top American Realist painters in the fine art scene. 

Painter Richard Schmid kicked off the event by giving a fabulous lecture about his adventures through a life time of painting, during which he stated that he wanted to paint like a pig eats. He explained what he meant: without holding back, without feeling self conscious and indulgence in the act of painting.

Schmid_paintlike pig eats 

This phrase, "to paint like a pig eats", was repeated throughout the workshop days mostly joking around by student painters and instructors. On the last day I took Daniel Sprick's demo, during which he said that in a later conversation Schmid elaborated that the statement was derived from a critic's quote regarding Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla when his paintings were exhibited at the 1933 World's Fair held in Chicago. The critic scoffed at the direct painting method Sorolla used and wrote, "He paints like a pig eats!"
Walk on the Beach, 1909 - Sorolla
To which Schmid is clearly stating that indulgence in painting is OK. Why shouldn't it be?

Overall, the Weekend with the Masters was a lot of process and philosophy from various top fine artists. However, most interesting were the panel discussions that tackled ponderous big questions and definitions around what Realism really means. (as a Sci Fi fan, I love contemplating what reality is - and was surprised to find many Realist painters think about such things too!)

Please stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for my notes, photos and discussion. I am eager to share!
Lundman - paintingpig


September 11th/Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago I was working as a full time freelance illustrator from my home studio here in San Francisco. I had moved here the previous year with my ex husband, Mike. I had been working happily as a background painter at Calabash Animation in Chicago and Mike was a lead animator and Director. In addition to working in animation, I was also painting and selling work in a gallery but the money I earned was not enough to make it a full time venture. As traditional animation turned toward cg animation, we were forced to look elsewhere for jobs. Mike and I both applied for jobs all over, and ended up in San Francisco when Mike landed a great position directing at Mondo Media.

San Francisco was not as giving to me, however. As it turned out, the first year and a half we lived here, 100% of my clients were from New York, Chicago, and Denver. The client I was working with the weeks before the attacks was the Art Director I worked with at Enesco in Illinois, with whom I had a professional relationship for about seven years. When she moved to another giftware company, she contacted me. My first assignment was to paint some beautiful angels, which would first be made into greeting cards and figurines if the paintings were well received. The project held the promise of royalties and long term expansion of my career into a field I always enjoyed - collectible sculpted figurines.

Although I am not the kind of artist that typically paints angels or spiritual themes, I was excited about this job because it was figurative. Much of the work I painted in commercial animation was background environments, color design of characters and props, and color scripts of story boards. I fell in love with animation during my time at Calabash and was eager to continue working in the field, but found I did not have enough experience when I moved to San Francisco, and also had no digital skills whatsoever. Although I applied to animation studios around town, the answer was always the same. They wanted digital work, not traditional.

So this particular job held much promise for me as a new direction. I threw myself into the project. I spent long hours thumbnailing various poses, made studies of decorative elements from Art Nouveau designs, and researched costuming that I felt would work for this theme. All of my research sketches are lost, unfortunately. In addition to the pencils below, I had also rendered close up details of the edging along the bottom of the gowns, sketched out wings, and had designed specific flowers for the hair.


 The pencils above are the first versions I sent. She requested that I change the faces to look at the viewer, and have a slightly happy expression. I felt angels would look more heroic, as they are intended to be, if they were not looking at the viewer, instead looking toward the heavens. I tried to convince her but she insisted on a friendly appearance and felt my pencils were too serious.


I have two versions of this pencil (below). One is flipped. I can't remember which was the final version of the painting. Also, the reason there is tape all over the pencil is because this was the pencil rendering I used to transfer the design to illustration board. I painted all of the paintings in watercolor and gouache, my preferred medium that I had a lot of experience using as a background painter.


On Monday, September 10th, I had gotten final approval for all of the pencils and the go ahead to start painting. I spent all of Monday transferring the pencils to illustration board. I was set to begin painting the first angel on Tuesday, September 11th.

The morning of Tuesday September 11th unfolded - and like the rest of the nation, I was horrified and consumed. 

My deadline came and went. I found myself unable to paint. Every time I put my brush to the illustration board, a flood of images and thoughts raced into my head - the artists who lived in studios in the towers, the pastry chef from San Francisco, the firemen who rushed in, the people in the Pentagon, the people on the planes. Painting angels felt so terribly ridiculous. I could not - would not - feel a sense of peace and hope while so many were lost in such a horribly violent attack. I explained to my Art Director that I would not be able to deliver the assignment on time. She was very upset with me and told me, "life must go on."


I eventually finished the assignment. However, I lost the client. The original paintings were never returned to me. I never received samples of the finished product. I did get paid, thankfully. 

Across the country, work completely dried up for freelance artists, causing great financial hardship for so many artists. The only silver lining for me during this time was that my father bought me a copy of Photoshop and a Wacom tablet for my computer. I spent all of my time learning how to paint digitally and rebuilding my portfolio, which led to a background painting contract at the Learning Company, a contract I was so grateful for.

Although it is natural to look for meaning in events, I still cannot make any sense or connection with these images of angels I was assigned to paint at this particular time. My art director was right in saying that life must go on. However, I feel strongly that we must pause to grieve for the loss the victim's families suffered that day and remember the soldiers who were called to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.