Each year, the LARA Prize for a Young Artist is awarded for work that balances technical understanding with a subject that is authentic and relevant to the twenty-first century. As the recipient of this year’s LARA Prize, I had the privilege of attending a week-long painting class taught by Luca Indraccolo.
The first day was dedicated to drawing. We were introduced to basic anatomy and asked to consider the major planes of the face. The second day began with practical instructions for setting up our palettes in the most useful way. We were introduced to the Munsell colour chart. Originally used for soil classification, Munsell’s chart is a way of visualising three qualities of colour; value, hue and chroma. This was vital theory to have in our minds as we started mixing paint.
On the third day, we discovered the importance of ‘keying’ a painting. Overnight, the faster drying pigments had ‘sunk in’, causing them to appear lighter. We spent time re-establishing the darkest darks and lightest lights in our portraits. Throughout the week, the tutors were great at identifying our individual tendencies, telling us why they might exist and how we could counter them to create more naturalistic paintings.
On the fourth day, we dealt with edges. Noticing when a colour changes temperature but not value can be tricky, but is an effective way to make an edge appear soft in a painting. I focused in on the nose in my portrait and tried to detect any subtle shifts in temperature which could help the form appear to turn.
On the fifth day, we refined our likenesses. I realised that there is a significant amount of designing which contributes to making a successful painting. Trying to ‘copy’ nature is futile! Paintings are always a trick – an illusion suggesting space and depth on a two dimensional surface. With new knowledge about the structure of the face and the location of blood vessels, I was able to make better judgements than I could have made by simply relying on my eye.
As someone with no formal training as a painter, practising on my own is often frustrating and progress can be slow. It’s easy to see how the systematic methods taught at LARA can accelerate learning and produce great results. the overall atmosphere was supportive and underpinned by the acknowledgement that each student was at a different point in their journey. It was inspiring to see what students with two or three years experience at LARA could achieve.
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to sample atelier training and I hope to return to LARA in the future because there is plenty more left to learn.